Barbed Wire Village – An Exhibition on Forced Villagisation in Colonial Kenya

Museum of British Colonialism, together with African Digital Heritage and Baraza Media Lab present, BARBED WIRE VILLAGE, a multimedia installation of Britain's 'villagisation' programme in colonial Kenya. 

Historians estimate that approximately 1.2 million Kenyans were forcibly resettled during the Mau Mau emergency.

This is in addition to the 80,000 Kenyans who were detained. The British colonial administration named this process ‘villagisation’. The policy of ‘villagisation’ was a major element of the colonial government’s campaign against Mau Mau fighters and supporters. It was developed in 1953, during the first year of the Emergency. Many colonial administrators saw women as key actors in sustaining Mau Mau efforts. ‘Villagisation’ was therefore a direct effort to break this support and punish those involved.

While the colonial administration claimed that villagisation was based on humanitarian concerns, the testimonies of those who were forcibly resettled say otherwise. The British government has long propagated myths about the Emergency period that need to be challenged. These camps were not ‘villages’. They were concentration camps. Nor were they uncharacteristic of British colonial rule. Similar tactics had previously been trialed in the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) and had historical roots in the Second South African war. It is vital that we recognize this history.

The exhibition was launched on the 23rd of September at Baraza Media Lab and runs until 7th of October, 2022. In this multi-media installation where we shed light on an often-overlooked aspect of the Mau Mau Emergency. We shared material from our fieldwork trips as well as digital reconstructions of a colonial village. Bringing together a panel of scholars, grassroots activists, and artists to collectively explore the impact of this history on present-day Kenya.

These digital reconstructions rely on extensive research and sources including oral and written testimonials, existing plans and 3D scans, as well as some physical remains from the campsites. The goal is to create a better representation of shared history and to make these assets more accessible to more people, regardless of their literacy levels or knowledge of English.

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