Mau Mau to sue the British Government

Concentration Camps
Concentration Camps

By Charles Wanguhu

The above move by the Kenyan freedom fighters to sue the British government has elicited some very interesting responses from some readers of the times online paper:

This is all about money and bashing the UK. Africa does not want to take responsibility for its current problems
Also if this happened in the 50’s so why have they waited till now?

Lawyers and Money again: A poisonous mix. Why after so long drag up these horrors. The Mau Mau allegedly used to drink the blood of the white farmers they killed. The British allegedly tortured Mau Mau. What good can come of this knowledge now? Time to put these things back in the box of history

While the above sentiments may be of a few it may be worth placing their arguments in a context. Firstly during the emergency in Kenya loads of kikuyu men were rounded up and accused of being Mau Mau based on accusations by guards who were collaboratoring with the british. We can therefore not claim that all those held in prison camps tortured and killed were indeed Mau Mau fighters.

Secondly what is more at stake is the recognition by the UK government that it was official colonial policy to run concentration camps and that it was sanctioned at the top.

In the article :

Professor Anderson states that is doubtful the lawsuit in its current form — targeting the state rather than those surviving individuals who allegedly carried out the abuse — will succeed.

“There can be no doubt that torture was used by British Forces . . . but the question remains ‘who is responsible?’,” he said.

Whoever this notion is flawed in that when a criminal offence occurs it is not the role of the victim to seek evidence against the offender and then bring in criminal charges against them. When a state decides to open up institutions of incarceration it is the states responsibility to ensure that the inmates are treated in a humane way and not subjected to torture. In this instance the British colonial state failed in their duty and they should therefore be brought to account for their inaction when it was clear what is happening. The Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya by Caroline Elkins is an account of the atrocities carried out on the Kikuyu population in Kenya and is worth a read for any individual prior to defending the british actions.

The Mau Mau atrocities cannot be denied and were definitely atrocious.  It is however pretentious to claim that they were on a similar scale as the colonial state with their better equipped and organised forces. In addition the fact that they used Machetes and not guns is akin to declaring that the British killings were undertaken in a humane way.

The question is should it be placed in history and forgotten about? Well while seeming to take a leaf from its predecessors the Kenyan Government extra judicially killed up to 400 Kikuyu young men accusing them of being Mungiki (a group not too dissimilar to the Mau Mau if not claiming their inspiration from the Mau Mau) should we forget about them as well.

While it is in the interest of majority of British people to be forward looking, the victims of atrocities still seek justice. History appears to be relative as the World Cup win in 1966 is considered fresh enough to be brought up at every opportunity but atrocities committed six years earlier than the win are too far to be worth remembering.

The issue is not so much monetary compensation but recognition that it was official British Gvt policy to carry out such atrocities and that indeed the victims of these actions were in some instances innocent people who happened to be members of the wrong ethnic community at the time.


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3 Replies to “Mau Mau to sue the British Government”

  1. Anne Mwangi

    While it might not be a purely money-driven issue, the British are also wary of the floodgates problem that may stem from their former colonies, should Kenyan activists succeed.

  2. Osas

    Charles: for a legal blog, your comment is not very knowledgeable in law, and shows even lesser historical understanding of Manjeneti. I refer you to a recent article in the Nairobean “Business Daily” for a better understanding.

  3. Charles

    Osas: Firstly thanks for the comments. I might have missed the article in the business daily that you were referring to and am therefore not in a position to compare. In my experience the matter of the Mau Mau is greatly polarising and objectivity is hindered by folk lore as well as government propaganda at the time.
    The issue of the recognition of atrocities committed is one i fully stand for and not necessarily monetary compensation.

    I am assuming you are in Kenya at the moment and therefore are well placed to review the Mungiki and the Mt Elgon army operation and consider their similarities with the Emergency period (manjeneti).

    I therefore welcome the debate on this part of Kenyan history because as they say those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

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