The Lamu Mau Mau papers

A mau mau veteran.

What you need to know:

  • Recently-discovered, a colonial file labelled ‘Jock-Scott List’ sheds light on the real reasons behind the detention of Jomo Kenyatta and fellow freedom fighters
  • According to papers retrieved from a quaint locker in Lamu, the future President of Kenya was a dangerous Leninist and something of a “Kikuyu God”

In a stunning lack of curiosity, none of the independence-era civil servants had bothered to establish the contents of the locker.

Like treasure that remained hidden for ages, these historical gems dating back to early 1950s were locked up for decades until the facility was turned into a national monument and handed over to the National Museums of Kenya in 1981, having been a colonial and post-independence prison.

The desk was in the curator’s office in Lamu and had remained locked all this time.

“The files are a real treasure as they explain in detail how the detainees were treated,” says Athman Hussein, the National Museums of Kenya, assistant director in charge of Coast region.

The documents expose the understated role of Kenyan Asians in the struggle for independence.

Pio Gama Pinto, Davinder Singh Gopal  and Babubai Umedhbhai Patel were incarcerated at a special camp for Asians in Takwa, Lamu.

Nationalist Pinto, who would become Oginga Odinga political strategist, was assassinated in 1965.

Pinto was to be the target of an unsuccessful colonial scheme to woo him from other freedom fighters because of his, the papers say, “exposure and intelligence.”

The documents indicate that the colonial administrators pursued a divide-and-rule strategy by promising Mau Mau detainees jobs within the prison service if they agreed to simply meant denouncing the Mau Mau and the freedom movement.

But a file labelled “Jock Scott List” circulated by the colonial-era Special Branch division of the Kenya on the freedom fighters’ backgrounds.

The intelligence list was circulated to all the prisons, to familiarise the warders with the type of prisoner they would be dealing with should the listed Mau Mau elements be dispatched to their prisons.

A cover letter from the Special Branch dated June 16, 1953 and addressed to the Commissioner of Prisons, introduces the dossier thus: “Enclosed please find the main ‘Jock Scott’ list according to your secretary’s request yesterday. Would you be good enough to return this whenever possible as this office has only one other copy; it is hoped to cyclostyle this list when time permits and some copies will be availed (sic) to you.”

Among prominent people named in the list of 146 people are Jomo Kenyatta, Mbiyu Koinange, his son Peter Mbiyu Koinange, Fred Kubai, Achieng Oneko, Bildad Kaggia, Muindi Mbingu, Eliud Mathu, Paul Ngei and Kung’u Karumba. Oneko, Kaggia, Mbingu, Pinto and Davinder Singh were all incarcerated at Takwa.

Although most of the names were from Central Kenya and Nairobi, there was Said Mgunga, described as a Mdigo from Kwale who was arrested and detained for organising a Kenya African Union (KAU) meeting at Vunga during which the invited Kenyatta, Oneko, Jesse Kariuki made speeches. KAU was the precursor of Kanu.

Mgunga, according to the file, also organised a women’s demonstration in Vunga and was generally active in the dissemination of anti-government propaganda.

Kenyatta, who would be Kenya’s first president, tops the list with a detailed description of his background as leader of the proscribed KCA, his sojourn in Moscow to study economics at the Lenin School and the presidency of Kenya African Union from 1946.

Of Kenyatta, one document says: “(He is the) Acknowledged leader of the Kikuyu people, the vast majority of whom look upon him as a god. Many Kikuyu hymns, war songs and legendary stories refer to him as the African saviour who will drive the European from the country and satisfy their national hunger for land.”

Fellow prisoner in Kapenguria Richard Achieng Oneko, was described as Kenyatta’s side-kick and a ‘fanatical nationalist’.

As the general secretary of Kenya African Union, Oneko is said to have made “highly inflammatory and anti-European speeches.”

He is described as: “The first Jaluo to command Kikuyu respect and is undoubtedly being cultivated by Kenyatta as a likely promoter of Kikuyu-Jaluo unity.”

To the Special Branch, Bildad Kaggia, one of the famous ‘Kapenguria Six’ was: “A religious fanatic who first came to (our) notice in (sic) the Dini ya Jesu Cristo which was responsible for the murder of a European Police officer near Gatundu in 1948.”

As for Fred Kubai, whose full names are given as Frederick Polworth Gideon Kubai, the dossier says he is: “A prominent leader of the general strike in Nairobi in May 1950 and is an evil and dangerous influence in industrial organisations.

(He) was implicated in the attempted murder of a Nairobi Municipal Councillor who favoured African participation in the Nairobi Civic celebrations.”

The dossier on Paul Ngei reads: “Paulo Ngei, Tribe, Mkamba, Nairobi. An educated and extremely dangerous agitator closely associated with Jomo Kenyatta and other leading politicians. He is the editor of the near-seditious and highly inflammatory vernacular newspaper Wasya wa Ikamba (Akamba) and Uhuru wa Mwafrika and harbours bitter feelings against the European and Government. He is known to have taken the Mau Mau oath and to be endeavouring to introduce the Mau Mau oath system into the Kamba Reserve. Until his conviction this month for interfering with a crown witness in Jesse Kariuki’s deportation case, which resulted in his imprisonment for a period of three months, he was the General Secretary of K.A.U Nairobi branch and a leading protagonist of the Kikuyu-Kamba unity.”

The intelligence on Peter Mbiyu Koinange, who would be a powerful minister in the Kenyatta government, reads: “Tribe Mkikuyu, (now in the UK). A son of ex-Senior Chief Koinange Mbiyu. present in England representing the KAU. Due to his activities abroad, he has gained enormous prestige amongst the Kikuyu and is regarded by them as being second only to Jomo Kenyatta in the African political arena. Before his departure for England, he remodelled the structure of KISA to encourage Kikuyu nationalism and promote anti-European feelings amongst KISA pupils. Like his father, he is himself bitterly anti-European and is a deceitful and most dangerous personality.”

To the colonial government, Eliud Mathu, founder member of the KAU and leader of the African nominated members of Legislative Council was: “A highly misleading character who outwardly advocates constitutional methods but who is believed directly to associate himself with Kikuyu subversive activity behind the scenes and has been for a considerable period, a close associate of Jomo Kenyatta and other extreme left (wing) politicians. Is known to have taken the Mau Mau oath in company with other so-called moderate Kikuyu politicians. In view of this, his position as a member of the Executive Council must be considered dangerous.”

Sarah Sarai, the only woman in the list is labelled as a Kikuyu from Nairobi, a leading Mau Mau organiser in the city and the surrounding reserves and “a close associate of the worst criminal elements on record.”

The papers say, “she is, fanatically anti-European and anti-government and an extremely dangerous character. A powerful dictator … Seeks to use Kikuyu women as a buffer between Kikuyu violence and police authorities.”

The files show that Lamu had many detention camps spread on the mainland and on the island where prominent Kenyan freedom fighters were jailed.

Besides Lamu Prison, which was the main penal institution in the area, were Shella, Mwana, Takwa, Manda, Hindi, Mokowe, Kwa Sheshe and Lango la Simba facilities for hardcore detainees.

Manda and Takwa, says Mr Said, were chosen because the detainees could not escape by swimming across the sea.