In the first weeks of 1923, Nairobi was pregnant with ominous rumours. Local Portuguese settlers, it was rumoured, had been instructed to wear badges on their arms to differentiate themselves from Indians. Up-country white settlers were spotted in town recruiting their racial kin for a militia.1 While the chatter spread in urban Nairobi, the countryside simmered with rage. The local European associations were ‘blowing upon the ambers of revolt’ against the Crown Colony government,2 as E. Powys Cobb, a legislative councillor, and Phillip Wheatley, a veteran artillery officer, toured the country, urging local associations to ‘set [the country] alight’. A second Ireland was in the offing, or so some local associations threatened. In Nakuru, a town situated in the Rift Valley, the largest meeting of a local settler community was held, in the presence of key settler leaders including Lord Delamere, who had been secretly designated as the first president of the future provisional government.3 Here, the crass messaging of the other local European associations was jettisoned for a more polished, yet very targeted, resolution that promised to ‘take such action as [the settlers] may consider proper and necessary’.4
Stirrings of a coup whirled around the country. Wheatley was appointed as the military leader of the proposed rebellion. With the slogan of ‘For King and Kenya’, recruiters for local vigilance committees emphasized that rebelling against the local government would be the highest form of duty to the crown. Kenyan Indians, feeling gravely under threat, appealed to the colonial government. But the Kenyan government, under the South African-born Governor, Robert Coryndon, watched passively from the side-lines, dismissing their fears of violence as ‘much exaggerated’.
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