Archives knot

Every year in the Archives Centre we open various files which have been kept closed up to now; generally they are either official papers which have a set closure period on them (twenty or thirty years, usually), or to release the files while a person mentioned in them was still living might cause distress under data protection law. All perfectly standard, and in the main, to be honest, fairly boring.

However, every now and then, you open something which is a bit different. This year I unearthed a file which was so secret that even now we don’t know who the donor was: he’d insisted on remaining anonymous when he gave the file to us in 1974, and wanted to remain so “for all time”. Inside this file were two pages from a photograph album, showing photographs of various Kenyan men and their families; written on the pages was the phrase “Freetown, Lodwar, May 1960”.

Along with the pages was a note, which explained why these photographs had been kept hidden for so many years. They show the leaders of the Mau Mau, who rebelled against British rule in Kenya in the 1950s. After the failure of the rebellion, these men were imprisoned, then kept at Lodwar under restriction for another three years, where their families joined them. One of the faces that jumps out at you from the pages is that of Jomo Kenyatta, who became Kenya’s first Prime Minister, then President, after independence, just three years after these photographs were taken.

The photographs were taken by a British official, but once the District Commissioner learned of their existence, he seized the negatives, and all the prints that he could find, and had them destroyed. It is not known how these particular prints survived, but they may well be unique, as we don’t know of any other photographs of the restrictees which were taken at Lodwar. The donor, whoever he was, asked if it could be pointed out that the British Administrative Officers at Lodwar enjoyed scarcely better living conditions than the restrictees