1950-1959 | Collective punishments | Concentration camps | Detention without trial | Kenya | Martial law

British governor of Kenya declares a state of emergency

Soldiers search suspect Mau Mau rebels during an unrelated operation in 1954. 
© IWM (MAU 865).

20 October 1952

Today in 1952, Kenya’s governor, Evelyn Baring, signed a state of emergency.  In the early hours of the following morning, in an operation code-named Jock Scott, 106 Kenyan civil rights leaders and individuals suspected of being overly sympathetic to an anti-British rebellion, known as the Mau Mau uprising, were arrested. Most of them were interned without any specific charge or prospect of trial.1

A British newspaper reported that ‘hundreds of armed Europeans and African police, backed by two battalions of the King’s African Rifles and armoured cars, moved into tribal areas to begin mass arrests of suspected Mau Mau terrorists,’ and that ‘all road exits from the reserves, covering hundreds of square miles, were blocked as police with dogs spread out among villages and dug deep into forests where prominent ringleaders of the organisation were believed to have hidden.’2 During the subsequent few weeks, thousands were detained, while tens of thousands of rural squatters, particularly from Kenya’s Kikuyu population, were also rounded up and forced into virtual concentration camps.3

The most prominent man seized during the first hours of the state of emergency was Jomo Kenyatta, the moderate leader of the Kenya African Union, who was subsequently sentenced to seven years hard labour after Baring secretly paid a bribe of £20,000 to Justice Ransley Thacker, who acted as both judge and jury in the trial. Even the twenty Crown witnesses, who were brought into protective custody, were later rewarded with a financial payment of over £10,000.4  Bribery was the only way to ensure Kenyatta’s conviction, as there was absolutely no credible evidence to link him to the insurgency, which he had repeatedly condemned.


  1. David Anderson, Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire, Phoenix, London, 2006, p. 63. ‘Emergency Decreed in Kenya as Troops Land,’ The Daily Mirror, 21 October 1952, p. 1 and ‘Troops Fly into Kenya as Terror Hunt Begins,’ The Daily Herald, 21 October 1952, p. 1.
  2. ‘State of Emergency in Kenya,’ The Birmingham Gazette, 21 October 1952, p. 1.
  3. Caroline Elkins, Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya, The Bodley Head, London, 2014,  pp. 57-59 and Piers Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997, Jonathan Cape, London, 2014, p. 554
  4. David Anderson, op. cit., p. 64.

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