History of Kenyan Police

Kenyan police at June 2023 demonstration in Kenya against tax hikes.

The Kenya police force was established as a British colonial police force in 1907. Prior to this, from 1887 to 1902, policing was provided by the East Africa Trading Company. After 1902 the Kenya-Uganda Railway introduced their own police units.

In 1906 the Police Ordinance was established to create a new force, the Nairobi Mounted Police within the jurisdiction of the East Africa Protectorate. This changed its name in 1920 when the British Kenya Colony was created. In this regard, its origins and aim parallel that of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1920, also a creation of the British which established its predecessors, the Royal North-West Mounted Police and the Dominion Police.

The colonial Kenya police force was made up mainly of British and Indian recruits as senior officers and Africans amongst lower ranks. Following Kenya's independence in 1963, the British officers were replaced with local Kenyan members. This followed the rebellion against the brutal British rule by the Kikuyu and other tribes in Kenya. As a result of the growing discontent, during the 1950s there was a sustained rebellion against colonial rule. The British claimed the rebels were part of a secret and savage society known as the "Mau Mau," whose members had supposedly pledged to slaughter Europeans and drive them out of Africa.

The British war against the Kikuyu, who represented the largest group in the rebellion, was ruthless and justified by charges that the rebels were terrorists. The British created detention camps for people suspected of being associated with the Mau Mau, including the elderly and children, and used methods of extreme torture to find information and to limit uprisings. Over 1 million Kenyans were forcibly removed from their homes and detained in the camps.

One of the detention camps for those the British suspected as being members of the "Mau Mau"

A cache of British government documents came to light almost half a century after it was spirited out of the country on the eve of independence. The Guardian newspaper wrote:

"The papers disclose the depths to which the British authorities sank during the 1950s rebellion, and prove that ministers in London were briefed fully about the abuses that were being inflicted upon prisoners at camps across the colony.

"In a test case before the UK courts, a group of former Mau Mau detainees are suing the British government. Among them are two men who were castrated while being tortured. The men were part of an extraordinarily violent uprising against British rule triggered by the loss of farming land to European settlers.

"While the Foreign Office is not denying the allegations, it is deploying a range of constitutional precedents to reject the claims, arguing that legal responsibility was transferred to the Kenyan republic on independence in 1963.

"The high court in London heard that the latest cache of documents had been removed from Kenya as part of a policy of removing sensitive or incriminating files from former colonies, and were later stored at a Foreign Office depository in Buckinghamshire. They were finally disclosed earlier this year.

"They show that in June 1957 Alan Lennox-Boyd, secretary of state for the colonies, received a secret memorandum written by Eric Griffiths-Jones, the attorney general of Kenya, which detailed changes to the abuse of Mau Mau detainees, who were being subjected to extreme violence immediately upon admission to detention camps.

"Blows were aimed mostly upper body, Griffiths-Jones wrote, adding that 'vulnerable parts of the body should not be struck, particularly the spleen, liver or kidneys.' Those who protested would have 'a foot placed on his throat and mud stuffed in his mouth ... in the last resort knocked unconscious.'

"Griffiths-Jones drafted changes to the colony's laws to permit such abuses. While expressing no concern for the legal or human rights of the detainees, his memorandum did express concern for those carrying out the attacks: 'The psychological effects on those who administer violence are potentially dangerous; it is essential that they should remain collected, balanced and dispassionate.'

"Griffiths-Jones' memo was written for the governor of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring, who passed it on to Lennox-Boyd with a covering letter which asserted that inflicting 'violent shock' was the only way of dealing with Mau Mau insurgents. Despite this, the Foreign Office is arguing that it is not legally liable as Lennox-Boyd was acting as Kenyan secretary of state at the time.

"The documents also show that Colonel Arthur Young, a veteran police officer and Christian socialist who lasted less than a year as commissioner of the Kenyan police before resigning, told Baring in December 1954 that the camps 'present a state of affairs so deplorable that they should be investigated without delay so that the ever-increasing allegations of inhumanity and disregard for the rights of the African citizen are dealt with.'

"The following month Baring informed Lennox-Boyd that eight European officers were facing accusations of a series of murders, beatings and shootings. They included: 'One District Officer, murder by beating up and roasting alive of one African.'

"Despite receiving such clear briefings, Lennox-Boyd repeatedly denied that the abuses were happening, and publicly denounced those colonial officials who came forward to complain.

"The documents also contain descriptions of torture that the colonial officials themselves were providing to their superiors. An African employee of Special Branch "pushed pins into their sides, buttocks, fingers and, on at least one occasion, the head, and ... pinched the sides of their bodies, penis and scrotum with pliers. He crushed the fingers of one detainee."

Test case claimants in case against the British government (left-right), Jane Muthoni Mara, Paulo Nzili, Ndiku Mutua and Wambugu wa Nyingi outside the High Court in central London, on April 7, 2011. 

"Four of the test case claimants, Ndiku Mutua, Paulo Nzili, Wambugu wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara, who are in their 70s and 80s, have flown 4,000 miles from their rural homes for the hearing.

"Last week (April, 2011) the judge, Mr Justice McCombe, heard Mutua and Nzili had been castrated, Nyingi spent two years in manacles before being beaten unconscious during an incident at a British detention centre in which 11 other men were clubbed to death, and Mara had been subjected to severe sexual violence."

This is just a very brief recounting of the history of the Kenya police, created by the British who went to Kenya because of its resources as they scrambled for Africa in the 19th century with other colonial powers. The British forced Indigenous farmers and herders onto infertile land or made them work on European-owned farms and plantations. They created unprecedented ethnic conflict between various groups in their divide and conquer campaign and then created police forces to protect their interests. 

British rule in Kenya was characterized by brutal working conditions, state-organized racism, brutal labour practices, forced resettlement and brutal criminalization and treatment, all based on protecting British interests and the authority of British rule.

Kenya's Military

With the Canadian government continuing to play a nefarious role in the international intrigues against the Haitian people and the peoples of the Caribbean, the holding of the Canada-CARICOM Summit in Ottawa is sure to be used to further the aim of the U.S. administration to undermine the struggles of the peoples of the Caribbean. It will continue to push the imperialist narrative about "democracy," "rules-based international order," security and human rights as a cover for the opposite, the strengthening of foreign political, economic and, in the case of Haiti, military/police dictate.

Given this situation and the role that the Kenyan police are now being brought in to play, it is also instructive to look at the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and the role Kenya's military plays on behalf of the major powers. The website of the KDF says its participation in what it calls peace operations "also exposes the KDF to strategic partnerships with militaries from developed countries which assist in building structural capacities in the ever-evolving modern warfare (including asymmetric warfare currently employed by terrorist groups) as well as opening avenues of access to training facilities and the latest hardware through grants."

The KDF notes in particular, the International Peace Support Training Centre in Nairobi, Kenya funded by Canada, Britain and the Netherlands "as an example of strategic partnerships with developed countries." It adds as well: "Kenya's bilateral agreements with the U.S. have in the past covered inter alia support to UN-authorized peace keeping operations as well as funding for major new arms deliveries and increased military training."

(Wikepedia; "Secret memo gave guidelines on abuse of Mau Mau in 1950s, The Guardian, April 11, 2011.)

This article was published in
Volume 53 Number 12 - October 2023

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