Socialist Worker

‘A detainee killed himself because he could no longer live in this hell’

Issue No. 1936

A NEW book by Caroline Elkins underlines just how vicious British rule in Kenya was.

In one detention camp, “Detainee Nderi Kagombe was kicked towards one of the breezeblock screening rooms that were scattered throughout the five detention camps that made up the Mwea complex. There he saw two men strung up by their ankles, hanging from the rafters.

“They were naked and dripping wet from the cold water that was being poured over their bodies. The man hanging nearest the door had blood and pus running from his nose, his face swollen and distorted.

“At Manyani camp the speciality was not just pain but intense physical degradation. One torture involved holding detainees upside down with their heads in a bucket of water while alternating doses of sand and water were stuffed into their anuses.

“‘A few times I saw the white man in charge order the guards to take the sap from a certain leaf and rub it all over a detainee who had been shackled to a post,’ said a former detainee at Magetaa island on Lake Victoria.

“‘Within no time the man would be covered with these mosquitoes. If you saw these people, you would never have recognised them. Their bodies had been devoured’.”

Caroline Elkins concludes, “Only by detaining nearly the entire Kikuyu population of 1.5 million people and physically and psychologically atomising its men, women, and children could colonial authority be restored and the civilising mission reinstated.’’

In Mau Mau Detainee, published in 1963, Joseph Mwangi Kariuki gives a first-hand account of his life in the camps from 1953 to 1960.

There are chilling echoes of Iraq—“Those whom camp commandant Wells particularly disliked he would force to remove their trousers and piggy-back another naked person. This was the most shameful thing of all.”

Joseph Mwangi Kariuki was repeatedly beaten. In one case, “My face was puffed up and split open, my right knee was fractured and my chest was pierced by a strange instrument like a black truncheon with nails in it.

“I was eventually carried away and paraded in triumph past the barbed-wire compounds. That evening a detainee hanged himself.

“He had seen my treatment and had said he could not stand living in this hell any longer.”

Caroline Elkins’s Britain's Gulag has just been published by Jonathan Cape and is available from Bookmarks.


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Features
Sat 29 Jan 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1936
Share this article


Related


Tags



Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.