The historic admission by the British government on 6 June that it committed unimaginable atrocities in Kenya was unexpected. Indeed, the Mau Mau freedom heroes legal humiliation of the British government has been a 63-year journey that only kicked off 10 years ago. After decades of denial amid mounting pressure and accumulation of evidence, Her Majesty's Service (HMS) finally caved in and is to make a [pounds sterling]19.9m payout in compensation. But why are the British admitting to the horrors they commited now? Our Kenya correspondent, Wanjohi Kabukuru, explores the reasoning behind the sudden change of heart.
UNWILLING TO GO THE FULL distance, Her Majesty's Government in Britain took an unprecedented move by settling out of court a case that was filed in 2009 by five Mau Mau veterans (aged between 70 and 80 years--sadly one of the five has passed on in the interim) seeking compensation for the Emergency period in Kenya between 1952 to 1963.
Yes, following years of denial, the British government has officially acknowledged that extreme horrors, untold suffering and sheer bloodshed amidst social upheavals were part of what characterised Kenya's long walk to freedom.
"Emergency regulations were introduced: political organisations were banned; prohibited areas were created and provisions for detention without trial were enacted. The colonial authorities made unprecedented use of capital punishment and sanctioned harsh prison so-called 'rehabilitation' regimes," Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons. "Many of those detained were never tried and the links of many with the Mau Mau were never proven. There was recognition at the time of the brutality of these repressive measures and the shocking level of violence, including an important debate in this House on the infamous events at Hola Camp in 1959" [extensively reported in New African, December 2003, in "Kenya: The Hola Massacre"].
Hague's admission was the first ever in six decades. Successive British governments denied any abuses in the Kenya colony, especially after Colonial Governor Sir Evelyn Baring declared a "State of Emergency" in October 1952. "I would like to make clear now and for the first time, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, that we understand the pain and grievance felt by those who were involved in the events of the Emergency in Kenya. The British Government recognises that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of colonial administration," Hague told the UK parliament.
"The British Government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place and they marred Kenya's progress towards independence. Torture and ill-treatment are abhorrent violations of human dignity which we unreservedly condemn."
Hague admitted that this reprehensible period in Kenya's history that was ignored by independence governments stood in the way of reconciliation for the two nations. The decades-old denial of this episode in Kenyan history is not only a shame on the British government but also on previous Kenyan administrations. The post-independence governments did not make room for the recognition of the freedom heroes and neither did they fully address the concerns of a just society, as was enshrined by the Mau Mau freedom struggle.
Indeed, numerous unrelenting efforts have been made to hush up and distort the Mau Mau episode. Officialdom, with the assistance of Kenyan academia, has fiercely sought to play down and deny the pivotal role of the Mau Mau in Kenya's independence struggle. The underlying reason for this prevailing state of affairs is attributed to the premise of fear by the British, Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi governments, who never officially recognised the Mau Mau, let alone accepted their quest for justice. It is a known historical fact that Mzee Kenyatta, Kenya's founding father, hushed up the Mau Mau issue in a bid to heal a nation that had been badly affected by the bloody era. …