Britain’s bloody exit from Kenya

by Simon Collings

My parents lived in Kenya from 1952 to 1955 during what is euphemistically called the Emergency. My father worked in an Army vehicle repair depot and my mother at the Army HQ as a typist. They were there as part of a military force sent to the country to help the colonial authorities repress a popular anti-colonial movement known as Mau Mau.

Few people in Britain realise how brutal and savage the repression was. More than a million Africans were corralled into ‘protected villages’, a hundred thousand Mau Mau suspects were detained without trial and tortured in a network of concentration campaigns. No one knows how many died from beatings, hunger, disease and the summary executions which were a routine feature of Britain’s civilising presence in the country.

A few kilometres away from where my parents lived in Limuru the Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o was growing up. His childhood memoir, Dreams in Time of War, and fictional accounts of those times give a vivid sense of what life was like for the African community. In February 2013 I visited the place of Ngugi’s birth the better to visualise the events and scenes he describes.

You can read an account of that visit here.