Emergency declaration that came with settling of scores

Mau Mau fighter
Soldiers guard suspected Mau Mau fighters in October 1952 behind barbed wire in a Kikuyu reserve at the time of the Mau Mau uprising. AFP PHOTO 

It is always gratifying to receive feedback from my readers because it adds value and widens the scope of my work. The following story is based on interviews of some of the living survivors by one of my regular readers Michael Kimani from Kibichoi, situated in Githunguri, Kiambu District. I have omitted the names of the victims to protect their families.

Soon after the declaration of a state of emergency in Kenya in October 1952, residents of Central Kenya were herded from their homes into emergency villages to control their movement and prevent collaboration with Mau Mau insurgents. The emergency villages were surrounded by a ten-foot wide trench with stakes, barbed wire and watch towers.

“At the end of 1953, the administration was faced with serious problems of concealment of terrorists and supply of food to them. This was widespread and, owing to the scattered nature of the homesteads, fear of detection was negligible, so, in the first instance, the inhabitants of those areas were made to build and live in concentrated villages. The first step had to be taken speedily, somewhat to the detriment of the usual health measures and was definitely a punitive short-term measure.”—District Commissioner, Nyeri.

The government’s public relations officer, Granville Roberts, presented villagisation as a good opportunity for rehabilitation, especially of women and children, but, it was first and foremost an exercise designed to break Mau Mau and protect loyalist Kikuyu, a fact demonstrated by the extremely limited resources allocated to the Rehabilitation and Community Development Department. Refusal to move was usually punished with the destruction of property and livestock, and roofs were often ripped off from homes whose occupants showed reluctance. Later villagisation was also an unwitting solution to the practical and financial problems associated with a further massive expansion of the Pipeline programme, and the removal of people from their land greatly assisted in the implementation of the Swynnerton Plan.

One evening a group of three Mau Mau adherents namely Ben Gachani son of Githu, Chege Muikaria and Kamau Gachagu attacked a “kiaga” (fortified village) in Kibichoi, breaching the security trench and coming within metres of the entrance. To gain entrance to the village after 6pm one had to go over a trough via a draw bridge and a barrier manned by home guards (ngati) on whose mast sat an eagle-eyed sentry.


In the dead silence that was enforced in the camps after 6pm, the Mau Mau sharp-shooter Chege Muikaria aimed his “gotora”(single-shot rifle) at the sentry but just as he pulled the trigger the sentry bent down to receive his ration of hot millet porridge and the bullet missed him by a whisker.

The searing sound of the shot caused pandemonium in the camp as the home guards rallied to repel the intruders. Rarely did the home guards pay attention to their guard duties as they falsely believed that the government had subdued the Mau. On this particular evening the head guard was sowing wild oats in the hut of one Ngumi, a Mau Mau adherent who had been detained at Manyani, several hundred kilometres away.

Suddenly awoken from his fleshly pursuits by the commotion outside, he struggled to retrieve his standard issue khaki shorts and in the process his rifle barrel dug into the muddy floor rendering it unable to fire.

Elsewhere, the village headman Muiruri Githae buried his head in his hands in his “thingira” (hut) praying that his footmen would repulse the intruders. The night passed in deafening silence, no one knowing exactly what had happened.

Having missed the sentry atop the watch tower, the three Mau Mau raiders crept away in the darkness, following the Komothai riverbed and hid their weapon in the home of “General” Kamura wa Njeri wa Muguka’s farm, fleeing eastwards towards Kahawa.

When daylight broke the white District Officer at Githunguri was informed of the incident and he immediately ordered a revenge mission vowing to teach the Mau Mau and their supporters a lesson.

Several chiefs including Muiruri Githae of Kibichoi, Gitau wa Kuru of Gathugu, Manjuru of Kiambururu, Kariuki wa Kimani of Wanjenga were tasked with bringing the culprits to book. What happened next was a terrible bloodletting that saw 13 people rounded up and paraded at Komothai Primary School grounds and shot down.

The bodies were then loaded onto a truck and dropped at strategic points between Marige and Kibichoi as a warning to the residents who may have harboured any Mau Mau activists. One of the victims was a man who had refused to give up his shop at Marige to the local headman.

The headman asked each of the victim’s families to come and pick up the “mburi” (goat) for interment and to remember that the Mau Mau was no match for the “mzungu” and his “ngati”.

Two young men who had managed to escape were caught and shot in broad daylight a few days later. Sometime later Peter Kamura son of Makumi, a feared home guard went on a rampage and shot dead Muruha, an innocent old man.

The massacre so shocked Senior Chief Magugu that he asked Peter Mahinyara, the one-eyed headman of Kwa Kario village Kai wooraga oothe, uriathaga mburi? (You have killed all your people, are you going to be ruling goats?). Mahinyara had gone on a killing spree ostensibly of Mau Mau but took the opportunity to eliminate his business rivals in the process.

This is one of the most silent massacres that never made it to the news during the early period of the emergency. It clearly revealed the brutality on both sides of the divide and how leaders used the state of emergency to settle old scores.