Rhetoric and Imperial Decline: Arguing the Hola Camp Massacre of 1959

Richard Toye
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HolaMassacreTombstone
A mass grave in Hola is marked with a tombstone inscribed: “In loving memory of the 11 Mau Mau detainees massacred at Hola in 1959.” Their names are Kabui Kaman, Ndungu Kibaki, Mwema Kinuthia, Kinyanjui Njoroge, Koroma Mburu, Karanja Munuthi, Ikeno Ikiro, Migwi Ndegwa, Kaman Karanja, Mungai Githi and Ngugi Karitie.

On 3 March 1959, eleven Mau Mau detainees were beaten to death by their British guards amid an attempt to force the prisoners to undertake manual labour. What is now known as the Hola Camp Massacre has widely been seen as a seminal moment, one that undermined the legitimacy of the British Empire. In a celebrated Commons speech on the affair, Enoch Powell declared that it was not possible to have ‘African standards in Africa, Asian standards in Asia and perhaps British standards here at home […] We cannot, we dare not, in Africa of all places, fall below our own highest standards in the acceptance of responsibility.’

Yet it is intriguing to ask why this particular episode of colonial violence became a cause célèbre when previous comparable episodes of imperial violence (such as the Batang Kali killings in Malaya in 1948) had not. Continue reading “Rhetoric and Imperial Decline: Arguing the Hola Camp Massacre of 1959”