Orders of the Day — Kenya (Massacre, Uplands)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st March 1953.

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Photo of Mr Patrick Gordon Walker Mr Patrick Gordon Walker , Smethwick 12:00 am, 31st March 1953

The terrible massacre which has given rise to this debate has naturally raised very widespread doubts about the effectiveness and the general basis of the Government's policy in the emergency and crisis in Kenya. It is impossible for any Government to guard against every act of terrorism which occurs in what is, in effect, almost a civil war, but this massacre is the latest item in an appalling list of failures to protect loyal Africans as well as whites in Kenya.

What is even more significant is that it is a further instance of the fact that Mau Mau has steadily kept the initiative ever since this trouble started. If we are to regain the initiative, as we must do, it is essential to discuss not only the immediate measures but the whole approach which gives rise to the particular measures upon which the Government decide. It is in regard to the approach to the problem, which decides all the tactical and immediate points, that the Government are open to very considerable criticism.

We face here by far the most extreme instance of the root problem of East and Central Africa, which are the most difficult parts of the world at the moment. We have two problems superimposed one upon the other. Elsewhere these problems can usually be dealt with separately, but here we have to deal with them together. On the one hand there are the whites who, if they were elsewhere, could look forward naturally to increasing self-government, until they became a fully self-governing country like Canada or Australia; and on the other hand there are the Africans who, elsewhere, could look forward to increasing self-government of the type to be found in the Gold Coast.

If our policy breaks down we are faced with a continuous double danger. On the one hand there is danger of the "Boston Tea Party" type, with a violent assumption of power by the white settlers, and on the other hand there is the danger of Mau Mau. Those two dangers are always present in the whole of East and Central Africa. We must avoid both, otherwise we shall be landed with a war of races which will mean the end of our position and the end of all hope in Central Africa.

If we are to avoid both those dangers we have to recognise them. We must not fix our eyes wholly or exclusively on one or the other of them alone. We must recognise that both dangers exist and also that all these races are Africans. They are white Africans and black Africans. It is a great mistake to talk about European and Africans. It poses the problem quite falsely. We have to win the co-operation of the moderate opinion of all races involved to a far greater extent than we have done, and that requires a positive and urgent policy.

This massacre has shown that important changes of policy are now necessary to achieve these ends. The Government in Kenya must be in closer touch with all races. At the moment they are clearly not in very good touch with the Africans. There have also been steady complaints from the leaders of the white settlers that the Government in Kenya have been isolated from the Europeans. Many moderate European leaders have been put in a very difficult position, where they have had responsibility without power, without knowing what is happening or being able to influence the course of events.

I agree with the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) that we should give greater power to the local government in Kenya. At the same time, the Colonial Secretary ought to instruct the Governor to set up at once a council of all three races, and to associate that council very closely with the inner running of government. It should not be just an advisory council but should be very close to him and based on trust— because one cannot govern without trust; and the people of all three main races should be closely associated with the very centre of government.

This Government, with greater local power and in closer touch with the communities, must be based on moderate opinion. That means that we must be ready to break with the extremists in both races, both amongst the Europeans and amongst the Africans. The massacre which caused our debate seems from all accounts to have caused a great revulsion of feeling amongst many Kikuyu and many other Africans; but, as "The Times" reported in its accounts of the massacre, there is a danger that it will provoke some extremists among the Europeans to demand harsh action. The Government in Kenya must withstand that. They must withstand the demands which are likely to come from the more extreme wing of the Europeans for harsh measures to meet these problems.

In all these races—among the Africans, the Europeans and the Asians—there are many moderate men, and it must be the task of the Government, with far greater success and vigour than they have shown so far, to gather these moderate men around them and to base themselves much more closely upon these men. The Government in Kenya and this Govern-must must show much greater readiness to tackle the fundamentals of the problem. The Secretary of State has, I think, far too much given the impression that the fundamentals do not matter, that they are long-term and distant and that one must worry only about the immediate military and similar measures.

The immediate military measures are of vital importance, but the tackling of some of these fundamental problems is overdue. They must be tackled quickly. I do not believe that if we settle a few economic problems we shall find a remedy for all our difficulties. Indeed, I do not think that economic problems as such are at the root of our difficulties. It is far more a question of social problems.

As Sir Philip Mitchell said in his admirable despatch, the whole of East Africa is going through a social and economic revolution. If hon. Members read that despatch, knowing what has since happened amongst the Kikuyu, they will find it very striking how often Sir Philip quotes instances from the Kikuyu—long before anyone had dreamt of Mau Mau —as examples of this social and economic revolution at its strongest and worst. Undoubtedly that must have been one of the underlying causes of the trouble which has arisen.

This great social revolution started 50 years ago, as Sir Philip says. These people have been torn out of their own culture and their own discipline. Under their tribal law they had a great system of discipline, but all that has been destroyed and nothing has been put in its place. They are in a vacuum. It is in those circumstances that this great problem arises, although there are always local reasons as well.

Obviously, this great social problem cannot be solved in a short time. I think it will be with us for a generation before we have fully solved it. But that is not a reason for saying we can delay. This revolution has been going on for 50 years and has hardly been noticed. It is long overdue for vigorous tackling, and we should not delay at all in tackling the more fundamental aspects of it at the same time as we go ahead with the immediate, military and police measures.

I think there are three things, in particular, upon which we should concentrate. Although in a sense they are long-term they would begin to yield results relatively quickly. The first is a far greater drive in the building of schools. I think the growth of the Mau Mau schools, which, after all, was an important part of this movement, could not have occurred had there not been a shortage of schools. They were filling a need, a need left partly by the missionaries and partly by the public authorities. If we are to fight Mau Mau with success we must fight it in the schools as well as with bullets.

Then there is also the vital need for an increased policy of improved housing in the towns. Many Kikuyu now live in the towns. Their housing is appalling. It is no good saying that the housing is no worse than the old tribal housing, because the Kikuyu are making comparisons not with tribal conditions but with what they see in the towns. The awful housing conditions, plus the vision which they now have, because they have seen how one can live in a town, have, in this case, as in so many other peasant revolts in history, been one of the causes of the trouble.

There is another problem for the Government to face. They must bring all the pressure they can to bear in favour of a gradual relaxation of the colour bar. As long as that problem is not tackled— I do not mean anything dramatic; I mean that there must be steady progress towards its solution—we shall not get away from this sort of problem in Kenya, and elsewhere in Africa. This is particularly so in the towns. The colour bar is not nearly so important in the countryside, but it is important in the towns, where the people crowd together; and, above all, between the white Europeans and the educated coloured Africans.

The most dangerous thing of all in Africa today is the isolation of the educated African from everybody else. Because of his education, he is cut off from his own people, and because of the colour bar he does not form proper relationships with people of his own culture and education. This relaxation of the colour bar will be difficult to achieve, but if it is not done, there is no solution to our problem, which will get worse and worse in one part of Africa after another. We do not want sudden dramatic solutions, because they cannot be found either; we want a steady pressure which will get this relaxation proceeding faster than if it is left without any pressure at all.

Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite may say that these things are too long-term; but there is one immediate thing which should be done. It has been mentioned by a number of my hon. Friends. There should be a much more active drive to win African opinion over to our side. It seems that at this moment there is a better chance of that than at any time since Mau Mau started. There has been a great revulsion of feeling against the atrocity in which women and children were killed.

The Colonial Secretary told us today about rumours which were spreading and causing great trouble and difficulty. I agree that rumours are hard to cope with, but it is no good sitting down and doing nothing about them. The only means of coping with them is to have an active policy of propaganda. There is no doubt that one of the things that helped to turn the tide in Malaya was the decision to embark on an active, co-ordinated and vigorous propaganda campaign to spread not lies but the truth about the things which were happening. If we want to change the situation in Kenya we must do that.

We must make full use of loyal, friendly Africans who are eager to cooperate. We were very disappointed about the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman to that. He said that applications would be considered but that none had been made. In such a circumstance, the Government ought to ask the Africans to help. They should be asking the African leaders to speak to their people and should be offering facilities.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) said, Mr. Awori, an elected leader of the Africans, said, after the massacre—this was quoted in "The Times"—that he himself was still ready to go into the reserves and forests to speak to the people. That was a public statement made by Mr. Awori. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us why Mr. Awori has not been encouraged to go into the forests and the reserves to talk to his own people?

The terrible massacre presents us with a very great crisis in Africa, and a very great challenge. It may be a turning point for all our endeavours in this part of Africa. Mau Mau is not only a Kenya phenomenon. If it is not properly handled, Mau Mau will spread and reproduce itself in different forms elsewhere in Africa wherever basic conditions exist like those in Kenya. Mau Mau might spread right across British East and Central Africa, but on the other hand, the reactions against Mau Mau following the massacre could be used, if a vigorous bold and constructive approach were made by the Government along the lines that have been suggested this evening.

As many hon. Members have said, out of this massacre good may come if we know how to use the reaction it has caused. This will only be possible if the Government do not falter and if they do not show themselves feeble and unimaginative. It is only possible if the Government will, with greater boldness and greater trust in all moderate opinion of all loyal Africans, press forward with a more progressive policy—not a wild Utopian one—directed to proper ends, namely, to improve conditions in Africa. If this is done, then out of this atrocious thing we have been discussing this evening good may yet come.