1920-1939 | Civilians slaughtered | Kenya

Settlers, police and soldiers shoot dead hundreds in Nairobi

Labour activist Harry Thuku (via Editor Globalblackhistory.com and Wikimedia) and the Norfolk Hotel from where armed white settlers opened fire ( J. Leclercq via Wikimedia).

16 March 1922

On 16 March 1922, according to various official sources, Kenyan colonial soldiers and police shot dead 20 protesters in Nairobi though the real figure for those who died on the streets or later in hospital is now estimated to have been in the hundreds. The demonstrators were angry at the arrest two days earlier of activist Harry Thuku, along with fifty others who had been campaigning against forced labour. They were also demanding an end to colonial injustices as well as greater political representation. A large unarmed crowd, with women marching at the front, headed towards the police station where Thuku was being detained until they found their route blocked by a unit of police and the Kings African Rifles.

The riot act was read out. The men in the demonstration fell quiet and may have been about to disperse but, Muthoni Nyanjuri, the woman leading the march, taunted them ‘You take my dress and give me your trousers. What are you waiting for ?’ and she promptly led a rush of women towards the prison door. Moments later, the soldiers and police opened fire and Nyanjuri was among those killed.1

However, neither the official or press reports mentioned that armed white settlers based at the Norfolk Hotel and other locations also joined in the massacre.  According to one settler, there was ‘talk of hundreds being killed by the police and being shot on the roads back by civilian Europeans in cars and on horseback.’ The East African Association, the mass workers movement set up by Thuku, published a list of two hundred it claimed had been killed and recently the Kenyan historian Nazmi Durani estimated the number of men and women slaughtered during the violence at 150.2


  1.  Valentine Udoh James and James Etim (Editors), The Feminization of Development Processes in Africa: Current and Future Perspectives, Praeger Publishers, Westport, 1999 pp. 104-105, Piers Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire: 1781-1997, Jonathan Cape, London, 2007 p. 357, ‘Outbreak in Nairobi,’ The Belfast Newsletter 20 March 1922, p. 6, ‘East African Natives Attack on Police,’ The Yorkshire Post, 18 March 1922, p. 11 and Nazmi Durani, Restoring Kenyan History: Anti-imperialist resistance by progressive South Asian Kenyans, 1884-1965, Vita Books, Nairobi, 2017 p. 31.
  2. Piers Brendon p. 357 and Nazmi Durani, p. 31 and James Karanga, The Missionary Movement in Colonial Kenya, Cuvillier Verlag, Gottingen, 2009  p. 174.

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