Histories of the Hanged: Britain's Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire by David Anderson

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Phoenix

Release Date: 2005

Genre: Historical Non - Fiction

Setting: Kenya

My Rating: 4 Stars


Histories of the Hanged exposes the long-hidden colonial crimes of the British in Kenya. This groundbreaking work tells how the brutal war between the colonial government and the insurrectionist Mau Mau between 1952 and 1960 dominated the final bloody decade of imperialism in East Africa. Using extraordinary new evidence, David Anderson puts the colonial government on trial with eyewitness testimony from over 800 court cases and previously unseen archives. His research exonerates the Kikuyu rebels; hardly the terrorists they were thought to be; and reveals the British to be brutal aggressors in a "dirty war" that involved leaders at the highest ranks of the British government. This astonishing piece of scholarship portrays a teetering colonial empire in its final phase; employing whatever military and propaganda methods it could to preserve an order that could no longer hold. (Source: Goodreads).

My Thoughts…

This is my first book of 2019 and it surprisingly makes it to @Reggiereads #2booksunder50reviews challenge having been published in 2005 with only 25 reviews on goodreads. Which I must say does not make sense to me because this is such a brilliant book, balanced and well researched.

I have over the years read histories on Kenya’s Mau Mau in different texts, journals and books and it has always been glossed over - given in generalities, as mentions as part of a wider story of the struggle of independence; but never so detailed – right down to names and dates and places and specific events. It was interesting to see all the names of the Mau Mau who were hanged published in the glossary pages, I had to go through the names to see if I could trace any of my relatives seeing that most of the hanged were from Kiambu which is where my family comes from.

The Mau Mau were militant, ruthless, cruel, and murderous in agitating for their land rights and anyone standing in their way – white settlers, fellow Kikuyu loyalists and perceived traitors – met cruel deaths. They felt justified in achieving their end via any means possible. The colonial government on the other hand, refusing to accept that Africans had legitimate grievances regarding the alienation of their land and loss of livelihood met any resistance with equal if not more brutal force – the end result, a dirty war that no party ended up the victor.

The book is quite detailed which makes it a slow read. I had to do a lot of side reading and make references but it does help that the book it A LOT of references at the back that you can refer to. The author is a true scholar and this is evident in the book.

Anderson in this compelling book provides a balanced account of the war in Kenya during the emergency period (1952-1961) and details the atrocities committed on both sides. It is not an attempt at sanitizing any side but providing a definitive account. There were no winners here, just a revelation of how cruel human beings can be to one another when we do not understand each other. This is an important book and I wish it would be incorporated more in history lessons. 4/5 stars.


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