Mau Mau

Added: 08-07-2018

In this podcast, Radiolab describes how Caroline Elkins uncovered the story of the nearly 1.5 million Mau Mau fighters, who fought the British for Kenyan independence, were detained and tortured in concentration camps. British denied this ever happened by burning documents when leaving the country until forced to through a recent lawsuit.

torture terrorism Ruck Family Massacre propaganda perception millions of people Mau Mau Rebellion mass atrocity labor camp Kikuyu people independence Kenya documentation destruction concentration camp colonial British

Type Reading Time Author Date Source
podcast 60 minutes RADIOLAB 07-03-2015
Type Reading Time
podcast 60 minutes
Author Date
radiolab 2018-08-07 00:00:00 UTC
Key Takeaways

  • In response to attacks on Europeans, the British forced millions of Kenyans into concentration camps in the 1950s.
  • The Mau Mau rebellion was not a small rebellion as described by the British, but a massive movement amongst millions of Kenyans.
  • The British burned and denied involvement in the Mau Mau massacre until the late 2000’s.


In this podcast, Radiolab describes how Caroline Elkins uncovered the story of the Mau Mau rebellion and British concentration camps in Kenya shortly before Kenya’s independence. Elkins explains that during WWII, Kenyans fought with the English and encountered ideals of anti-imperialism. Upon returning home, Kenyan war veterans thought they may receive better treatment, but nothing changed. In fact, the Kenyan condition got much worse after the war.

Some of the war vets amongst the Kikuyu people began pledging to kick Europeans out of the colony by taking an oath. Early acts of aggression against the British included destroying property, such as cutting the legs of European settlers’ cattle. The Mau Mau would increasingly assassinate and murder Europeans. In January 1953, Mau Mau fighters murdered the child of the well-respected British Ruck family. A photo of the killing was seen around the world and triggered fear of the Mau Mau as monsters, even within other Africans. They were considered a terrifying terrorist group, though this would later be revealed as the result of British propaganda.

British authorities allegedly handled the Mau Mau rebellion after this, driving them into rural areas. However, this story is very vague and has been revealed as a cover up for mass concentration camps.

Through over 300 interviews with Mau Mau elders in the 2000s, Elkins discovered that the Mau Mau rebellion was not a small rebellion, but a massive movement amongst millions of Kenyans. She found that British resistance took the form of burning and pillaging villages across the country, and forcing Kenyans into concentration camps. These were barren villages, surrounded by barbed wire. Inside the camps resistance continued, and British torture included inhumane methods of coercive violence including burning and drowning detainees.

Caroline Elkins estimates that nearly 1.5 million Kikuyu were killed, detained or enslaved. 32 British officially died from Mau Mau attacks. Yet numbers on this are unclear because British burned many of the most revealing documents when they officially left Kenya in 1963. Kenya’s first president, President Jomo Kenyatta, denounced Mau Mau out of fear of losing his own power, even banning talk of the Mau Mau until the 2000s.

After 50 years of British denial, Elkins’ book spurred a lawsuit that revealed over a million pages of incriminating evidence about the treatment of Mau Mau during the 1950s. British officials knew of the atrocities and approved of the torture.


“Uncovering the brutal truth about the British empire” by Marc Parry:

Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya by Caroline Elkins: