When the Nazis wanted to take over Kenya in 1939

Adolf Hitler arriving at the Olympic Stadium for the opening of the games in 1936 [File]

At the height of the Second World War, when everybody in Europe was cringing in fear at the mention of German leader Adolf Hitler, Nairobi too had its share of horrors.

This was after it emerged that the warmongering fuhrer was not only threatening to march to Russia but was also entertaining some frightening thoughts for East Africa, especially Kenya.

Although for some time, the settler community in Kenya was fearful of Germany’s return to East Africa after they were kicked out of Tanganyika after The First World War, their fear was amplified by reports of war from London.

The East African Standard carried a story with the headline, “Hitler Demands Kenya” and thereafter ran a story of sensational rumours from the London press. 

The report, attributed to a Standard correspondent in London and dated June 20, 1939, claimed that Hitler’s demands had been carried by the Sunday Referee.

“An amazing report was published yesterday by the Sunday Referee that Hitler was demanding not only the return of former German colonies but also a section of Kenya and Sudan.”

This report quoted The Referee’s diplomatic correspondent who had written: “Hitler, I learn, has conveyed to 10 Downing Street by the City of London intermediaries, demands far more than the return of the German pre-war colonies. These demands which will shock even the most pro-German circles in this country are being kept secret  but I understand they include cession of The Sudan and Kenya.”

At the time, Britain was administering 1,014,410 square miles of Sudan jointly with Egypt since 1899. Tanganyika had also been wrestled out of Germany’s control after the superpower was vanquished during the First World War.

As these rumours were going round in London, Britain had already impounded and redistributed land and other immovable assets previously owned by Germans in Tanganyika. These rumours never came to be but they nevertheless galvanised the settlers who were unwilling to be conscripted for military service.

The British-leaning newspapers appear to have learned a thing or two from Hitler’s chief propagandist, Josef Goebbels, who had managed to rally the entire German population behind  Adolf Hitler even when he was exterminating Jews.

Back in Nairobi, there was a lot of censorship and any information that could dampen the morale of the British troops would not be aired. The military even sniffed mail sent out by soldiers to their family and friends to censor any tidbits of information that could compromise them if it fell into wrong hands.