Wider powers of collective punishment authorized in Kenya

A British soldier looks at the bodies of dead Mau Mau insurgents –
© IWM (MAU 431)

25 November 1952

Today in 1952, Sir Evelyn Baring, the governor of Kenya, issued new emergency measures designed to widen the conditions for the imposition of collective punishment in areas considered sympathetic to the anti-British Mau Mau insurgency. The pro-Empire Daily Express reported the same day that ‘Africans in the Thomson’s Falls District, where Commander Jock Meiklejohn was fatally hacked by Mau Mau thugs two days ago may have their crops seized, their vehicles immobilised, their jobs taken away and their homes barred to them.’

The paper noted that ‘up to now seizure of cattle and other collective punishments have been applicable where a tribe or group has been openly hostile to the authorities. From tomorrow tribesmen who have not in the district officer’s opinion, taken reasonable steps to prevent crime will be “for it.”‘  However, it then added its own note of caution, remarking that the measures ‘may produce more problems than they solve. If they create a pool of homeless hungry Kikuyu (an ethnic group living in central Kenya), it is a safe bet that presently the ranks of Mau Mau will be increased by men and women so far innocent of membership or of other crimes.’  The paper’s concerns seemed to be focused more on administrative efficiency than any fundamental moral principles. An editorial in the newspaper three days later made it clear that it did not oppose the policy of punishing entire communities collectively, even while it acknowledged the public’s right to feel some sympathy for its victims.

‘Be sorry, then, for the Africans who huddle tonight in their compounds. Resolve, as all decent men will, that as soon as the danger is over they will be restored to their rightful peaceful way of life. But be sensible too. Above all have faith in the men and women of your own race who are trying as humanely as they can to put out a fire which, if it were left unchecked, would set the whole African continent ablaze.’1


  1. ‘Sparks or a Blaze ?’ The Daily Express, 28 November 1952, p. 4.

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© 2020 Alisdare Hickson All rights reserved

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