Kenya: Lari Massacre - Loyalists Targeted By Mau Mau Army

15 December 2019

On a weekend in July this year, I unintentionally found myself in Lari, 40 kilometres from Nairobi on the Nakuru highway.

I was looking for a way to unlock a writer's clamp.

The place is close to my heart for two reasons: one personal, the other national. My father attended primary school there in the 1930s.

Later, I would learn that my father-in-law was at the same school at a different time. My clan attempted to use that coincidence to extract a discount in dowry in vain.

At the time, I had not made friends with the toughest dowry negotiator in town, Captain (retired) Kung'u Muigai.

Away from family matters, my heart sinks any time I read about what transpired in Lari on three consecutive nights 10 years to independence.

About 700 Kenyans were slaughtered like chicken. Allow me to recap the story.

EVICTION

At the beginning of the agitation for independence, the colonial government decided that Kenyans living on a 945-acre land in Tigoni near Limuru relocate to Lari to create a buffer zone from the European settlers in Limuru.

The Africans refused to move, but through bribery, a few agreed with the British and opened negotiations for compensation.

Three most prominent of the compromised Africans were village elders Luka wa Kahangara, John Mbugua and Ng'ang'a Karatu.

A decision was made that the Africans be forcibly moved. The would-be evictees vowed never to forgive the compromised village elders, whom they referred to as "greedy hyenas" and promised to revenge the treacherous act one day.

The Africans were given a week's notice to vacate Limuru. With the majority staying put, the police moved in with instructions to raze the homesteads, kill the livestock and uproot the crops.

But the compromised village elders and their families were given a decent evacuation, built new homes and allocated vast tracts in Lari.

The rest were rendered destitute, sleeping out in the cold without food. Many ended up as squatters in the rest of Kiambu and the Rift Valley.

STAMP OUT REBELLION

Their appalling conditions left a bitter taste in the mouth, and many joined the Mau Mau army.

In Lari, the population was divided into two bitterly opposed groups: the pro-Mau Mau evictees and the loyalist families.

To suppress the rising rebellion against the British, tough rules were imposed to beat the Africans to submission.

No African was allowed to own more than a quarter-acre, and there were limits on how much food one could grow and the number of animals one could keep.

Further, the Africans were forced to work in the European farms for a pittance.

Lari became a melting point of armed liberation struggle. The compromised village elders regarded as the cause of all the troubles the Africans were going through in Lari became an obvious target of the freedom fighters.

To add insult to injury, one of the "traitors", Luka wa Kahangara, was crowned a chief and given the power to use brutal force to contain the African resistance.

In return, nearly every adult in Lari -- except families of loyalists -- partook of the Mau Mau oath.

LOYALISTS TARGETED

Fearful that the Mau Mau would soon act, the loyalists were accorded special security and high perimeter walls erected around their homes.

But that wouldn't deter the Mau Mau fighters. A decision was made that Chief Kahangara, his entire family and those of other loyalists be killed and their homesteads razed.

The Mau Mau war council held four secret meetings to plan that operation.

Besides the loyalists, any witness to the killings would also be eliminated. It was also resolved no shot be fired; only machetes were to be used.

Every adult male in Lari who had taken the Mau Mau oath would take part in the operation slated for March 26, 1953.

The operation was to coincide with a raid at the Naivasha Police Station by the Mau Mau to give the impression that it was executed by people from outside Lari.

After the killings, all the men would return to sleep in their houses so that the colonialists would think the fighters had come from the forest and returned there after the operation.

At seven in the evening of the fateful night, about 1,000 residents of Lari gathered and the final orders were given.

DEATH VISITS

In a matter of minutes, the villagers stormed homesteads of those on the list, moving from door to door and slashing to death all men, women, children and livestock. Next, their homesteads went up in flames.

Chief Kahangara and 26 members of his family were first to be wiped out. A total of 97 lost their lives in the operation that lasted under an hour.

The villagers returned to their houses as if nothing had happened.

The following day, the colonial intelligence was able to join the pieces and conclude the raiders were from within the village. A decision was made for collective punishment.

In the next two nights, British soldiers surrounded Lari and, moving from door to door, bayoneted every adult male, and burnt down their houses.

More than 600 Africans were eliminated in the two nights of horror.

Postscript:

When in Lari this year, I discovered that ghosts of the massacre still haunt the village.

A third-generation descendant of the said traitors was once elected member of parliament there but had such a tough time, not necessarily because he was a bad chap, but because of his family.

It reminded me of the biblical commandment that God shall extend curses to the third and fourth generations.

Lari is one of the most backward places in Kiambu County, perhaps only rivalled by a place called Ndeiya in Kikuyu constituency.

Ironically, Ndeiya's MP is the chairman of the parliamentary Budget Committee.

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