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20 of 33 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Hopelessly Biased and One-Sided History, 7 Feb. 2010
This review is from: Britain's Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya (Hardcover)
This could so easily have been a good book. Much research has been carried out, and ignoring some idiosyncratic grammar, the writing style is clear and concise. The early chapters explain the foundation of Kenya as a British colony and the changes that followed for the indigenous population, mainly Kikuyu people, of the central fertile province. The pressure of insufficient land for the growing African population and the central key role that land ownership plays in the Kikuyu society, and the difference in status accorded to Christian converts were both key factors in promoting the Mau Mau insurgency. The author Caroline Elkins describes this situation very well, and also goes on to describe the colonial response to the acts of terror perpetrated by the Mau Mau. The widespread detention of suspects, the sweep of the capital Nairobi aimed at removing suspect Kikuyu men, the establishment of the 'Pipeline' of detention camps to screen and subsequently turn non-hardline suspects are all well explained. The final establishment of guarded villages and disruption of supplies to the Mau Mau fighters leading to their ultimate defeat, a technique copied from the Malayan insurgency, is also adequately dealt with.
The massive fault in the book is the remorselessly left-wing bias that Elkins applies to all her research and the resulting blatantly self-contradictory statements. At one point comparing the detention camps in their mistreatment to Japanese POW camps and then noting that a parliamentary inspection committee of MPs, including three Labour MPs, criticised the toilet facilities and the lack of blankets is hardly self-consistent. To quote the back of a fag-packet calculation of camp deaths made by a left-wing Asian lawyer in Kenya as a substantive fact is also not worthy of her extensive research and wide ranging interviews.
Elkins must know that to quote the 'Daily Worker' of the 1950s is not a safe practice. And so it goes on with interminable details of individual cases of maltreatment in the camps followed by massive and unsubstantiated extrapolation. At all times, apart from two incidents, Mau Mau violence is ignored and reactive colonial response made to look inexplicable. This is poor, one-sided, history and causes you to wonder why her work was the subject of a 2002 BBC documentary, 'Kenya: White Terror'.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 22 Nov 2010 14:53:20 GMT
HuddyBolly says:
Ms Elkins criticises the 'racist white settlers', and particularly the Christian missionaries' for their attitude towards Kikuyu 'culture.'
Jomo Kenyatta in his book 'Facing Mount Kenya' also spoke strongly of this, stating that the Kikuyu should be allowed to continue with their traditional 'cultural' practices; the most contentious of which was ritual female circumcision; or, as it is now referred to, female genital mutilation.
This abhorrent practice; although in theory banned by international law, is still carried out today among various tribal peoples, and efforts to have it curtailed are still not successful.
Ms Elkins, whilst mentioning the practice amongst the Kikuyu; is unjudgemental, preferring to critcise the missionaries' attitude; effectively taking the view that they were in the wrong to condemn this aspect of Kikuyu 'culture'.
A strange view for a liberal minded Harvard academic!
It does however help us understand how she can ignore the utter savagery that accompanied all aspects of Mau Mau, whilst being so scathing of 'British' and 'white settler' retaliatory brutality; which undoubtedly occurred.
As Dr Brandon indicates, remorseless bias; and totally inconsistant!

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Jul 2013 19:09:42 BDT
Last edited by the author on 22 Jul 2013 19:14:27 BDT
"At one point comparing the detention camps in their mistreatment to Japanese POW camps and then noting that a parliamentary inspection committee of MPs, including three Labour MPs, criticised the toilet facilities and the lack of blankets is hardly self-consistent".
On page 283, Elkins is writing about Barbara Castle's informant in Kenya (Castle was the leading parliamentary figure who tried to expose the truth about the Kenyan emergency at the time). It was Duncan McPherson, an assistant police commissioner in the Kenyan police service. Castle, in her memoirs, described McPherson as "...the British policeman at his best - a sturdy Scot, frank, open and direct." He told Castle how Mau Mau suspects had been "battered to death" and "summarily shot" and the involvement of the colonial authorities in torture and murder. To quote Elkins text directly:
He [McPherson] went on to tell Castle about the Pipeline, a situation that particularly disturbed him given his own internment during the Second World War. "The conditions in these camps were worse than he himself had ever experienced in the Japanese prisoner of war camps.
So it in not Elkins making the comparison, it is a high-ranking British policeman working in Kenya at the time of the emergency, quoted by Castle. Who better to make the comparison than one who had suffered in these camps?

The fact that the above 'contradicts' the report of the MPs is because they are separate elements in Elkins discourse. Neither of them represents her personal opinion.
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