Book Review from the July 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Historical Survey of the Origins and Growth of Mau Mau, carried out by Mr. F. D. Corfield, has now been issued as a Government Blue Book. It contains the following statistics of casualties up to the end of 1956
Terrorists: Killed 11,503. Captured wounded 1,035. Captured in action 1,550. Arrested 26,625. Surrendered 2,714.
Security Forces: Killed 167. Wounded 1,582.
Loyal Civilians: Killed 1,877 (including 32 Europeans). Wounded 978.
The cost of the emergency up to June 30th, 1959, is shown as £55,585,424. before the massive technical and numerical superiority of the British Government Security Forces finally overwhelmed this African uprising, all the violent measures of ruthless repression were called into use, even down to interrogation under torture and the hangman busy in the concentration camp.
Mr. F. D. Corfield, who is a former Governor of Khartoum Province, has produced a report which points a sanctimonious finger of blame at almost everyone except the British Government and the narrow interests that they represent. As an apology for the British Government, as a self righteous justification that might confuse and misdirect, the Corfield Report does a serviceable job. But as an objective historical account of the cause and development of a particularly ugly piece of human history the report is useless and in every way unworthy of its title.
The main contention of the report is that leading Africans, and in particular Jomo Kenyatta, encouraged by sympathy from many outside sources, and unwittingly aided by the facilities provided by a "liberal" government, perpetuated rebellion as a manifestation of their personal malevolence. The report says, "Without the freedom afforded them by a liberal government Jomo Kenyatta and his associates, would have been unable to preach their calculated hymn of hate." Mr. Corfield is completely convinced that the government of Kenya was pre-occupied with "...the material progress of the peoples of Kenya." He says, "One has only to read the annual reports of the provincial commissioners to realise the immense efforts made by officials and unofficials to raise the material and moral welfare of the Africans."
These are the terms in which the report ignores the naked and cruel self interest of the white landowners' mission in East Africa. For a rational society of controlled purpose to be confronted by a primitive social grouping over which it held immense technical superiority would involve problems of a most delicate sociological nature. Its approach would be scientific procedures, its motives would be humanistic. But when the envoys of European propertied society landed in East Africa to preach the Gospel of Self Interest and predatory exploitation they were interested only in smashing the social organisation of the African inhabitants and making them servants and labourers. Here surely was the bed rock basis of the Mau Mau violence. Mau Mau, though loathsome in form, arose inevitably from the indignities, the injustice and the sheer primary poverty of the African's plight. This is well known and the evidence for it is even contained in the government's own Colonial Publications. In contrast with the hypocritical Corfield report the African Labour Efficiency Survey, 1949 (Colonial Research Publications, No. 3) is a realistic appraisal of the problems of making the African a more efficient and effective wage worker.
In viewing the East African situation (in 1947) it says, "The East African comes from a tribal economy in which his human needs of sustenance can still very largely be met . . . He has not, to any significant degree been detribalised . . . The East African has not been bent under the discipline of organised work. In his primitive economy, the steady, continuous labour is carried out by women. In respect of the few working activities which in the past occupied him he was free and independent. Though the tasks he performed were prescribed by tribal law and custom, he could do them in his own way and at his own speed, for him time had no economic value. The work he did for others was not for wages, but was one of the duties arising out of his relationship with his fellows. He gave satisfaction by his work and derived a measure of contentment from it. In these circumstances he was willing to do what was required of him. To work steadily and continuously at the the will of another was one of the hard lessons he had to learn when he began to work for Europeans."
Even so, the report reveals the positive measures taken by the Kenya Government to coerce Africans into seeking wage employment. In the first instance the Kikuyu and other East African tribes were enclosed within small reserve areas which to an agricultural people was disastrous. In the terms of the report, South Nyeri, one of the three component districts comprising the Kikuyu reserved lands, had a population estimated in 1944 to be 542 to the square mile. This population density is probably among the highest in the world. As well as this the Government instituted a hut tax and poll tax, payable only directly in cash. Thus within two simple but brutal measures the authorities began to reduce the African from a dignified tribesman with a stake in his community to a dispossessed wage worker forced into white landowners' service or into industrial undertakings.
The report dwells in some detail on many reasons for the African workers' so-called inefficiency, including lack of education and poverty. It says, "Perhaps in some respects the greatest handicap is physical and arises from malnutrition." On the question of wages this report is equally forthright, " . . . it is clear that the wage plan does not ensure wages adequate to enable an African residing in any of the towns to bring up a family." Again: "It is therefore with more confidence that the whole survey team, including the medical and nutritional investigators, record their reasoned observation that they found much discontent concerning wages in relation to cost of living."
Apart from laying bare the ruthlessness of of British Colonial policy, even in modern times, the report contained a disquieting warning. Quoting a doctor who lived in East Africa for two decades it said "A doctor . . . can assert that the cause of the poor work output is more mental than physical. Malnutrition and disease play their part but, sitting and talking with the workers in their homes, one became aware of a very grave discontent which, unless constructively guided and relieved, may well threaten civil peace."
It was the violent repression that Mau Mau provoked that enabled British interests to finally destroy the Kikuyu and other tribal structures. The way is now clear for the rapid conversion of East Africans into wage workers. Mau Mau retaliation was bloody and horrible, primitive political struggles often are, but undoubtedly British colonial policy first provoked the violence.