Thursday, February 10, 2005

Mr Wong, Chopper Gleasby and The Ponce

Two new books have emerged recently on the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya, one by David Anderson, the other by Caroline Elkins.

I plan to read both of these books in due course and have higher hopes for one of them than the other (not saying which one!). Those with an interest in counterinsurgency may wish to check them out.

I am not, frankly, convinced of just whether the reveleations promised by these works will pan out to be all that they are cracked up to be. While it may come as news to the general public, it is no secret in specialist circles that in dealing with the Mau Mau the British conducted their most brutal COIN campaign (for a variety of reasons, including the immaturity of emerging COIN doctrine, the relatively free rein given to white colonists [as opposed to British Army] in conducting security operations and the unfortunate racial hierarchy within the British Empire, in which blacks ranked at the bottom of the scale [below East Asians, who in turn were considered lower ranking than Indians]). It should also be no secret to half way informed students of British politics, as the later much-maligned Enoch Powell led a very public rebellion against what he considered to be human rights abuses committed by security forces during the campaign. Additionally, while the authors of the two books have impeccable academic credentials, some of the publicity accompanying the books has been both inaccurate and overblown. The Elkins book in particular has been accompanied by a string of preposterous and inaccurate historical analogies - whether these are spun from the author's pen or from the fevered imagination of the promotions department of the relevant publishing house I am not entirely sure: I sincerely hope the latter. Additionally, here seems to be a risk that the work goes beyond merely cataloguing British abuses and crosses into the territory of arguing that the Mau Mau were actually the good guys - which by any objective measure they were not (most Kikuyu, let alone most Kenyans, favoured the British over the Mau Mau [which is not to say that they did not want independence] and, in common with other groups of a similar ilk, from the IRA to the Viet Cong to the Iraqi "Resistance", the Mau Mau killed, terrorised and brutalised far more of its own people than it did colonial oppressors).

So we shall see. Might be worth keeping your eyes peeled if this is your sort of topic, though.


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