Letter: Tribal warfare

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The Independent Culture
Sir: In "Should Britain be charged with war crimes?" (1 December) David Anderson looks back at the Mau Mau emergency. Without denying that it was a true colonial war based on considerable contempt for the indigenous peoples by many, though not all, white settlers, it had complexities the writer does not mention.

One of the justifications of Pax Britannica, both in India and much of Africa, was the suppression of war between tribes. Under British rule in Kenya, a once forest-dwelling tribe, the Kikuyu, became the dominant element in most of the Civil Service and among the educated elite.

The Kikuyu and the closely related Meru and Embu tribes developed the Mau Mau to push out the British solely to colonise Kenya's economic and political structures. This was quite clear to the dozens of non-related tribes.

During the year I spent in the Mt Kenya Crown Forest in 1955 , keeping Mau Mau on the move (humans find it nearly impossible to survive in tropical forests unless they can stay relatively settled), my Masai and Kipsigis askaris harked back constantly to the arrival of the British.

They had been very sorry that we had ever come to East Africa because they had contained the Kikuyu, Meru and Embu "as honey-collectors in the forest" but foresaw Kikuyu overlordship in Nairobi the moment independence arrived.


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