The rule of fear: state violence in colonial Kenya, 1952-1955

Wednesday 30 January 2013 (16:00-18:00)

Peaker: David Anderson (Warwick)

Six months into the counter-insurgency against Kenya’s Mau Mau rebels, and faced with a campaign that was not going well, the British overhauled their security command. General Erskine arrived in June 1953 to take command of the military, followed three months later by the new Commissioner of Police, Arthur Young. Both witnessed the effects of Kenya’s ‘bloody summer’ of 1953, and both were appalled by a campaign that had degenerated into a litany of atrocity, abuse and violent excess. Young described the order imposed over the Kikuyu rural farmlands by the administration and his own police force as a ‘rule of fear’. He vowed to impose discipline and to bring an end to excess, but only fifteen months after his arrival, Young resigned from service in Kenya, regretting that he had been unable to prevent the systematic abuse of ordinary citizens by those officers of the state charged with their administration and order. Drawing upon newly revealed archival sources, and building upon earlier published work on Kenya’s ‘dirty war’, this paper describes Young’s struggles to bring an end to the ‘rule of fear’ in central Kenya, reveals the facts behind his resignation, and explains how colonial efforts to prevent the prosecutions of state agents further entrenched the practices of abuse and torture in Britain’s counter-insurgency campaign.

Part of the Fifty Years of African Studies series