Over 400 Kikuyu suspected to be part of the Mau Mau movement are arrested in Kenya

operation anvil

Sunday, 9 November 1952

Kenya was administered as a British territory under the East African Protectorate from 1895 onwards. Most land that was appropriated by the colonial government was in the central part of Kenya, which was considered the most fertile land by the Kikuyu people. Increasing colonial land grabs and the restriction of the Kikuyu to only 2000 square miles sparked outrage. Most attempts by the Kikuyu to address the matter of land distribution peacefully were ignored or ridiculed. Exacerbating the situation was the colonists' use of the Kikuyu as tenant farmers. They could farm a small piece of land in exchange for their labour, but had no rights over land on which they had lived for years. From 1936 onwards, British settlers increased the days of labour but not the access to the land, causing great poverty and hardship for the Kikuyu. This created deep bitterness and hatred against the colonial administration. A campaign of civil disobedience was organized by the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA). Those involved were bound by ritual oaths, common to the Kikuyu and neighboring tribes. Early oaths were directed at civil disobedience, but later oaths involved the murder of settlers.

In 1944, the Kenya African Union (KAU) was established, seeking to deal with the land issue amicably. By 1951, a list of demands was presented to the colonial government, which was largely ignored. Members of KAU and trade unionists formed the Central Committee, spreading the ritual oath campaign in Nairobi and further afield. This sparked a pro-independence uprising known as the Mau-Mau Rebellion. By 1952, Mau Mau activities were becoming widespread and increasingly radical as settler farms were raided, policemen were attacked and opponents to the movement were killed in broad daylight. With the political situation growing more precarious, more than 400 hundred Kikuyu were arrested on 9 November 1952. At the time, it was estimated that thirty-seven people had been killed through Mau Mau activities. A state of emergency was declared by the colonial government and remained in effect until 1960. While 26 settlers were killed during the rebellion, 6 000 human rights abuses were reportedly committed by the British, often carried out on Kikuyu who were suspected to be Mau Mau sympathizers.


  1. Google Books - An account of the Mau Mau Uprising: A grain of wheat, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o
  2. Mau Mau veterans lodge compensation claim against UK, The Guardian


  1. History: the Mau Mau and the end of the colony (1947-1963) Available at: kenyalogy.com [Accessed 3 November 2009]
  2. Mau Mau Uprising [online] Available at: en.wikipedia.org [Accessed 3 November 2009]
  3. The Mau Mau Movement [online] Available at: africawithin.com [Accessed 3 November 2009]

Last updated : 09-Nov-2015

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011

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