Volume 33

The Kenya Papers of Sir General George Erskine 1953-1955

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Eight months after the declaration of a State of Emergency in October 1952, the colonial authorities turned to London for additional help in putting down the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya. With experience of civil-military co-operation in the Second World War, and internal security in Ireland, India and Egypt, George Erskine was well suited to lead renewed military operations. Finding the Governor indecisive and the European settlers uncompromising, Erskine fashioned a joint civil-military strategy based on strict population control. Combining large-scale offensive operations with special forces techniques, his soldiers sought to drive the Mau Mau out of their forest bases and into the inhabited areas. Here, measures such as food control, forced villagisation, collective punishments and frequent mass interrogations were designed to separate the militants from the population, and to punish severely those whose loyalty was in doubt. Determined to prohibit blatant abuses of ordinary people, Erskine nonetheless found it almost impossible to prevent beatings, torture and murder when his strategy relied so heavily on fear.