Friday 21 June 2024


Before the sleepy Europeans could even have breakfast brought to their bedsides at Norfolk Hotel, it was already evident that trouble was brewing in Nairobi because of the arrest of Harry Thuku on March 15th, 1922.

At the emergence of daylight, a group of young men had visited every European house and  office in Nairobi warning gardeners, maids, office-boys and house-boys not to work until the proposed pay cut was stopped.

Meanwhile the crowd outside the police line  (now central police station) had grown to thousands. African policemen who had been on duty throughout the night were made to stay during the day to protect the station as a company of Kings African Rifles marched  from their camp at Highridge to provide reinforcement. 

The company was halted at a distance and told to keep a watchful eye on the happenings. They were only to move in incase the police  were overwhelmed. Two Africans who tried to address the crowd were hastily arrested for making inflammatory remarks.

As the lunch hour approached the crowd was becoming more agitated with women being  the noisiest in demanding for the release  of Thuku. "A number of gaudily dressed native women, mostly  prostitutes, were the noisiest element there" wrote McGregor Ross, the officer in charge of the Public Works Department at that time.

Within a short time there was a volley of stones from the crowd to which the police responded with live bullets. Chaos erupted punctuated with the noise of the shouting crowd, police whistles and within 10 minutes everything went silent.

The ground near Norfolk Hotel which had been full with thousands of Africans was now empty and littered with many dead and injured  Africans who were collected  and taken to  Government Native Hospital Nairobi. Among  the dead was Muthoni Nyanjiru who had chastised men for wearing trousers yet they were cowards.

The police were ordered back to the Police  Line and a Company of Kings African Rifles  that halted at a distance brought in to clear the mess in the town. The soldiers combed through the town and African villages in the North of Nairobi river ensuring there was no disorderliness.

Meanwhile some of the people who had managed to escape the massacre with bullet wounds managed to reach Fort Hall now Muranga two days later, where they told those in the villages about the massacre of Africans  in Nairobi by the Government.

Because of the gravity of the incident the government constituted a magisterial inquiry  into the matter. In their evidence the police  claimed that no orders were given to fire on the crowd adding that the commanders were just about to order the firing when an African  Askari pressed a trigger by mistake. Of course it was a way of absolving the police at the same time shifting the blame to African askaris.

Also giving the evidence was Chaplain  of Nairobi the Rev W.J Wright who claimed  he had spent the morning with the protestors trying to calm them down. The Chaplain  claimed that men were generally well behaved  in the crowd and went on to liken their behaviour with that of Sunday school children on a retreat. However he believed that the whole situation was caused by unruly women.

In the final report issued by the inquiry after all the evidence the coroner said: "On the evidence just recited. I am convinced that this crowd was hostile, dangerous and determined.  And l have no hesitation whatsoever in finding  that the askaris were justified in firing, and had they not done so the Police Line would in all probability have been rushed and entered and the prisoners set free, when a situation of grave peril might have arisen."

In a nutshell the inquiry exonerated the police from firing without orders and justified the killing and the wounding of Africans.

Throughout that month the police combed  through the African villages in Nairobi  arresting the participants and ringleaders who were sentenced to a period of 2 months to a year in prison. 

#Africa #Nairobi #Kenya

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