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Mau Mau: a bloody colonial-era conflict

11 September 2015, 08:02

Nairobi - Kenya's Mau Mau fighters battled British colonial rule, marking a key step towards independence, even though the movement itself was defeated in a brutal crackdown.

From 1952 to 1960 the guerrilla fighters -- often with dreadlocked hair and wearing animal skins -- terrorised colonial communities in the east African nation.

But while attention at the time focused on 32 murdered white settlers, the cost was far greater for Kenyans with at least 10,000 killed.

Some historians put that toll far higher, at 25,000, while Kenya's Human Rights Commission says as many as 90,000 Kenyans were killed and 160,000 jailed in camps.

The fighters, drawn largely from the Kikuyu people of central Kenya, took up arms under the slogan "land and freedom". Based in remote forests, they staged guerrilla-style attacks, challenging white settlers for valuable land.

Tens of thousands of those accused of supporting the fighters were rounded up and detained without trial in harshly run camps where reports of executions, torture and brutal beatings were common.

"They told us to dig our own graves," Wambugu Wa Nyingi told AFP in an earlier interview who, like thousands of others, was held without charge for nine years in British-run labour camps.

"When we refused, they beat us so hard that my skin was stripped off my back," said Nyingi, one of four Kenyans who gave evidence before a London court as to the abuse they suffered.

Officially called the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA), the fighters were named "Mau Mau" reportedly for the secret code words for the group.

The new memorial statute, showing a woman handing a basket of food to a male fighter, has the pair turning their heads away from each other, so as not to reveal identies to each other in case they were caught.

The capture of a top leader, Dedan Kimathi, in October 1956 and his execution by hanging a year later was a significant blow to the movement.

The insurgency over, Kenya won self-rule in 1963, and full independence the following year.

But while the Mau Mau was a key step towards independence, it also provoked bitter divisions, between those who backed the fighters and those who served colonial forces. It remained outlawed until 2003.

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