Why MP wanted Britons screened to lock out criminals

By Amos Kareithi | Jun 09, 2023
Mau Mau emergency screening camp. [File, Standard]

During Kenya’s darkest moment, a radical MP in the UK wanted to solve the sour race relations. At the time, all indigenous Kenyans were being treated as criminals and could only be absolved after thorough screening by security agents.

But as the government was hunting down and locking up Kenyans it accused of being terrorists and members of a dangerous gang, Mau Mau, for agitating for freedom, the MP, Arthur Bottomley, who represented Chatham, saw some of his countrymen as the trigger to the violence that had engulfed Kenya from 1952.

He told Parliament on December 22, 1954, of settlers  “... who, in my judgement, are mainly the cause of the trouble. They are the ones who went to Kenya in about 1948. In 1948 there were 30,000 white settlers in Kenya today are about 42,000."

According to the MP, this group avoided responsibilities in helping create a welfare state in Kenya adding that ”they are largely responsible for a great deal of the trouble which goes on.”

He proposed that since they not only had bad influence in Kenya but also affected Kenya’s political altitude to the United Kingdom, they needed to be screened so that  the bad elements were locked out of the colony. This idea had also been muted by a report commissioned by the colonial government.

The MP’s diagnosis of what was ailing Kenya was ignored by UK through the Colonial Secretary, Oliver Lyttelton who squarely blamed Mau Mau which he said was advocating for Kikuyu domination of other communities and the ultimate extermination of the white population in Kenya.

Lyttelton too had his own prognosis, which was adopted by UK and the colonial government in Nairobi. He carried out one of the most ambitious screening to rout out Mau Mau elements in Mt Kenya region.

In his report to Parliament Lyttelton said that the colonial government had recruited 25,000 home guards who were distributed in 200 posts and superintended by 108 District Officers. As an incentive, the government offered 15,000 guards tax waiver and each of them was entitled to educate three of his children without paying school fees.

In return, the home guards supervised the herding of their neighbours into 320 villages with 100 families each. These villages were ringed with 1,820 miles of deep trenches which were communally dug by women and children with no pay.

Following the screening of the population in Mt Kenya region, Lyttelton said that 17,000 people were confined in forced labour camps while a further 21,500 people were put in detention centres.

Conservative government figures indicated that 510 had been hanged by 1954, barely two years after the declaration of the state of emergency on October 20, 1952. Out of this number, 211 had been convicted of murder while 129 were hanged for unlawful possession of arms while 91 lost their lives for consorting with Mau Mau.

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