on 8 September 2013
This book, which is one of a series on Africa at War, examines the events of the Mau Mau uprising between 1952 and 1960 as a military campaign rather than either as a revolt against colonial rule or as the outcome a series of disputes with Kenyan society. This is at once its greatest strength and major failing.
Some of its claims about the origin and nature of the uprising seem questionable. Baxter links Mau Mau to post-was African nationalist liberation movements led by an educated and articulate political leadership, yet the uprising was limited to a section of the Kikuyu people, the whole of which group made up around 20% of the population, and an educated political leadership was not very evident. He also states that this was not a civil war, because the colonial authorities treated it as a civil disturbance, and because military units operated solely in support of the civil power. This ignores the way the uprising split Kikuyu society in which the divisions it made often killed one another, which looks like a civil war. Baxter himself accepts that the Mau Mau rebellion was very different from later African wars of liberation in Rhodesia Angola and Mozambique, so perhaps he should simply treat it on its own merits.
The Mau Mau uprising collapsed in the face of the colonial military response. Baxter is on surer ground when examining the counter-insurgency tactics used and the course of the anti-Mau Mau campaign. Even at an early stage when the Mau Mau were forced into the forests around the mountains, they formed a large number of small groups that did not combine. Operation Anvil, a major offensive in 1954 cut off these fighters from their supporters in the Kikuyu community and made the defeat of those fighters a matter of time, although the emergency lasted until 1960.
Like many specialist books, it succeeds in its chosen field as a description of a military campaign, although it is probably too specialised for the general reader. It is not the easiest read, as its short, sharp sentences and sweeping generalisations make it quite monotonous. However, as most political histories of Mau Mau say very little about the military campaigns, it fills a gap.