Skip to Content

From An African Correspondent

17th May, 1922

As you may have noticed, events in Nairobi took a serious turn about two months ago. The Press, as usual, describe the occurrence as a riot, though in actuality the first exercise of violence proceeded from the forces of “law and order.” They arrested a proletarian propagandist of democratic ideas, a native named Harry Thuku, on a “special warrant,” which appears to obviate the necessity of a public trial as a preliminary to imprisonment. As a result of this, several hundreds of natives assembled and held a mass meeting outside the police barracks, which lasted for something like eighteen hours! In fact, from the evening of one day till noon the next the crowd remained in the hope that their petitions to the authorities and their prayers to God (their most active spokesman being obviously mission educated) would result in the release of Thuku. The authorities, however, put their faith in things more tangible than ancestral spooks, and called out a detachment of the King’s African Rifles. This in spite of the fact that up till that time neither person nor property had been damaged, and the demeanour of the crowd was (according to the evidence of the police chief) “orderly and peaceful,” and reminded the local State parson of “a Sunday School picnic ”; while the police were armed.

The arrival of the military was the signal for the beginning of the tragedy. A stampede among the crowd took place which was subsequently described as “an attack on the barracks.” The police fired, killing over a score and wounding about thirty others, whereupon they left the barracks and proceeded to clean up the streets, ably assisted by the K.A.R. At the subsequent inquiry into the incident it transpired that the police (a native body) had fired without orders! But, as the learned presiding magistrate observed, “if the authority of the Government was to be maintained, the firing must be justified.” And so, of course, he justified it. The casualties on the Government side were nil; those on the other side included women and children. No wonder the Daily Mail and other rags thought it necessary to drag in the bogey of Bolshevism, trusting in popular ignorance and credulity to swallow the ludicrous myth.

The causes of the agitation with which Thuku was associated were described at the beginning of the year in the pages of the Socialist Standard. Most important of these were the increase in Hut and Poll taxes, decrease in wages, the system of native registration and the absence of any form of political representation. Thuku was instrumental in forming the original Kikuyu Association, but as this body soon fell into the hands of a junta of Government-paid chiefs, and sought to exclude all but Kikuyu, he and others withdrew and formed the East African Association, a body aiming to unite all native tribes and races to gain political equality. He also incidentally exposed the corruption of the above-mentioned chiefs, as instanced in their acceptance of bribes from European planters for procuring labour! In vain did they retaliate by endeavouring to prevent their tribesmen from listening to Thuku. The natives flocked in thousands to his meetings, and their spontaneous demonstration following his arrest, while fatal as tactics, afforded ample evidence that they, in the mass, endorse his views. The massacre has simply intensified the bitterness with which they regard their oppressors.

Eric Boden