In the run up to World War II, and wary of the threat that Italian troops up north in Ethiopia posed on Kenya, the colonial government in Kenya stepped up recruitment of Africans into the military.
There was no shortage of recruits.
Many sought to be enlisted, expecting a substantial improvement of their economic circumstances.
See, in those days, believe it or not, wages in the military were higher than those of workers in civilian life.
According to the 1940 Official Gazette Of The Colony and Protectorate, the colonial government that year stepped up benefits of joining KAR.
For example, soldiers were exempted from paying hut taxes. Moreover, they were excused from certain civil legal processes, including arrests for debts and other misdemeanours.
In effect, the colonial administration accorded locals serving in the military a certain sense of superiority.
Recruits were attracted by incentives of pension and higher pay. Certain cadres in the military also earned more than others. The salary of military drivers, for example, was more than double that of ordinary riflemen.
What else led to Africans enlisting in the military?
In his memoirs, Warûhiû Itote – later General China of the Mau Mau – wrote to say that he joined KAR “to escape the boredom and difficulty of being unemployed in Nairobi”.
Bildad Kaggia served as a recruitment clerk just before and during the war. He observed that Africans were keen to join the army because “there was no other employment in the district. The army provided jobs that could not be found in civilian life.”
As the war raged, food and clothing became more expensive. Strict rationing made these basic commodities harder to obtain.
That the KAR provided these essential commodities to troops was all the more reason why the army became an attractive employer.
When the war ended, demobilization began.
Over 25,000 Kenyan soldiers, roughly a quarter of the number in uniform, was discharged by the end of 1945.
Of these, nearly 10,000 veterans returned to Machakos District alone, helping to boost the economy of this part of Ukambani.
When demobilization was completed in 1947, one thing was apparent. Ex-soldiers were imbued with feelings of superiority complex that they were accustomed to. They had the same motivation outside the military that they had inside the military.
In central Kenya, many returnees, unable to find something worthwhile and rewarding to do, became disillusioned and started another war – the Mau Mau resistance.