Histories of the Hanged

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on 13th January 2005

Fifty years ago, an optimistic and proud Britain emerged from the Second World War still with an Empire and a leading role in world affairs. But within a few years everything would change. In Africa, the rise of nationalism brought British power to its knees. In the struggle to retain influence and authority, the British government that had a decade earlier stood firm against tyranny now became the tyrant.

In Kenya, the bitter and violent Mau Mau rebellion against British rule saw the death of thirty-two white settlers. But more than 1800 African civilians, over 3000 African police and soldiers, and 12000 Mau Mau rebels were killed. In the war’s full seven-year course, Britain sent more than 1000 of her African subjects to the gallows, and a the peak of the struggle held more that 70000 Africans in detention camps without trial. Colonial Kenya was a police state, as chillingly brutal as any other.

Histories of the Hanged is the brilliantly told and shockingly true story of Britain’s first war on terror – a story of mass killings, of collective punishments and property seizures, of human rights abuses and a brutal battle conducted under the banner of an assumed colonial superiority. Portrayed at the time as a conflict between whites and blacks, civilisation and savagery, it was in fact a thoroughly bureaucratised conflict that pitted Kenya against itself and from which few emerged with credit. David Anderson draws on eye-witness accounts to put the record of the British government on trial: from the court records of the Mau Mau trials, the gripping and desperate testimonials of the freedom fighters and their victims reveal the story of the sinister and dirty war that lay at the heart of one of the most contentious events in Britain’s recent past.