The home guards, commonly referred to as Ngaati in Kikuyu or Kaboiro by the Ameru, were the loyalist units crafted by the British to entrench their stay after the Mau Mau challenge. The British had hired the home guards to act as the buffer zone between the British soldiers and the Mau Mau.
As the home guards became more entrenched in the colonial establishment, the Mau Mau fighters and sympathisers became more alert. But what were the roles played by these home guards?
First, the British preferred healthy men during recruitment, those who had not taken the Mau Mau oath. The home guards were trained through a process that brainwashed them with imperialism and a pseudo-sense of loyalty to the Union Jack.
Most of them believed that the Europeans were superior to Africans and therefore had a legitimate mandate to rule. They also believed in British mannerisms, ideologies, and false superiority.
To strengthen this false sense of British superiority, the home guards underwent some training, albeit insufficient to make them equipped for war. Upon completion of this training, they were given uniforms and a few symbols of authority which they gladly displayed for all to see.
Each wore a pair of shorts supported by a wide leather belt on the waist. For identification, the home guards wore a piece of red cloth on their arms. In addition, the government gave guns to some of the home guards.
But the pair of shorts symbolized their second-grade status from white police officers. Most of the white police and military officers wore trousers. It was therefore odd that the home guards, despite enjoying government protection and privileges, were not an equal match for the Europeans.
However, this was more than just a categorisation of the cadres in the government security structure. Through this, the government was able to subliminally send multiple messages.
Further, while the home guards were in charge of keeping law and order, their duty stations were mainly in the concentration villages. This ensured the home guards remained in contact with the people at the base level in the community and thus were in charge of these concentration camps.
Their work was chiefly to escort villagers to the farms and ensure there were no contacts between the civilians and the Mau Mau veterans in the forest. It never occurred to the villagers that they were actually ‘under arrest’ in these camps – and that the false protection was to make sure that they never join the Mau Mau and seek freedom.
Back in the concentration camps, the home guards also conducted anti-Mau Mau patrols. At night, some tiptoed to houses to eavesdrop on conversations as part of a spying mission. Because of the high number of home guards, the government instructed them to conduct impromptu raids on homes of people suspected of hiding Mau Mau and their sympathisers in the villages.
All this happened against the will of the Mau Mau fighters. In the eyes of Mau Mau veterans, the home guards became their enemies. The veterans could not understand the reasons why fellow Africans were part of a system that entrenched imperialism in Kenya.
According to Mau Mau veterans interviewed by this writer, the home guards committed horrific crimes against Africans. They were known to steal property belonging to Mau Mau suspects, kill people, rape women and destroy property in the community.
For example, Rahab Wanjiru, a veteran based in Nyandarua County, told this writer that she saw home guards set a house on fire. Wanjiru also remembers surviving an encounter with the home guards when she opted to surrender from the forest. Wanjiru said that the home guards meted out more severe punishments to Mau Mau suspects than the White police officers did. “They were more bitter than the white man,” she said.
Renowned Mau Mau veteran General Wagocho recalled an ugly incident with the home guards. General Wagocho was part of the Mau Mau fighters in the forest when he met home guards patrolling the area. They wanted to shoot him even after surrendering to save his life. They badly beat him up.
In Murang’a Tabitha Gacambi witnessed the home guards brutally beating a man for taking Mau Mau oath. At a concentration village in Kahatia, Murang’a, Gachambi said that the home guards never “shied away from showing their power” which they executed through torturing Mau Mau suspects.
James Theuri, a Mau Mau veteran from Nyandarua County, says the home guards despite their brutality ended up benefiting more than the Mau Mau. Theuri says that the home guards educated their children at a time when many young people spent users in the forest fighting for independence. According to Theuri, many children of the home guards took up senior government jobs at independence. And because of their proximity to power, the home guards were able to acquire large parcels of land.
But not all home guards were brutal. Some of them were double agents and worked as government officers during the day and Mau Mau members during the night. Although this category of home guards was outnumbered by the brainwashed colleagues, they helped Mau Mau fighters acquire weapons and intelligence on government plans.
However, the home guard unit did not last the entire colonial period. In 1955, the home guard structure was officially disbanded and replaced by the Tribal Police Force, which was said to be better supervised.