1950-1959 | Collective punishments | Kenya | Livestock targeted

Collective punishment against Kenyan villages deemed to be ‘hostile’

King’s African Rifles on patrol in Kenya –
Imperial War Museum – public domain

2 April 1952

On 2 April 1952, the Collective Punishments Ordinance was passed by Kenya’s British run colonial government. It allowed the governor to authorize fines as well as the requisition of cattle, crops and property on already impoverished populations, ‘where a tribe or group has been (deemed to be) openly hostile to the authorities.’1 These powers were subsequently widened in November, in the words of the pro-Empire Daily Express, in order to ‘permit the immediate seizure of cattle, crops and property of communities who fail to “take reasonable steps to prevent crime.”‘2 Colonial Secretary Oliver Lyttelton explained that this was ‘a distasteful but necessary procedure of punishment of certain defined areas.’3

On 6 April, just four days after the initial ordinance became law, the first fine of £2,500 was levied against two villages. Historian David Anderson, author of Histories of the Hanged on the Kenyan insurgency, describes how, as the crisis deepened, ‘this blunt legal instrument’ was used with a ‘growing regularity.’ It did not seem to matter that under article 33 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 such actions of collective punishment were considered ‘war crimes.’4 At the extreme critical end of British mainstream media, the Daily Mirror focused not on the illegality of these brutal actions which were generating famine conditions across wide areas , but on the argument that they were inefficient, declaring that ‘the methods being adopted are not stamping out terrorism. (Rather,) it is becoming clear that they are spreading it.’5


  1. ‘Reveal The Thugs,’ The Daily Express, 25 November 1952 p. 2.
  2. ‘Mau Check as Sir Percy Flies In,’ The Daily Express, 21 November 1952, p. 2.
  3. ‘Kenya Row: MPs Force Debate on Shootings,’ The Daily Mirror, 26 November 1952, p. 16.
  4. David Anderson, Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire, Phoenix, London, 2006, p. 46.
  5. ‘Kenya Chaos,’ The Daily Mirror, 25 November 1952 p. 7.

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