On 3 March 1959, 11 Kenyans were bludgeoned to death and many more were maimed by British colonial forces at a camp in Hola in the East Coast province. President Mwai Kibaki's government has now cleared the way for the British government to be sued for reparations. Wanjohi Kabukuru traces the systematic torture that was the hallmark of British rule during the Mau Mau years.
For decades now, the Hola Massacre has been portrayed as an out-of-the-blue incident which was purely accidental. But it was not. Instead it was a well-planned operation which was approved by the British establishment mainly because Kenya, unlike the other colonies, was home of the British aristocracy.
Mark Warwick, the son of a former British settler notes in his treatise, Mau Mau-Messengers of Misery: "Whilst emigrants to other parts of the British Empire, such as Australia, were usually of middle of working class extraction, the Kenyan settlers were more often aristocrats and high ranking army officers.
"Many were the younger sons of wealthy English families. The upper class Englishmen who bought land in Kenya cheaply and in vast estates were notable mainly for the urgency and the style with which they established hunts and the ebullience of their extra-marital sexual relations."
Warwick continues: "The new life in Kenya was directed by those who imagined that they were living the lives of English country Squires; riding among the smiling peasantry who doffed their caps as they inspected their beasts and crops before returning to a well ordered household where gun-dogs wagged their tails.
"The only difference being that the lion became the substitute for the fox and the pajama and dressing gown for the dinner jacket. In this gentleman's colon, they built great manors and wooden chateaux set within gardens bowered by flame trees and looking across lawns kept smooth and watered by voiceless black servants.
"So in the end, the Africans arose in revolt which the panic and anger of the settlers made famous. The), put about the idea that the Mau Mau was the most brutal, bloodthirsty murderous rising of black men against white men in the history of mankind."
Warwick's sentiments underscore Kenya's independence struggle. It is a narrative of racism and arrogance.
The despotism and inhumanity that took place in Hola--a remote and far-flung town in Kenya's Coast Province--on 3 March 1959, was a manifestation of British ruthlessness and the single catalyst for an early independence for Kenya.
On that day, which stands out like a sore thumb, some 85 Mau Mau detainees were herded to a site and ordered to work. They flatly refused to follow the order, arguing that they were political detainees not prisoners.
"We were not going to work. We were very much aware of the difference between prisoners and political detainees," Mathenge Ngatia, a survivor of the massacre recalls. "This formed the basis of our refusal. We would not budge an inch. It was a matter of principle for our country's independence. We were not shamba boys (Swahili for farm boys) of ngati (Kikuyu for home guards). We were freedom fighters."
Having refused to work, the detainees were then huddled together in a trench, 12 feet deep. The trench was surrounded by some 100 security guards armed with guns. Inside the trench with the detainees were 30 other guards with truncheons.
The superintendent of prisons, John Cowan (who was the colonial Prisons chief from 1957-1963), angry a the defiance, then blew his whistle. What happened next makes one recoil with horror.
The prison warders set upon the hapless detainees with a despicable vengeance, And for the next three hours, they were pitilessly clobbered to death or maimed.
Eleven men (Kabui Kaman,Ndung'u Kibaki, Mwema Kinuthia, Kinyanjui Njoroge, Koroma Mburu, Ikeno Ikiro, Migwi Ndegwa, Kaman Karanja, Mungai Githi and Ngugi Karitie) lay dead under Cowan's supervision.
"I remember the order being issued in Swahili, 'Piga mpaka wafanye kazi (flog them till they work), they were beaten like unwanted animals." James Muigai, another survivor of Hola recounts.
These casualties and others in different detention camps were victims of a diabolical torture drill code-named the "Cowan Plan" named after John Cowan.
The infamous "plan" entailed violence as official policy. The bottom line, in Cowan's own words, states that: "Should a detainee prove unamenable to work, they should be manhandled to the sire of work and forced to carry out the task."
John McGuffin in his widely acclaimed book, "The Guinea Pigs" notes: "In Kenya, the Mau Mau were not motivated by fanatical communism, but they were bound together by strong traditional tribal loyalties and oaths. Robert Graves, for instance, reports how he heard Mau Mau men condemned to be executed the next morning, laughing, joking and singing all night in the hut.'
"The Mau Mau may have been brutal," McGuffin continues, "but as John Stonehouse, MP, pointed out "the movement could never have arisen of gained such a hold on the Kikuyu if the Kenyans had been allowed some legitimate outlet for their very real grievances," over land reforms and political representation.
"The British response was barbaric. Over 8,000 men and women were rounded up and the vast majority was interned without charge or trial in truly appalling conditions. Even after 7 years, over 7,000 men were still interned.
"The worst of the excesses were justified under the infamous 'Cowan Plan', where uncharged and untried prisoners were forced to work scraping soil with their bare hands in temperatures as high as 48 degrees Celsius, while sadistic guards brutalised and beat them."
It can now be revealed that apart from the ruthless beatings, the detainees were also exposed to the trauma of sodomy, rape and even castrasion. "The treatment of the Mau Mau and the Kikuyu during and after the 'Emergency' was truly savage," journalist Jean Shaoul notes on the World Socialist web site. 'It remains one of the most infamous episodes of British colonial history and fully vindicates the historian C. L. R James' famous statement: "The cruelties of property and privilege are always more ferocious than the revenges of poverty and oppression".
"Theft, intimidation, torture, castration and rape were commonplace. The British and the Kenyan army units indulged in random shootings. They kept scorecards and there were 5[pounds sterling] rewards for 'kill'. The hands of their victims were cut off and brought back as proof. The Kenya police and the Kenya Regiment tortured and killed indiscriminately, while the Kenyan press kept silent."
According to Mathenge Ngatia: "Some of us were sodomised repeatedly and some had their testicles crushed to extract confessions and renounce the oath. It is by the grace of God that we are alive today."
Vehemently defending his work, Cowan spoke about it for the first time in decades in 1999 in a documentary shown on the British Channel 4 TV, entitled: How Britain Crushed the Mau Mau Rebellion--Secret History
He glumly remarked: "I think that Christianity had been tried and hadn't succeeded with them. And the), needed a sort of moral compulsion ... to confess their oaths. In one of my camps, there was a small faction of Mau Mau detainees, who were difficult. There was a procedure implemented there, which was successful. We had to coerce them into confessing. We used a little bit of force on them I never saw a man in all the time I was the having had force used on him in any worse condition than an amateur boxer getting out of a ring."
When asked how he felt after the massacre, Cowan remarked: "I didn't red guilty ... I don't think that's quite the word ... I felt extremely sorry that it had gone wrong, but not actually guilty."
He would say that, won't he? Attempts to cover up the mess were coordinated t none other than the colonial governor himself, Sir Evelyn Baring (a descendant of the extremely wealthy Baring's banking family). His office issued a statement alluding that the dead detainees had drunk contaminated water. Nobody believed a word of it.
Incidentally, the public had got wind the slayings through other means. Further more even within the colonial regime, man were opposed to Baring's methods. Arthur Young (now Sir) who became commission of police shortly after the declaration of the notorious "State of Emergency" in 1952, was one of them. He resigned from his post after only nine months in the job.
His experience in Kenya was the most horrible as compared to his other postings in Malay and Northern Ireland. His tenure as the police chief of Kenya was undermined right from the start by Baring.
In one of his reports, Young lamented: "I had the strong feeling that reports of crime were being suppressed and that I was not receiving a frank appreciation of the true position flora my officers in the field ... many serious and revolting crimes were being perpetrated both by loyal Africans and Europeans ... concerning which no reports were being received police headquarters."
Determined to make the best of a bad situation, Young wrote in his Commissioner's Instruction No. 1 on the Use of Firearms by the Police: " ... the use of firearms is an extreme method of the application of force which the law rarely justifies ... Furthermore the use unjustifiable force must in the end defeat own purpose ... Firearms should be regard as the last defensive source rather than the first offensive remedy."
Young was simply ignorant of the political intrigues behind the scenes, orchestrate by Baring and the colonial secretary, Ala Lennox-Boyd in the name of Her Majesty's Service.
A passage in "Sir Arthur Young: The Quintessential English Policeman" by Georgina Sinclair reads: "After nine months, Your resigned. He made it clear that Baring's administration ruled through fear rather the law. "On his return to London, Young compiled a report in which he listed 'well substantiated cases of extortion, torture and murder, willfully committed by the civilian security forces in their supposed suppression of the Mau Mau'.
"His disappointment grew when the colonial secretary, Man Lennox-Boyd, refused discuss the reasons for his resignation in parliament or to mention his subsequent report.
"Young considered that a review of events would possibly have prevented subsequent murderous incidents taking place in Kenya, notably the Hola Camp massacre."
Though the British press kept mum of the atrocities, Downing Street was bombarded with demands for an explanation the opposition Labour Party. As expected, the Tory government under Harold Macmillan denied all torture reports. In 1955, Barbara Castle, Labour MP, came to Kenya t investigate claims of police torture and murder of innocent Kenyans.
Her report was chilling: "In the heart of the British Empire", she wrote, "there is a police state where the rule of law has broken down, where murders and torture of Africans go unpunished and where the authorities pledged to enforce justice regularly connive at its violation."
She accused the colonial government of suppressing Young's critical report on police conduct in Kenya and compared the country's justice system with the Nazi. At the altar of political and c[ass expediency, both Your and Castle's concerns were contemptuously ignored by the "Tory government.
With Young out of the way, tenor in the names of Operations Anvil, Hammer, First Flute and Dante were viciously unleashed on innocent Africans.
David Larder, a 19 year old Second Lieu-tenant Followed Young's move. He too called it a day with the British forces, after murdering an African and chopping off his hand to make "finger printing easier". The Daily Worker ran his story with the banner headline: "Officer who quit says it's Hitlerism".
Larder was followed by Chief Officer Earnest Law who also resigned in protest after the Hola debacle.
But the British establishment was not in the least batting an eyelid for Iris callousness. "The raison d'etre for this was given by the defence secretary, Lennox Boyd, after the murder of the 11 men in the Hola camp.
Speaking in parliament on 3 March 1959 (note the date), he told his fellow MPs: "Experience has shown time after time, that unless hardcore detainees can be got to start working, their rehabilitation is impossible. Once they have started working, there is a psychological breakthrough and astonishing results are then achieved!" Sydney Silverman, an ME intervened: "Who told the Right Honorable that? Stalin?" McGuffin reveals in The Guinea Pigs: "But there was little of no outcry about the conditions in Kenya--after all weren't the victims black? And the press had consistently 'blackened' the Mau Mau image?
Not only were the murderers at Hola Camp exonerated but Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11 saw it fit to award John Cowan, author of the 'Cowan Plan', the MBE in the June Honours List for 1959."
The Hola Massacre is one of the many instances of British torture that top Kenyan human rights lawyers me collecting as evidence with an aim instituting legal proceedings against the former colonial master, seeking compensation for the freedom fighters.
Paul Muite, a senior counsel and MP who is a leading light in the Mau Mau reparations case, says: "We have been able to access documents showing torture and other cases of human rights abuse committed by the British colonial forces during the Mau Mau war. The information contained in I the documents has given us tangible evidence, which we shall use to sue the British government because they are quite incriminating.
"The British are very good at keeping records and all what happened during the Mau Mau war was recorded and we have found the documents from there. We shall file the suit as soon as lawyers from the Kenya Human Rights Commission finish collecting evidence." To this end, Muite reveals that they plan to call the former colonial district commissioner John Nottingham, who now resides in Thika (some 20 minutes drive from Nairobi), as their first witness. Of colonialism Nottingham has bad memories: "What went on in the Kenyan camps and villages was brutal, savage torture by people who have to be condemned as war criminals. I feel ashamed to have come from a Britain that did what it did," Nottingham says.
Already, President Mwai Kibaki's government has cleared the way for the British government to be sued for compensation and reparations. In August this year, Chris Murungaru, the national security minister, signed a Legal Notice lifting the bah imposed on the Mau Mau some 50 years ago. And on 11 November, the government "officially acknowledged" the Mau Mau. Struggle by hosting a ceremony at the Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi for Mau Mau veterans who were given sky-blue certificates indicating that for the first time since the Mau Mau upheaval, the movement was now a legal entity, fully recognised by the government.
"There may not be any material gain in the lifting of the bah, but the decision is a milestone in the country's history," said Muite. "Recognition by the government is worth more than anything else."…