The 1959 Hola massacre was a massacre committed by British colonial forces during the Mau Mau Uprising at a colonial detention camp in Hola, Kenya.[1]

Hola massacre
Hola massacre is located in Kenya
Hola massacre
Hola massacre
Location in Kenya
Coordinates: 1°40′S 40°02′E / 1.667°S 40.033°E / -1.667; 40.033



Hola camp was established to house detainees classified as "hard-core." By January 1959 the camp had a population of 506 detainees of whom 127 were held in a secluded "closed camp." This more remote camp was reserved for the most uncooperative of the detainees. They often refused, even when threats of force were made, to join in the colonial "rehabilitation process" or perform manual labour or obey colonial orders. The camp commandant outlined a plan that would force 88 of the detainees to bend to work. On 3 March 1959, the camp commandant put this plan into action – as a result of which 11 of the detainees were clubbed to death by guards.[2] All the 77 surviving detainees sustained serious permanent injuries.[3]

Attempted cover-up by colonial officials


The first report to surface about this incident was in the East African Standard. The front-page article reported that ten died at the Hola detention camp. The paper quoted the "official statement" from the colonial authorities: "The men were in a group of about 100 who were working on digging furrows. The deaths occurred after they had drunk water from a water cart which was used by all members of the working party and the guards."[4][5]

More information about the incident emerged in the weeks that followed the initial reports. An investigation into the deaths ensued and it was discovered that the 11 detainees did not die of drinking foul water, but as a result of violence. The medical examiner said, "They had died from either lung congestion or shock and hemorrhage following multiple bruises and other injuries." The coroner reported, "The injuries of a number of Mau Maus apparently were consistent with their allegations that uncooperative prisoners had been beaten by guards, apparently with the consent of the commandant."[6] A report in the June 1959 edition of Time magazine entitled "The Hola Scandal" described the events. The report stated that, on 3 March 1959, 85 prisoners were marched outside and ordered to work but "dozens of the prisoners fell to the ground, refusing to work" and were beaten by the guards. When the assault had concluded, according to the magazine, 11 prisoners lay dying and another 23 needed hospital treatment.[7]

American historian Caroline Elkins' tells the story of the 'Hola Massacre' in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya, (2005), pages 344–353. According to Elkins, much of the story of the British and Colonial administration was covered-up during the transition to independence in Kenya, and many official documents had been intentionally destroyed during the transition. Elkins, by carefully tracing available original documents and interviews with surviving Kenyans and colonial staff, indicates that part of Hola Prison was used as a remote punishment camp for 'hard core' Mau Mau insurgents who refused to recant their oaths or affiliation to the movement. Physical and psychological abuse were used to 'break' detainees, so they could be 'rehabilitated' and moved out of the concentration camp pipeline and back to Kikuyu reservations.[8]

Once the inquiry findings were made public, the opposition members in the House of Commons called for a debate. Increasing adverse publicity and calls for further investigations of human rights abuses in the camps led to a reduction in UK governmental support for the Kenya Colony's administration, and resulted in accelerated moves towards Kenyan independence. As recently as 2016, Kenyans were seeking restitution from the British government for torture during the Mau Mau Uprising.[9]

After the Hola massacre the name of Hola was changed to Galole by the Colonial Government in order to cover up the massacre. In 1971, in a bid to revive memory of the massacre, President Kenyatta ordered that Galole revert to its original name. Kenyatta gave this order after he met with a large delegation from Tana River. Since then it is again known as Hola.[10]

Some of the early accounts do not even mention this incident, partly because many of the early accounts are either British government- or colonial-supported publications or secondary texts. Most of the secondary texts published during first decade or so after the Emergency were sympathetic to the British/Colonist/Loyalist point of view.[11]

Reactions and aftermath

This statue honours the 11 Mau Mau who were clubbed to death at Hola

The negative publicity put pressure on the British parliament to take action to salvage Britain's deteriorating image. Colonial detention camps were closed throughout Kenya, and the prisoners were freed soon after.[12] Attempts were then made to find a solution to maintaining British interests in Africa without the use of force, indirectly leading to a hastening of independence across British colonies in Africa.[13]


  1. ^ Mark Curtis, Web of Deceit (Vintage, 2003), p. 327.
  2. ^ Maloba, Wunyabari O. Mau Mau and Kenya: An Analysis of a Peasant Revolt.(Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN: 1993) p.142-143.
  3. ^ Horrors of Hola detention camp Archived 21 October 2004 at the Wayback Machine 22 April 2004
  4. ^ East African Standard, 5 March 1959, p.1. This first report indicates that only 10 detainees died, but as other later reports said it was actually 11 who perished.
  5. ^ Wild, Rose (4 April 2011). "No redeeming feature: The Times on the Mau Mau deaths cover-up". The Times. Retrieved 30 May 2012. The warders claimed that they had died 'after drinking water', and although clear evidence was found that they had been beaten to death, no individuals were ever prosecuted.
  6. ^ The New York Times. 23 March 1959. p.2.
  7. ^ KENYA: The Hola Scandal. Time (8 June 1959). Retrieved 2010-07-24.
  8. ^ Caroline Elkins, 'Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya',(2005), pages 344-353
  9. ^ Kimathi & Ors -v- The Foreign & Commonwealth Office
  10. ^ Daily Nation, 24 August 1971 and Ojwando Abuor, C. (1972), White Highlands No More. Pan Africa Researchers: 226.
  11. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 16 May 2010.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ The Daily Nation (15 April 2004) Kikuyu hammered on the Anvil. Archived 24 December 2004 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ 'Macmillan and the winds of change in Africa, 1957–60', Ritchie Ovendale, Historical Journal 38,2 (1995)