British Concentration Camps: The Mau Mau Pastors
When the British Colonial government created the concentration camps in Kenya and declared a state of emergency, they were using the same playbook that Adolf Hitler used when he created concentration camps to contain the Jews. Exposing the atrocities towards the Kikuyu community, Harvard professor and 2006 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction winner Carol Elkins in her book The British Gulag writes, “As part of the Allied forces, thousands of Kenyans fought alongside the British in World War II. But just a few years after the defeat of Hitler, the British colonial government detained nearly the entire population in Kenya’s largest ethnic minority, the Kikuyu—some one-and-a-half-million people.” She talks about the pastors who were in the camp encouraging the detainees.
The large camp in Athi River was the holding cell for many of the Kikuyu community. Here, the people were registered and marked. They were hauled like cattle in situations where they were not given mattresses or beds or blankets. They were forced to sleep together in shacks like sheep. The camp did not have proper sanitation as men, women and children shared buckets and outhouses without access to water, soap, denying women sanitary towels and forcing children to sleep on dirt. The prisoners were denied proper food and were forced most of the time to squat for hours. After the prisoners were registered and sorted out, they were distributed to different points within the country. Those seen as dangerous were taken to Manyani prison. Here, women and their children were separated and housed in different shacks. The prisoners were separated from families.
Manyani prison was the most dangerous place to be. It is situated 292 kilometers from Nairobi on the way to Mombasa. The area is home to poisonous snakes and wild animals. This was strategic to make sure that the prisoners never escaped. The Kikuyu who were sent there suffered from malaria, cholera, flu, and all kinds of equatorial diseases. The British used the techniques they learned from Adolf Hitler, a method that is used today against terrorists. They created a very uncomfortable environment through sleep deprivation, dogs, loudspeakers, and other cruel methods.
The Kikuyu detainees refused to respond or confess to be members of the Mau Mau movement. After many days of interrogation the British Intelligent officers realized that they were wasting their time. Their experts advised them that the only way the Kikuyu men would talk was other Kikuyu men who were respected and understood the Kikuyu culture. They turned to several organizations in Kenya for help. One of those organizations was the Africa Inland Mission. The mission had made incredible headway within the Kikuyu community in evangelism.
In Kijabe, their headquarters, one Kikuyu had come from Nyanduma Kariguini in Gatundu, an expert in Kikuyu culture and traditions. He was among the first 10 graduates of Kijabe Bible Institute and had become the first Kenyan pastor in Kijabe. His name was Yohanah Nyenjeri Njoroge. The mission recommended him to the British government as a man who knew the Kikuyu tribal culture and language and would be the go-between the detainees and the British. He worked for the British government as a salaried Pastoral Counselor.
According to Carol Elkins, Yohannah, who was the head of the pastoral care, and two other pastors who worked with him were the only voices of hope the Mau Mau detainees had. In his diary, which is soon to be released in English, Yohannah details how he used to take the train to Manyani from Athi River. He details how the British tormentors got help from South Africa to subdue and crush the Kikuyu detainees. He used the opportunity to give the detainees hope and shared his faith in Jesus Christ, while reminding them that the country belonged to them and that God would one day rescue them like he rescued the Jewish people.
It is through the work of the Rev. Yohannah Nyenjeri and the other two pastors that the British captors were challenged to practice their Christian faith and halt their torture of the Kikuyu people. Any detainee who went through Athi River and Manyani will testify of how these ministers gave them hope through faith in Jesus Christ and helped change Kenya into a free republic. It is these men and women who after being freed from these concentration camps that helped transform the Kikuyu landscape into a Christian environment that we see today. His son Pastor Timothy Kamau became their radio pastor once they were released. It is for this reason that Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta considered pastor Kamau his spiritual mentor, having ministered to him when he was in detention in Kapenguria and when released through radio ministry.
Yohannah and the pastors prayed, sacrificed, and created a goodwill that brought sanity to the British police who were guarding the camps. According to Yohannah, these police attended the prayer services he organized for the Kikuyu prisoners and this softened their hearts.
Another book titled Beyond the Kikuyu Curtain written by Dr. Helen Virginia Blakeslee details the work Rev. Yohannah Nyenjeri Njoroge did among the Kikuyu who were released from British concentration camps. These two books are available on Amazon.
Teddy Njoroge Kamau (PhD)
Diaspora messenger Senior Columnist
For more information see video below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHv2ZjY-lOA .
British Concentration Camps: The Mau Mau Pastors