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Hola massacre that hastened Kenya's independence

By Hudson Gumbihi | July 20th 2021
Settlers’ Irrigation Scheme at Hola Camp, Commandant Thompson, extreme right, looks on as visiting journalists and prisoners stand attentive in 1959. [File, Standard]

The deaths in 1959 of eleven prisoners in Hola marked the end of colonial detention camps throughout Kenya.

Though the British tried to cover up for the deaths of Kabui Kaman, Ndungu Kibaki, Mwema Kinuthia, Kinyanjui Njoroge, Koroma Mburu, Karanja Munuthi, Ikeno Ikiro, Mwigwi Ndegwa, Kaman Karanja, Mungai Githi, and Ngugi Karitie, the 11 detainees at Hola Camp were tortured to death.

Authorities had initially claimed the prisoners died as a result of drinking contaminated water; a claim that was discounted after an investigation.

A coroner established that the 11 died from either lung congestion, shock or haemorrhage following multiple injuries.

Prisoners considered as “hard-core” were taken there for confinement. The idea was that since Hola was a far-flung place, there were remote chances of prisoners escaping.

When pressure mounted with incident generating heated debate in the British parliament, Mr Sullivan, the camp’s commandant, claimed the 11 had attempted to stage a jailbreak.

The massacre was carried out few weeks after a tour of the camp by the Commissioner of Prisons in Kenya Mr Lewis who was unimpressed at the level of laxity at the detention facility.

The commissioner impressed on Sullivan on the need to enforce discipline and that non-co-operative detainees must be put to work.

“I share the depth of feeling which honourable members on both sides of the House feel for the tragic and shocking deaths of 11 detainees at Hola. It is a terrible thing to have happened under British rule,” Alan Lennox-Boyd, Secretary of State for the Colonies, said in parliament.

The bloodbath took place on March 3, after some of the prisoners refused to work in irrigation farms. The 11 died after being bludgeoned by the guards while 23 others were left nursing serious injuries.

The incident accelerated Kenya’s march towards independence after a decision was made to close all detention camps and free thousands of prisoners.

In a futile attempt to erase the bad memories, the colonial government changed the name of Hola to Galole. However, President Jomo Kenyatta in 1971 directed that Galole reverts to its original name after meeting a delegation from Tana River. 

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