1950-1959 | Collective punishments | Kenya

Archbishop of York backs collective punishment against Kenyan villages

Cyril Garbett, Archbishop of York. © NPG x84607
Cyril Garbett, Archbishop of York. © NPG x84607

26 November 1952

On 26 November 1952, Dr. Cyril Garbett, the Archbishop of York, speaking in the House of Lords, backed the British government’s use of collective punishment against villages and often entire districts deemed to be ‘uncooperative’ with Britain’s counter-insurgency campaign to crush the anti-colonial Mau Mau rebellion. During the next four years the punitive measures were to result in tens of thousands being deprived of their livestock and land, and 400,000 more moved into virtual concentration camps. An operation which, according to Caroline Elkins, in her detailed study ‘Britain’s Gulag: the Brutal End of Empire in Kenya‘, ‘left tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands dead.’1

Earlier, the Labour peer Lord Stansgate had attacked the government for using dogs to round up black women and children. The Archbishop was unsympathetic. He insisted that such revelations were dangerous because they encouraged ‘what he himself dreaded might come—a suspicion of British rule throughout Africa.’  Instead, he argued, the focus should be on the crimes of the anti-British Mau Mau insurgency, which was ‘directed and inspired by the lowest type of witchcraft,’ adding that ‘the more that is known of this movement, the more determined will this country be to restore order.’ Order in the sense of the population’s passive acceptance of the absolute political and economic hegemony of the the white settlers and British rule.2


  1. Caroline Elkins, Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya, The Bodley Head, London, 2014, p. xiv.
  2. The Lord Archbishop of York cited in ‘Collective Punishment in Kenya,’ 26 November 1952, House of Lords Hansard accessed online at url https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/1952-11-26/debates/f143e09e-c8d6-4a9f-ad02-34a0d207feb8/CollectivePunishmentInKenya and ‘Peer says dogs used in Kenya manhunt,’ The Daily Herald, 27 November 1952, p. 1.

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