CORRECTED: Kenya's Mau Mau: a colonial-era insurgency

6th June 2013, Comments 0 comments

Kenya's Mau Mau fighters, who on Thursday won compensation from Britain for abuses they suffered under colonial rule, provided a key step towards independence, even though the movement and its supporters were crushed by a brutal crackdown.

From 1952 to 1960 the guerilla fighters -- often with dreadlocked hair and wearing animal skins -- terrorised colonial communities.

The fighters, drawn largely from the Kikuyu people of central Kenya, took up arms under the slogan "land and freedom" and staged guerrilla- style attacks from bases in remote forests, challenging white settlers for valuable land.

But while attention focused on 32 murdered white settlers, at least 10,000 indigenous Kenyans were killed, with some estimates far higher.

Tens of thousands were also rounded up and detained without trial in harshly run camps where reports of executions, torture and brutal beatings were common.

Kenya's Human Rights Commission says as many as 90,000 Kenyans were killed, and 160,000 jailed in camps.

The name Mau Mau reportedly came from secret code words for the group, many of whom referred to themselves instead as the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA).

The rolling green hills and lush forests of central Kenya -- once dubbed the "white highlands" -- were especially prized by colonial settlers, sparking bitter resentment from the ethnic Kikuyu people forced off the land.

But while the rise of the Mau Mau is now often seen as a key stage in Kenya's path to independence in 1963, it also created bitter divisions within communities, with some joining the fighters and others serving colonial powers.

The capture of a top leader, Dedan Kimathi, in October 1956 and his execution by hanging a year later was a significant blow to the movement.

But the Mau Mau movement remained outlawed until as recently as 2003 when President Mwai Kibaki -- himself a Kikiyu -- lifted the ban.

A statue of Kimathi was erected in the heart of Nairobi in 2006, where he is now feted as an independence hero.

© 2013 AFP

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