BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Mau Mau Rebellion: The Emergency in Kenya 1952-1956’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The Mau Mau Rebellion: The Emergency in Kenya 1952-1956

Author: Nick van der Bijl

Total Number of Printed Pages: 250

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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The Mau Mau rebellion was a small, nasty conflict that occurred in Kenya (Africa) between 1952 and 1956. It was essentially a clash of cultures. There were two protagonists. One was a people-group who, after being denigrated and humiliated, had lost large amounts of hereditary land through no fault of their own. The second was a governing power which believed that it had absolute authority to do as it wished and was not about to negotiate with those it considered to be its inferiors. This volume narrates the story of the conflict that resulted.

Unlike other works on similar subjects, this volume focusses on ‘… The Regulars and young National Servicemen’, who participated in the conflict. The result is a book which ‘…Is a collation of information from published works, regimental periodicals, the internet and some interviews with and recollections of ‘those who were there’. The volume is a largely objective, eminently readable and well-researched work which gives an immediacy that is unusual. This reviewer found Chapters One (British East Africa) and Two (The Colonization of Kenya), particularly interesting.

A Preface and Acknowledgements section has been placed after the Contents page. Within it the author thanks those who contributed to the volume. It is in turn followed by a two-page Maps section An Introduction then provides an overview of Kenyan geology, fauna and native peoples. This is in turn followed by the 12 Chapters which form the bulk of the volume. A section titled Conclusion follows that section. It summarises what has gone before. Two Appendices are placed next, and are in turn followed by a Glossary. This provides interpretation for the numerous acronyms which occur within the book together with two indigenous words widely used during the conflict.  A  Bibliography then provides sources for the material used within the volume.  Although numerous quotes appear within the volume, there are no accompanying source citations. As a result there is no way of knowing from whence the quotes came. As they were presumably sourced from titles appearing within the Bibliography, for this reviewer this reduced the latter’s value for further research. The Bibliography is in turn followed by the Index. A well-captioned 16-page photographic section appears in the centre of the volume. There is however no reference to its existence on the Contents page.  Although this reviewer could find little to fault in this work, he does have reservations about the authority of the Index. This is occasioned by an entry on p.158 where it is stated that ‘…Four No.8 Squadron twin-boomed NFB-9s detached from Aden provided low-level …ground attack’. Despite a search of the Index under both Aircraft and Royal Air Force Units, no reference to either ‘8 Squadron’ or ‘NFB-9s’ (perhaps De Havilland Venom F.B.9’s?), was found. With two such errors appearing on a single page, it is reasonable to ask if other, similar, omissions have occurred? There is no way to know.  

The ‘difficulty’ with the Index notwithstanding, this is a well-written and researched volume that may be of interest to several different groups of readers.  Former residents and military personnel who were in Kenya at the time of the rebellion will no doubt find it both informative and nostalgic. Military historians interested in ‘brush fire’ conflicts and tactics could also find it useful, while the photographs may be of interest to military modellers and war-gamers. Those with an interest in the politics associated with ‘liberation’ conflicts may also find the narrative informative.

Due to the uncertainty of the Index, and on a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent. I have given this volume an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Mau Mau Rebellion: The Emergency in Kenya 1952-1956’