Salon interviews David Anderson over Huckabee's Mau Mau claims

Historians in the News

In his new book and in two media appearances this week, Mike Huckabee has argued that Barack Obama's behavior as president can be partly explained by his views of British colonial history in Kenya, where Obama's father and grandfather lived. Central to Huckabee's theory is that Obama has a different view of the 1950s-era Mau Mau uprising in Kenya than most Americans, and that that would, in turn, explain Obama's putative hatred for Winston Churchill.

Huckabee seems to be throwing around the exotic-sounding term "Mau Mau" every chance he gets, so I decided to talk to a historian about what actually happened in 1950s Kenya. The deeper one looks beneath the surface, the less sense Huckabee's narrative makes. Among other things, the suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion by the British involved the use of concentration camps and systematic torture -- so it's odd for Huckabee to be taking the British side in that conflict....

Here's my Q&A with the historian David Anderson about all of this. It has been edited slightly for length and clarity.

Can you explain what the Mau Mau uprising was?

It was an armed rebellion against British colonial rule. It broke out in October/November 1952. Its principal motivation was to remove the British from Kenya and reclaim land for Africans who felt their land had been stolen by white settlers. The military campaign lasted eight years; it was a classic asymmetric conflict. The Mau Mau had no weapons. The British threw several battalions of troops at them, and there was acute brutality -- on both sides.

What does "Mau Mau" actually mean?

It's a shorthand for the Land and Freedom Army. It was supported predominantly by an ethnic group known as the Kikuyu, the people who occupy central Kenya. They are among the African groups in that region who were economically the most powerful and politically the most sophisticated at that time. The rising was primarily among one group, but it claimed a nationalist credential.

So this was basically an eight-year military conflict?

There was a state of emergency that lasted for eight years. The fighting was basically over within four years -- by 1956 most of it was over. But in the process, the British imprisoned more than 80,000 Kikuyu in concentration camps. There was a really heavy clampdown on the areas where the rebellion had begun. The counterinsurgency campaign was brutally oppressive....

comments powered by Disqus