The British government has agreed to compensate Kenyans tortured during the Mau Mau uprising against colonial rule in the 1950s.
Foreign Secretary William Hague made the historic announcement in Parliament and has expressed “sincere regret” that the abuses had taken place.
He says the government will pay a total of more than $ 32 million to 5,228 veterans.
Mr Hague says Britain would also support the construction in Kenya’s capital Nairobi of a memorial to the victims of ill-treatment during the colonial era.
The announcement comes after a long legal battle between a number of elderly victims and the British government.
Santilla Chingaipe reports.
(music) “This is Kenya. A rich, prosperous land, but one that has been clouded for many months by a shadow of evil. For this is the land of the Mau Mau. Some are brought in to face justice, others are shot in fights with police and troops, but thousands more escape to continue their crusade of murder and violence.”
The Mau Mau rebellion aimed at ending more than 50 years of British rule, began in the early 1950s, and lasted almost a decade.
The British colonial government declared an Emergency in 1952, and it’s some of the actions of brutal suppression that followed that the Kenyan claimants aired in the British High Court.
Lawyer Martyn Day says they were among the many thousands of Kenyans rounded up during the Emergency and put in detention camps without trial.
“They didn’t bother really putting anyone through any formal criminal process. They basically detained, tortured all just as a part of this way to break the spirit of the Mau Mau people and our four clients were caught up in all of this, subject to this most terrible treatment, never properly charged or suggested that they’d been responsible for any criminal acts and eventually they were released. But it was a very very terrible time for them and a very very terrible stain on the British history.”
Martyn Day says the systematic abuses suffered by his clients – as they were held without trial for up to nine years – were horrific.
“One of the terrible things that the British did to many of the victims, but particularly to the four surviving members of the claimant group that is taking these claims to court is — for the men, the castration was a very major part of what they were doing to try and intimidate the Mau Mau and two of the guys were castrated. One of the claimants, a woman had a broken bottle shoved into her genitalia. So it was pretty gruesome as to what was happening and they all received very very severe beatings and torture to the most extreme level and it was a pretty terrible time for them and a cloud that’s been hanging over their heads for the last fifty years.”
The Mau Mau were only ever active in parts of Kenya, and were far from universally supported by their fellow Kenyans.
Even after independence in 1963 a ban imposed by the British remained in place.
George Morara, from the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, says it was only after the lifting of the ban in 2003 that some of the former detainees felt they were able to seek restitution for their mistreatment.
He says it’s been a long process, but the Commission has supported the efforts to get the case before the Court in London.
“The four are acting on behalf of a bigger number of the Mau Mau veterans who for the longest time had been forgotten by the successive Kenyan governments since Kenya got independence in 1963. As a matter of fact, which remains a painful reality, is that Mau Mau remained a proscribed organisation in the statutes of the Kenyan law up to 2003 when there was a new government that then that ban that had been imposed on Mau Mau in 1952 was lifted and after that they were able to organise and come out and say, ‘Well, we played an important role in the country’s liberation but we’ve remained proscribed for the longest time, we’ve suffered terrible acts of torture and now we really want the country and those that committed those acts to.. we want justice for what happened during that time’. So it wasn’t possible before 2003 to talk about Mau Mau, but after the ban had been lifted, the Mau Mau approached the Kenyan Human Rights Commission.”
“In Nairobi, capital of Kenya, Europeans and Africans still walk the streets in fear of the dreaded Mau Mau. There is little reliable information about the set up of the terrorist organisation, for few members even know from whom they take their orders. They obey blindly. Savagely attacking the defenceless. Burning, looting, murdering. Kenya is a battlefield of a conflict that cannot end until the Mau Mau is dissolved forever.”
George Morara believes the impetus of what became the Mau Mau rebellion can be traced to Kenyans who had fought in British military units during the Second World War.
He says on returning home after the war ended in 1945, resentment grew when they found themselves being treated differently to British settlers.
“It was given even more impetus by the Kenyans who were returning from the Second World War, because somebody like field marshal Dedan Kimathi had fought alongside the British in World War Two, so when they came back — these young Kenyans who had gone out there and sacrificed — when they came back they realised that there was differential treatment, their British counterparts were given rewards in terms of land and all this, but then they were just left with nothing really, to languish, so they brought the skills that they’d gotten, the military skills from the Second World War, and the issues they were articulating resonated with the population and within no time there was the Mau Mau movement because the Africans really wanted their freedom and independence back.”
A former member of the Kenyan Police Reserve during the Emergency who now lives in Australia, Richard Cade, says the Mau Mau committed terrible abuses to European settlers.
He says the rebels murdered some settlers, but they also used other tactics to terrorise them.
“There were some pretty horrific things. One of their favourite weapons was a simi (native longsword), which is sort of like a machete, razor sharp, absolutely you could just about shave with it. And it’s probably about 18 inches, 24 inches long and they were pretty good at wheeling that around and chopping your hand off first and your neck and a few other things. My uncle who was in Nanyuki, he had raids on his farm, he had a couple of guns stolen. One night we heard all the cattle making a lot of noise and went out there and all the back legs and hamstrings had been cut and you had to shoot your cattle. You’d been breeding a herd, improving a herd for probably 20 years and all gone down. You had to shoot them.”
Richard Cade says the Mau Mau rebels also swore an oath of allegiance to each other, and the movement, through special ceremonies which he describes as gruesome, involving animal sacrifices and the drinking of blood and other bodily fluids.
He says anyone swearing the oath was in fear of death for breaking it – and he witnessed what happened to other Kenyans suspected of opposing the movement.
“One of the big recollections is what they did to each other, to other Africans. The horrific injuries such as slitting the bellies of pregnant women, cutting the Achilles Tendons of men, horrific wounds. And this was done to men, women and children. Their own people, their own tribe, and that really stuck in my mind.”
George Morara admits that there were violent crimes committed by the Mau Mau on fellow Kenyans – but he blames the British.
“Let’s not try to turn the blame on the victim, without looking at the structures in which they were operating. Part of the reason we’ve taken the case to the UK is to say, the superstructure of governance had been created by the British government and what we had in terms of the court systems, what we had in terms of the political structure, what we had in terms of the social structure, were all creations of the British colonial government and the British government. If there was a disintegration of law and order, within that structure, it spoke volumes to the kind of governance structures that were there, to the kind of social structures that were there and to the kind of political structures that were there. And if they didn’t allow a significant component of people to participate, there was bound to be some kind of reaction — even violent reaction — to those oppressive structures.”
“Ambitious plans are being made to aid the African and to build a new future for him. The criticism that Europeans ignore the welfare of Africans is being countered by the higher standards of living. New homes replace the shacks in which so many spent there early days. For the Kikuyu, a new future beckons. A future bright with hope. Poor living conditions were the breeding ground of disaffection. Agitators urged some of the Africans to free their country of the white man.”
Professor David Anderson from Oxford University in England has been intensely studying the period of the Mau Mau Emergency.
He says the British used some Kenyans to reinforce their own military units to fight the rebels.
“It was based partly in their lack of political representation, but also in their resentments and grievances about lands that had been taken from them to give farms to white settlers. Those were the motivations. The rebellion was led by a relatively small group initially, of radical nationalists who took up arms against the British, and as the rebellion grew in ’53, ’54, the ranks of the Mau Mau army in the forests of Kenya swelled to maybe 20-25,000. The British mounted a very large counter insurgency campaign. 11 British regiments served in Kenya all of that period as well as local armed forces, The Kings African Rifles, and a whole series of local militias including the local home guard recruited from loyal Kikuyu Africans to fight against the Mau Mau rebel.”
Professor Anderson worked with lawyers for the Kenyan claimants, helping them to gather evidence for the case before the High Court.
And in 2011, his research led to an extraordinary discovery.
Professor Anderson says after years of denial, the British government was eventually forced to admit during preliminary hearings that more than 8,000 files relating to colonial administrations in Kenya and elsewhere did in fact exist.
“The important thing about these documents, is that the Kenyan documents and all the others, were removed from Britain’s former colonies on the eve of their independence. And what happened was that Britain actually had a project to do that in every single colony as it decolonised. So they took documents back from everywhere. Now that was strictly speaking ‘not legal’, because they were supposed to hand over those documents to the incoming regime. They then, in the subsequent years, when they were questioned by some countries about whether they had such documents the British government lied and denied that they had these documents. In the Kenyan case, they were three requests made in the 1960s and 1970s. And on each occasion, the British basically told Kenya to mind their own business.”
Professor Anderson says the Kenyan files contained significant new evidence.
“The Kenyan files comprise around 1,450 files. They vary in size, the average length is about 250 folios. So this is a considerable amount of material. And those files cover some of the very closely linked issues around this case, such as practices of corporal punishment, and of abuse, of tortures and indeed deaths in custody of prisoners. So this documentation is highly germane to the case.”
The British government accepted that detainees had been tortured, but initially claimed that all liabilities were transferred to the new rulers of Kenya when it was granted independence.
The Court dismissed the argument – and decided the British government was indeed the defendant.
The British High Court ruled that the Kenyans have the right to sue for damages for their treatment during the 1950s.
The British government subsequently initiated negotiations to compensate the group of elderly Kenyans.
At least 10,000 people died during the Mau Mau uprising, with some sources giving far higher estimates.