Although the British government offered a formal apology and modest compensation for the crimes committed against the people of Kenya during the war of independence between 1952 and 1960, many of the veterans of the struggle say that the existing list of victims is not complete.
Former members of the Kenyan Land and Freedom Army, popularly known as the Mau Mau, along with others who were imprisoned and tortured beginning in 1952, filed legal action in British courts demanding compensation for their suffering.
Nonetheless, 7,000 veterans are demanding that the current settlement plans be halted and a new headcount be conducted. The rejection of the British offer is based upon the fact that local lawyers, representatives of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission and British officials agreed to the settlement on June 1 at the Panafric Hotel in Nairobi without consulting veterans from at least one region of this East African state.
Veterans from Nyeri County said they were not included in the settlement and held a press conference on June 9 at Ruring’u, near Nyeri town. These claims illustrate the complications that the British government may face in their attempts to settle this case and prevent it from moving forward in the courts.
KLFA veteran Captain Nderitu Wambugu stated, “I doubt whether we freedom fighters from Nyeri County have been included. The Githu Kahengeri-led group did not represent the interests of genuine freedom fighters.” (Kenyan Star, June 10)
Wambugu said that the money offered by the British was not nearly enough. His position seems to be supported by two Kenyan Members of Parliament, Mathira constituency Peter Weru and his Kieni colleague, James Mathenge Keini Kega.
These legislators emphasized that the offer was a big joke and that the veterans and victims should be paid 100 times more than what has been offered. They say that 20 million Kenyans have been impacted by British atrocities which imposed suffering on thousands of families and all their descendants.
“Some families are still living in colonial villages. They should be recognized and be given land to live a decent life,” said Weru in the same article.
Politics of the settlement offer
British Foreign Secretary William Hague on June 6 expressed “deep regret” at what the colonial government did to suppress the revolt that erupted in 1952. That resulted in the killing of thousands of Kenyans and the imprisonment of about 160,000 others in detention camps. Kenya was eventually granted independence from Britain in 1963.
The British foreign office said in a May 2013 statement that “there should be a debate about the past. It is an enduring feature of our democracy that we are willing to learn from our history. … We understand the pain and grievance felt by those, on all sides, who were involved in the divisive and bloody events of the Emergency period in Kenya.”
Such a statement attempts to minimize the deliberate role by London during this period to crush an anti-colonial revolt that was sparked by the exploitative and oppressive conditions the Kenyan people were subjected to for decades.
The announcement of the settlement offer indicated that some $US30.8 million would be paid to more than 5,200 victims. The lawyers for the claimants said that an agreement had been reached without disclosing the sum.
Divided among the designated victims, the sums paid to individuals would be less than $US6,000 per person. These atrocities were committed beginning more than 60 years ago, and many of those involved are already deceased.
“[The negotiations] have included everybody with sufficient evidence of torture. And that number is about 5,200,” Kenyan lawyer Paul Muite said. (newstimesafrica.com, June 10)
This settlement grew out of negotiations that began after an October British High Court decision that three victims of the colonial atrocities would be allowed to pursue their claims in the courts. They demanded compensation for false imprisonment, beatings, torture, rape and castration.
The claimants, Paulo Muoka Nzili, Wambugu Wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni, initiated the case, which gained international attention. The British government has never paid any compensation for their centuries-long subjugation of millions of peoples throughout the world through slavery and colonialism. A fourth claimant, Susan Ngondi, died before the settlement was announced.
The Kenyan Human Rights Commission said that at least 90,000 Africans died during the suppression of the anti-colonial revolt in the 1950s. The KHRC also says that some 160,000 were detained, where they were victims of torture resulting in many deaths.
These developments, involving the purported settlement of this chapter in Kenyan, African and British history, reveal the contradictions in such efforts. Whether the majority of Kenyans impacted by this horrendous episode in their history accept the legitimacy of the settlement remains to be seen.
Africans have a legitimate right to pursue reparations for their centuries of pain and suffering through European, African, North and South American slavery and colonialism. The imperialists should not be allowed to dismiss claims for reparations both inside and outside the legal system.