Socialist Worker

'Sincere regret' from British government over Mau Mau war torture and promise to compensate victims

by Ken Olende
Issue No. 2357

Mau Mau justice campaigners celebrate after the British government admits torture

Mau Mau justice campaigners celebrate after the British government admits torture (Pic: Socialist Worker)


The government agreed on Thursday of last week to compensate Kenyans tortured by the British during the 1950s Mau Mau war.

It was a momentous move.

Foreign secretary William Hague said, “The British government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place”. 

He pledged compensation to survivors totalling £19.9 million and said Britain would “support the construction of a memorial” in Kenya to victims of colonial torture.

Following negotiations with the war veterans’ lawyers, the settlement now encompasses 5,228 people.

But once costs have been taken off, this leaves about £2,500 per victim in what the government declares a “full and final settlement”. And a further 8,000 people in Kenya say they were tortured. 

In a brutal war, Britain used torture and concentration camps to suppress an independence movement. 

It won the war—or the “Emergency”, as Britain called it—but by the end realised the cost of hanging on to its African colonies was too high.

Lawyer for the victims, Martin Day, issued a statement saying, “It takes courage to publically acknowledge for the first time the terrible nature of Britain’s past in Kenya.

“The crimes were committed by British colonial officials. They include castration, rape and repeated violence of the worst kind.”

Hague said, “The British government recognises that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill treatment at the hands of the colonial administration.”

Dan Thea is from the Mau Mau Justice Network, which supports the veterans’ claim. 

Wonderful

He told Socialist Worker, “This has been a wonderful job by the veterans, the fulfilment of a long struggle after a long wait of 50 years.

“We finally have acknowledgement, a public apology and compensation.”

But Hague is determined that the government avoids its full responsibility to victims of British colonialism. 

The government has been fighting to stop the torture trial going ahead since five Kenyan veterans began their test case in 2009.

Hague’s statement went on, “We continue to deny liability for the actions of the colonial authorities.”

Hague made no mention of the colonial documents that came to light during the trial.The British government had hidden these in a warehouse in Buckinghamshire since independence. 

It was only this case that forced the government to admit the existence of the files. These contained documents from 37 colonies including 1,500 secret files.

Hague went on to say that no one should see the settlement as forming a precedent for any other colony.

Dan added, “Our one regret is that this agreement has left many more veterans out of the picture, who deserve similar compensation.

“It is important that no one forgets the Kenyan people who suffered during the Emergency. And that Britain imposed 70 years of brutal colonial occupation on the country.”


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