Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya
  • Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya
  • Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya

Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya

by Caroline Elkins
     
 

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A major work of history that for the first time reveals the violence and terror at the heart of Britain's civilizing mission in Kenya

As part of the Allied forces, thousands of Kenyans fought alongside the British in World War II. But just a few years after the defeat of Hitler, the British colonial government detained nearly the entire population of Kenya

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Overview

A major work of history that for the first time reveals the violence and terror at the heart of Britain's civilizing mission in Kenya

As part of the Allied forces, thousands of Kenyans fought alongside the British in World War II. But just a few years after the defeat of Hitler, the British colonial government detained nearly the entire population of Kenya's largest ethnic minority, the Kikuyu-some one and a half million people.

The compelling story of the system of prisons and work camps where thousands met their deaths has remained largely untold-the victim of a determined effort by the British to destroy all official records of their attempts to stop the Mau Mau uprising, the Kikuyu people's ultimately successful bid for Kenyan independence.

Caroline Elkins, an assistant professor of history at Harvard University, spent a decade in London, Nairobi, and the Kenyan countryside interviewing hundreds of Kikuyu men and women who survived the British camps, as well as the British and African loyalists who detained them.

The result is an unforgettable account of the unraveling of the British colonial empire in Kenya-a pivotal moment in twentieth- century history with chilling parallels to America's own imperial project.

Imperial Reckoning is the winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In a major historical study, Elkins, an assistant professor of history at Harvard, relates the gruesome, little-known story of the mass internment and murder of thousands of Kenyans at the hands of the British in the last years of imperial rule. Beginning with a trenchant account of British colonial enterprise in Kenya, Elkins charts white supremacy's impact on Kenya's largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu, and the radicalization of a Kikuyu faction sworn by tribal oath to extremism known as Mau Mau. Elkins recounts how in the late 1940s horrific Mau Mau murders of white settlers on their isolated farms led the British government to declare a state of emergency that lasted until 1960, legitimating a decade-long assault on the Kikuyu. First, the British blatantly rigged the trial of and imprisoned the moderate leader Jomo Kenyatta (later Kenya's first postindependence prime minister). Beginning in 1953, they deported or detained 1.4 million Kikuyu, who were systematically "screened," and in many cases tortured, to determine the extent of their Mau Mau sympathies. Having combed public archives in London and Kenya and conducted extensive interviews with both Kikuyu survivors and settlers, Elkins exposes the hypocrisy of Britain's supposed colonial "civilizing mission" and its subsequent coverups. A profoundly chilling portrait of the inherent racism and violence of "colonial logic," Elkins's account was also the subject of a 2002 BBC documentary entitled Kenya: White Terror. Her superbly written and impassioned book deserves the widest possible readership. B&w photos, maps. Agent, Jill Kneerim. (Jan. 11) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
By analyzing primary sources-including archival material and interviews with hundreds of Kikuyu survivors as well as British and African loyalists, Elkins (history, Harvard Univ.) has unearthed a chilling account of colonial British detention camps and villages during the Mau Mau insurrection between 1952 and 1960. Her intense scholarly research has yielded empirical and demographic evidence that Britain distorted data regarding deaths and detainees and destroyed official records that might otherwise have been damaging to its image. Further findings reveal that a large number of women and children were not detained in the official camps but in about 800 enclosed villages surrounded by "spiked trenches, barbed wire, watchtowers, and patrolled by armed guards" and that during the insurrection, the British imposed their "authority with a savagery that betrayed a perverse colonial logic." This compelling account of the British colonial government's atrocities can be compared to Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Edward McCormack, Univ. of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Lib., Long Beach Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A careful investigation of Kenya's Mau Mau uprising and the manifold crimes by the British colonial government in attempting to suppress it. Half a century ago, tales of Mau Mau atrocities filled the world's newspapers, along with lurid photographs depicting butchered innocents and ransacked farms. Such atrocities did occur over the decade-long course of the uprising, writes Elkins (History/Harvard). But she opens long-closed files in British archives-those that survived a systematic effort to destroy them-to reveal that greater atrocities were committed by the colonial regime, which was ill-equipped to understand, much less accommodate, the demands of the native Kikuyu. Inspired by such leaders as Jomo Kenyatta, who spent most of the uprising in prison, the Kikuyu of northern Kenya had taken to resisting the colonial government with various levels of violence, an effort that the government averred was meant to expel all Europeans from the country. Elkins observes that nonindigenous society was sharply divided among very wealthy landowners, who tended to be English, and much less affluent farmers whose parents and grandparents had come from South Africa during the Boer War, bringing the doctrine of white racial superiority with them. From their ranks, using tactics tried in Malaya and elsewhere in the colonial empire, the aristocratic government drew recruits for police and military units that went to work burning villages, relocating their residents to concentration camps, and rounding up and executing suspected Mau Mau. Less concerned with restoring order than subduing the population, the British colonial government and army allowed these Home Guard units free hand. "None of thehigh-ranking officials . . . actually believed that the standards of British law applied to Africa," Elkins writes, "and particularly not while they were fighting a war against savagery." In her estimation as many as 100,000 Kikuyu died, making the war against them one of the bloodiest in European colonial history. Sure to touch off scholarly debate and renew interest in recent, deliberately forgotten history. Author tour. Agent: Jill Kneerim/Kneerim & Williams

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780805080018
Publisher:
Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
12/27/2005
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
496
Sales rank:
448,895
Product dimensions:
9.12(w) x 7.14(h) x 0.84(d)

Read an Excerpt

"The colonial propaganda machine, once well-oiled, preyed on the detainees' doubts and fears. Pamphlets in the vernacular, pointing out how misguided was the detainees' belief that African land had been stolen by the British, were circulated throughout the compound. At the same time, loudspeakers blared warnings about ongoing land confiscations, describing how land taken from Mau Mau sympathizers was being redistributed to those loyal to the British cause. "Confess and Save Your Land," was one public broadcast played throughout the Pipeline, and it is bitterly remembered by many of the former detainees today. So too are photographs of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in full regalia, which were displayed alongside images of Jomo Kenyatta in shackles, wild-haired and looking rather dazed and pathetic. The contrast between civilization and savagery could not have been more stark."

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