Mau Mau Whitewash – Britain Slandered
A Critique of the Revisionist Account of Mau Mau
Brisbane, QLD: Copyright Publishing, 2021
Paperback 376pp RRP $49.50
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, May 2022
In recent years we have witnessed in the media the toppling of statues of individuals that, by today’s ‘standards’, were out of step with our current values. This is but one aspect of re-writing history, and the written media is currently awash with sanitised versions of history. Boldeman has examined how the relationship between the Mau Mau and the British colonial government in Kenya during the 1950s has been distorted by numerous current historians.
Historians/commentators writing in the 1950s have been ignored by the revisionists in their fervour to condemn everything pertaining to British colonialisation and imperialistic government - the government in Kenya in the 1950s were guilty of killing Mau Mau who were only seeking independence and self-rule! Completely overlooked is the fact the Mau Mau coerced their own people – the Kikuyu - to take oaths of allegiance, and those who were not prepared to cooperate, were slaughtered and/or dismembered; while the government, realising its own police force was totally inadequate to protect the population from terror, asked Britain for a number of battalions of troops to assist in maintaining law and order.
Boldeman has forensically dissected the current revisionist literature, but not before outlining the ethical considerations and academic rigour necessary in providing an appropriate approach to reviewing and commenting on past events. The ideologies and those who imposed them upon their people in the late 19th and early 20th centuries have been succinctly presented. The history of Britain’s anti-slavery stance in Africa and the role Britain played in the early days of Kenya have been discussed. Examination of Kikuyu beliefs enable the reader to put Kenyan society into perspective in the late 1940s along with a snapshot of Kenyan society in the 1950s. The confluence of numerous factors enabled those seeking power at any cost to have a fertile environment to manipulate the Kenyans and the Kikuyu in particular. The number of deaths among the Kikuyu (who were 25% of Kenya’s natives) has been grossly underestimated, mainly due to their bodies having never being found or their murders not being reported.
Kikuyu leader, Jomo Kenyatta, had spent time in Moscow in 1932 and 1933 at the University of the Toilers of the East tasked to make its students into real revolutionaries. He spent fourteen years in Britain in the company of radicals advocating the revolutionary overthrow of British imperialism. Embracing anti-colonialism and Pan-African ideas, he co-organised the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester before returning to Kenya in 1946. The following year he was elected President of the Kenya African Union. His slogan ‘Land and Freedom’ had as its source the Nazi slogan ‘Living Space’ and Lenin’s ‘Peace, Land and Bread’. In 1952, he was arrested and charged with masterminding the anti-colonial Mau Mau Uprising and remained in prison from 1954 until 1961. He became President of the Kenyan African National Union on release and led the party to victory in the general election in 1963 – thus becoming Kenya’s first Prime Minister with Kikuyu holding the major portfolios, and Kenyatta taking a more moderate stance for fear of the British removing him from office. He became Kenya’s first President in 1964 - dying in office in 1978.
This is an extremely academic work, tackled with tremendous rigor. It does require substantial effort to read more than one chapter in a sitting. The text has been supplemented by more than 800 notes and contains an excellent Index.
Boldeman has indeed cemented his authority as an expert on Kenyan history during the Mau Mau Uprising and is essential reading for those wishing to avoid the ‘alternative fact’ versions that are unfortunately becoming more prevalent.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.