The Mau Mau Resistance

This week we’ll be running a special feature on African Colonial resistance movements starting with Kenya’s Mau Mau resistance.

We’ll be dropping one article a day on different African Resistance Movements, considering the causes, why they failed and lessons that can be learnt.

Roots and Causes Of The Mau Mau Uprising

Following the Colonization of Kenya by the British, the standard Colonial Economic model characterised by Land dispossession, new Taxes and a transition towards African wage Labour was introduced.

The introduction of the Colonial Economy, in particular, land dispossession deprived African Tribes such as the Kikuyu of long held Cultivated and Grazing lands central to the welfare of African Communities as well as the Social, Economic and Political stability that had existed in Pre-Colonial times.

Initially attempts at seeking reform of the Colonial system rather than outright revolution were made through the Nationalist Kenya African Union.

The British did not grant the Political and Economic concessions sought, with the result that the Kenya African Union became radicalised since outright Revolution seemed to be the only viable solution after the failure of reforms.

Outbreak Of The Mau Mau Resistance

The year 1952 marked the outbreak of the Kikuyu dominated Mau Mau resistance.

Attacks on British and collaborating African Administrative  Officials were met by a British Declaration of a State of Emergency, with British troops being dispatched to Kenya.

Suppressing the Mau Mau resistance was a brutal affair with atrocities being committed by both sides.

The Mau Mau targeted African Loyalists like the Home Guard, Settler Militias and Colonial Army Units. The British countered the Mau Mau resistance with both conventional Military tactics and Psychological Warfare in the form of Propaganda portraying the Mau Mau rebellion as depraved and barbaric.

By 1957, the Mau Mau resistance had been effectively brought under control with the State of Emergency being revoked in 1960.


Only 3 years later however, Kenya received its independence from Great Britain with Jomo Kenyatta serving as the First President of the newly liberated Kenya.

In the final analysis, whilst the revolt may have initially seemed a failure, it clearly paved the way for Kenya’s independence, and it is unlikely that Kenya would have obtained its independence in 1963 without the contribution and disruption to British Colonial Rule posed by the Mau Mau resistance.

Causes For The Immediate Failure Of The Mau Mau Resistance

Whilst the Mau Mau resistance cannot be viewed as a total failure, it probably did not lead to the immediate overthrow of the British Colonial Government due to a combination of British Military superiority and division amongst African Tribes.

Kenya as a British Protectorate was governed by the system of Indirect Rule which exploited Tribal divisions amongst Africans by granting more privileges and rights to those who collaborated with the system. In Kenya, this was symbolised by the Loyalist Home Guard  that fought alongside the British Army.

Despite these obstacles, the Kenya African Union inherited the legacy of the Mau Mau Revolt with the arrival of Kenyan Independence in 1963, shortly after the suppression of the Mau Mau resistance. For this reason, the Mau Mau Resistance cannot be regarded as a complete failure in my view.

One of the most charismatic leaders to come out of the Mau Mau Rebellion was captured Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi, and in death he has remained an inspiring symbol of not only the Mau Mau resistance but African resistance to Colonial Rule in general.

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Tune in for the next entry on Sudan’s Mahdist Resistance….One!