Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire

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"A remarkable account of Britain's last stand in Kenya. This is imperial history at its very best."--John Hope Franklin

In "a gripping narrative that is all but impossible to put down" (Joseph C. Miller), Histories of the Hanged exposes the long-hidden colonial crimes of the British in Kenya. This groundbreaking work tells how the brutal war between the colonial government and the insurrectionist Mau Mau between 1952 and 1960 dominated the final bloody decade of imperialism in East Africa. Using extraordinary new evidence, David Anderson puts the colonial government on trial with eyewitness testimony from over 800 court cases and previously unseen archives. His research exonerates the Kikuyu rebels; hardly the terrorists they were thought to be; and reveals the British to be brutal aggressors in a "dirty war" that involved leaders at the highest ranks of the British government. This astonishing piece of scholarship portrays a teetering colonial empire in its final phase; employing whatever military and propaganda methods it could to preserve an order that could no longer hold.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Anderson's authoritative history of the last days of the British Empire in Kenya focuses on the colonial judicial system, which sent over 1,000 native Kenyans to the gallows between 1952 and 1959, during the state of emergency triggered by the Mau Mau insurrection. At the heart of the tale, along with blustering colonial ineptitude, is white settler ignorance of how its land grabs wreaked havoc on the Kikuyu tribe, Kenya's largest ethnic group and a people viciously targeted by the British, who were intent on rooting out Mau Mau activism at all costs. Anderson, a lecturer in African studies at Oxford, shows how paternalistic land reallocations and relocation of the Kenyan tribes to settlements fostered deep resentment, sewing the seeds of a bloody black-on-black massacre in 1952. Brilliantly analyzing the hierarchies and nuances of Kenyan society, Anderson traces how the Mau Mau hijacked the nationalist Kenya African Union, how the British scapegoated moderate leader Jomo Kenyatta and finally how the British herded virtually the entire Kikuyu population into horrific concentration camps, where thousands perished. Anderson's information-rich history vividly depicts the complex political and social dynamics of the Kenyan nationalist movement as it was confronted by the brutal waning British Empire. This is vital reading for any student of British colonial and African history. B&w photos not seen by PW; maps. Agent, Georgina Capel, London. (Jan.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Lecturer in African studies at Oxford, Anderson examines the bloody Mau Mau uprising that ended British rule in Kenya. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An account of the Mau Mau uprisings of the 1950s, which helped bring an end to British rule over Kenya. Early on, Anderson (African Studies/Oxford) tallies the dead of the eight-year uprising, which colonial apologists took pains to present as "a war between savagery and civilization, a rebellion made by men who . . . reached back into a depraved, tribal past in an effort to stop the wheel of progress from turning." However great, the bloodshed was also one-sided, Anderson writes: Whereas 32 European settlers and some 200 British soldiers died, perhaps 20,000 Mau Mau rebels were killed. While in her near-simultaneously released Imperial Reckoning (see below), Caroline Elkins looks closely at Britsh crimes against the Kikuyu people of Kenya, Anderson offers a considered account of some of the cultural and economic causes that led to the rebellion: the struggle of the Kikuyu to retain lands that European and other African settlers were steadily taking from them, the refusal of the colonial government to consider grievances, the Kikuyu revival of an "oath-taking" tradition against enemies. There were thugs among the rebels, Anderson allows, and innocents suffered. But, he shows, the colonial government's methods of repression were alternately old-fashioned and quite modern: guided by Louis Leakey and other white Kenyan intellectuals, that government evolved a theory that the Mau Mau and their supporters were mentally ill and required "treatment." In the "daily fight to defeat Mau Mau," Anderson writes, "some of the subtleties would disappear"; at least 70,000 Kikuyu were rounded up in camps for the purposes of "rehabilitation," while special operations teams called "pseudo-gangs" committedscores of atrocities in the field. Authorization for such policies, Anderson asserts in agreement with Elkins, came from the highest reaches of the British government. Disagreeing in some respects with Elkins's account, Anderson's study adds materially to the understanding of not only the Kenyan war but also of colonialism's end in Africa. Both books merit attention.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393327540
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/17/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 750,470
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

David Anderson, a lecturer in African studies at Oxford University, has appeared on C-SPAN and NPR. He lives in England.
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Table of Contents

Prologue : the hanged 1
1 The hidden history of an anti-colonial rebellion 9
2 Burying the past 54
3 'Parasites in paradise' : race, violence and Mau Mau 77
4 Death at Lari : the story of an African massacre 119
5 Struggles in the city : Mau Mau in Nairobi 181
6 General China's war : freedom fighters in the forests 230
7 Crimes of punishment : law and disorder in Kikuyuland 289
8 Spoils of war : decolonizing Kenya, memorializing Mau Mau 328
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