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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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