One of my first duties was to visit a camp of about nine thousand men, women and children, mostly gathered up in sweeps but some deported from other territories simply because they belonged to the Kikuyu, Embu or Meru tribes and therefore might be Mau Mau. They were not convicted but detained on suspicion and kept prisoner till they could be sent to Detention Camps where they would be screened to discover if they were Mau Mau and if so to what extent they were implicated.
The officer on duty asked me which “Pens” I wanted to visit first and this word “Pen” set the scene for me. I have seen cattle markets in England, and places where animals are loaded on lorries to take them to slaughter houses, where the treatment was better than that accorded human beings in this camp humans, moreover, who as yet were innocent, merely being detained on suspicion.
The camp consisted of old tents, and was divided into compounds holding several hundred people each, enclosed with barbed wire. The whole camp was also surrounded by barbed wire and high watch towers like a Prisoner of War Camp. As Mau Mau is called an Emergency these Africans, held in British territory without trial, had not the rights to which they would have been entitled as Prisoners of War.
I saw them arrive jammed into cages on top of high lorries, the cages were removed and they had to jump over the high sides carrying their bundle of possessions. Some tripped, dropping the bundle which was then kicked from one Askari (armed African guards) to another, the owner in trying to rescue it being prodded back into line. I saw several men who were not moving quickly enough to please the Askaris being given great blows on naked shoulder blades with rifle butts, and when I protested the British Officers and even women officials standing by said, “Oh you don’t want to feel sorry for them”.
During a visit I paid at Christmas an Indian officer reported to me that the night before Askaris had entered the Juvenile Compound and carried out a mass beating up of the inmates including two boys under eight years-of-age. I was horrified to find that these boys aged approximately four and seven had no relatives in the camp, the father being detained elsewhere and the mother’s whereabouts unknown. They had been swept up and put in this compound with 330 juveniles, some aged 17, many of whom were real toughs.
There were several such children and I took the matter up with the District Commissioner concerned and asked that they should be released and taken to the place of safety run lay the Red Cross and that in future any unaccompanied child under eight should be sent, there direct and not to a camp. He was most reluctant to agree and it was only after much discussion on my part that he agreed to it for children under seven instead of eight as I had asked.
He took me to the compound behind his office where women and children, arrested that day, were waiting to be sent to a camp and said to me, “Look at them, I am not going to have that stuff wandering about Nairobi”.
Over Christmas there was a fear that some of the detainees might attempt escape. All clothing and possessions, except cooking pots and blankets, were taken from all mates in the camp. This applied even to small boys, many of whom had coughs and colds through only having a blanket to wear.
No proper arrangements were made for storing the appropriate clothing, all the things being thrown higgledy piggledy in a fearful conglomeration into a small enclosure open to the weather. One officer told me, he did not know how the things could ever be re distributed and said, “The first comers will collar all the lot and the rest be unlucky”. These were their only possessions and such treatment naturally aroused bitterness and resentment.
All the people were housed in old and tattered tents except for a few women with very small children for whom two “A” frames (aluminium huts) were provided. The officers told me the tents were quite unsuitable for women and children as few precautions could be taken in the way of health and hygiene.
The camp had only been intended for use for a few months at the beginning of the Emergency but it was in use for a long period and became more and more unfit for occupation, entirely non waterproof. For the last few months there was practically nothing to screen the women’s latrines from the male passers by.
Eventually it was closed because it would cost too much to put it in order. The Commissioner of Prisons refused responsibility for it and said that the estimate for repair was £47.000 which the Government would not sanction.
To end on a brighter note, two of the officers were keen and humane and reported things to me which otherwise would have taken much longer to rectify. We also had a young woman welfare officer there, assisted by an African girt, who did excellent work finding lost children and linking them up with their families.
Mau Mau men and women in the Detention Camps and Prisons in Kenya are screened and classified white, grey, or black, according to the depth of involvement in Mau Mau (These colours have now been superseded by letters.)
The first stage in Rehabilitation is when they confess to the Rehabilitation Officer that they have been in the movement, wish to renounce it, and give him information, not only about their own crimes but about other people’s. The confessions are always referred to by the Government as voluntary and emphasis is laid on this fact in the Annual Report of the Commissioner for Community Development and Rehabilitation. This voluntary aspect, however, is not borne out in conversation with the Rehabilitation Officers who do the screening. I was talking to the Commandant of one prison and mentioned that a certain Rehabilitation Officer was being posted to his prison. He replied, “Yes, and he has the reputation of being very rough when screening”. Another person referring to the same man said, “He is a member of Moral Re Armament, but there’s no MRA about him when screening.”
I once visited Nairobi Gaol with a Rehabilitation Officer Gaol saw a truck containing about twelve African lunatics, accompanied by armed guards, who were being sent to a mental hospital. They were making an appalling noise, shouting, gesticulating and grimacing. The officer, who was second in command at the gaol said he was glad to get rid of them as they had been a disturbing element in the prison for a whole year.
The Rehabilitation Officer said he was sorry they were going as he had intended putting detainees who would not confess in with them for a few days, “Now I shall have nothing to rely on but light diet and a good thrashing”.
We went on to another Detention Camp and we repeated this to the Commandant there who replied, “I had a political prisoner in my charge in 1951 and put him in with the lunatics for ten days. What they did to him in those ten days was nobody’s business, and at the end of that time he was not interested in politics or anything else”.
I saw a letter from the Commandant of a prison for Mau Mau women saying “I have been informed that at Githunguri there are 52 single corrugated iron cells which would be of tremendous value to us in connection with screening women and for segregation purposes”. A Commandant showed me single cells which he was constructing and said, “By the time the women have been in here for a year, even the blackest will give in”.
One of the troubles over Rehabilitation is that many of the officers have not done similar work before and there is no policy to guide them. Each officer works according to his own ideas and there have been instances where an officer has screened men grey and moved them up to a better camp and the officer there re screens them, says they are black and sends them back to a Black Camp!
Sometimes a man’s category depends on the Rehabilitation Officer’s “flair” for what he calls psychology! One officer told me he showed his detainees a picture of a maimed and dismembered corpse, with guts and brains on the ground, and in one corner a very small butterfly. “I ask them what they see in the picture. If they say a dead body or guts or blood I classify them black, but if they say a butterfly I move them up to grey”.