The Mau Mau were a Kenyan rebel group who worked to remove the British and other Europeans from their country in the 1950s. Reports of the Mau Mau began to filter out of the forests outside Nairobi as early as 1951. Rumors included an oath that the members must sign to drive the white man from Kenya, and the fact that members are from the Kikuyu tribe, who have already had trouble with the law.
By 1952, suspected Mau Mau had set fire to homes of Africans who will not join the group, which leads the Kenyan government to impose a curfew on the outskirts of Nairobi. The group did not remain silent, however; Senior Chief Waruhui was assassinated in October of that year after he spoke out against the growing power of the Mau Mau. The British grew nervous as well, and called for more troops to be sent to Kenya. The Kenyan government declared a state of emergency after violence began to be more frequent. They also declared the Mau Mau a terrorist group.
The country seemed to be in an upheaval, as Jomo Kenyatta, the president of the Kenya African Union, was arrested for his suspected involvement with the group. The British arrested over 500 suspected rebels, schools were closed, and Kenyatta was sent to a remote district station.
By the end of 1952 the Mau Mau declared their open rebellion against the British, and the arrests continued. Governor-general Sir Evelyn Baring called for anyone who administered the Mau Mau oath to be executed.
Kenyans themselves were divided; some settlers formed Commando Units to deal with the Mau Mau threat when they felt the government could not do so. Baring announced an offensive under the command of Major-general William Hinde, and many suspected Mau Mau activists were killed or detained, some sentenced to hard labor (including Kenyatta).
In 1953, the Mau Mau murdered nineteen members of the Home Guard. Kikuyu tribal lands were cordoned off from Kenya to restrict the revels’ movements. Several of their main leaders were wounded and/or captured by the British in 1954, and one of them, General China, was urged to write to other leaders and tell them to surrender.
While this plan failed, the British arrested over 40,000 Kikuyu during dawn raids in April of 1954. The next year Baring grudgingly offered amnesty to the rebels, which made European settlers in Kenya irate. The Mau Mau ignored the offer and continued to kill the British. Amnesty was revoked, and nine Mau Mau suspected of killing two English schoolboys were given a death sentence. More imprisonments of rebels continued, and the death toll rose dramatically.
In 1959 the British ended the state of emergency after most of the Mau Mau strongholds were broken up. African nationalist leaders boycotted the Kenyan Constitutional Conference in London the following year. they agreed to assist with Kenya’s governance for the release of Jomo Kenyatta. Kenyatta was released from house arrest on July 14th, 1961. He was allowed to move freely, and was elected prime minister in Kenya’s first multi-racial election, held in May 1963. By December of that year, Kenya achieved independence. The Mau Mau were given amnesty. Kenya declared itself a republic in 1964 and Kenyatta became its first president. The Mau Mau were banned until 2003, and in 2006 pursued charges against the British for mistreatment in detention camps.
The estimate is that over 90,000 Africans were killed during the uprising.