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International Socialism, Autumn 1963


Barry Hindess

African Jailbird


From International Socialism, No.14, Autumn 1963, p.39.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Mau Mau Detainee
Josiah Mwangi Kariuki
Oxford. 21s.

Mr Kariuki was detained from 1953 to 1960 in a variety of camps and under varying degrees of ill treatment. As one of the few educated detainees he acted as a spokesman for other prisoners and his periodic letters of complaint led to solitary confinement, beatings-up and worse. These and other aspects of camp life make up the bulk of this book. The early chapters deal with his childhood in the near-feudal white highlands, his search for education and the events leading up to the Mau Mau rebellion.

The Labour government, and later the conservatives, refused all demands for African representation on the Kenya legislature. This, together with fear of settler domination, shortage of land and growing political awareness, led to the movement known, mistakenly, as Mau Mau. The official theory of a ‘return’ to savagery is dismissed. The oaths, which the book describes, do not seem particularly obscene and served, as in early working class movements, to strengthen the feeling of unity. The author was hard core (an honour) throughout his detention and so passed through the final phase of rehabilitation at all costs which led, among others, to the tragedy of Hola. He makes it quite clear that this was not an isolated incident.

The book closes with an interesting chapter on life since his release. The story is lightened throughout by occasional touches of humour, a complete lack of bitterness, and a fund of Kikuyu sayings which put the other Mr K in the shade. It is, in spite of its subject, a pleasure to read.

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