The Mau Mau Emergency

The Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya (1952 - 1960) was one of the most brutal episodes of British colonial history, but remains one of the least well known and understood, both in the UK and in Kenya. Historians estimate that there were more than 100 detention camps, works camps and emergency villages set up and operated by the British Colonial Government during the State of Emergency from 1952 - 1960. The British Colonial Government used this network of camps - referred to as the ‘pipeline’ - to detain and torture hundreds of thousands of Kenyans with the aim of extracting confessions of allegiance to the Mau Mau independence movement. 

                                                                                        Suggested Interactive Display

                                                                                        Suggested Interactive Display

From the coastal towns of Lamu to the northern areas of Lodwar, these centres could be found all over the country. Yet 55 years after independence, knowledge and memory of these camps has been almost entirely wiped out of national memory in both Kenya and the UK. To locate, access and retrieve information on them requires extensive and laborious research. As a result, the vast majority of people do not know where they were, what they looked like or - for some generations - that they ever existed. We believe the absence of easily accessible information on these camps has led to a troubling erasure of history, the repercussions of which are keenly felt in both the UK and Kenya. As a team, we have already undertaken significant preliminary research to unearth details of these sites. 

Preliminary Map Showing Detention Centres Throughout Kenya in the 1950s

Preliminary Map Showing Detention Centres Throughout Kenya in the 1950s

Technically, we will use archival and present day documents, footage and photographs to envision how the camps might have looked and thereafter create 3D digital reconstructions showing their physical structures and outlines.

Kiambu 3D Digital Mock Up.jpeg

Finally, we will develop an application that layers the images, audio and 3D reconstructions on an interactive digital map of Kenya. Users will have the ability to navigate the map on an interactive touch screen and select different places where camps were located.

Kiambu 3D Digital Map Overlay Mock Up.jpeg

 On selecting a point, you can then view archival photos of the camp, zoom into a 3D digital reconstruction of some of the centres and listen to an audio narration that describes life in them.

We envisage use of a touch screen as a participative rather than solitary experience, where despite one person controlling the touch screen, the data and information is projected onto a wall where other visitors can also see or hear. Our plan is to develop this exhibition collaboratively in Kenya and the UK and to showcase it as widely as possible. 

Through this we hope to: 

  • bear witness to the events that passed and the legacy of colonialism;
  • bring communities together to share and document experiences there has been little opportunity to speak of openly;
  • broaden awareness of and engagement with these aspects of our shared history; 
  • address contemporary and abiding issues such as the restitution of archival records and access to historical documents; 
  • develop significant and powerful ways of working across countries to build fuller, more honest collective memory. 

We see the exhibition as a powerful and important piece in and of itself, but also a crucial proof of concept for the ongoing work of our museum. We hope it will provide a working model that will influence and inspire positive engagement between the UK and former colonies and contribute to a permanent creative and collaborative legacy, both inside and outside the UK.