Letter from New Delhi
Kenyans (left to right) Wambugu Wa Nyingi, Jane Muthoni Mara, Paulo Nzili and Ndiku Mutua, stand outside the Royal Courts of Justice, in central London, April 2011. They were taking the British government to court over alleged atrocities in the 1950s in what is now Kenya. Pic – AP
Sure, Kenya is the country where a young royal lady went as a princess and returned as a queen in 1952 but Kenya is also the country where her government launched a brutal and vicious campaign to crush the freedom movement by its people at that time.
It all started about 50 years earlier when the Uganda Railway was built and reached Nairobi in 1896. The railway brought British officers and missionaries; officers to rule the country and missionaries to convert ‘the heathen’ to Christianity. The Africans farmed on the temperate slopes around Mount Kenya and herded animals in the plains of the Great Rift Valley. When more Britishers arrived in this new colony, they took over the land around Mount Kenya and it came to be called White Highlands. The vast plains in the Rift Valley were also fenced for cattle ranching. This new group was called White Farmers and the Africans ended up as their farm labourers.
While pressing for freedom, Kenya’s charismatic leader and later its first president Jomo Kenyatta famously said that the white man had a book (The Bible) when he came to Kenya and the African had the land. Soon, the white man had the land and the African had the book.
The campaign for freedom started in the 1920s and early 1930s when African leaders started demanding human rights, first as workers and later as citizens. Since they did not get far, the more radical ones launched a violent uprising to get back their land and freedom, known as Mau Mau rebellion. When Elizabeth visited Kenya, this movement was gathering pace in the early 1950s and continued until 1960. In fact, the Mau Mau fighters burnt down Treetops in 1954 and it was later rebuilt.
The British government or rather the Queen’s government flew in hundreds of British soldiers to fight the “terrorists” and the Royal Air Force flew in with planes to bomb the forests where the Mau Mau fighters were hiding. An Emergency was declared and the rulers had a free hand. With the local police and administration, they unleashed a horrendous, powerful and bloody response. Thousands were picked up and sent to ‘detention camps’ where they were beaten and tortured to extract information. The detainees also suffered malnutrition, starvation and disease due to the inhuman conditions. Hundreds of suspects were hanged. Many thousands of Africans were issued with a pass to travel from their villages, denying them the freedom of movement.
The number of deaths of Africans during the Emergency is disputed. The estimates range from 25,000 to 50,000 but go up to 130,000 to 3000,000. How many were killed by Mau Mau? Around 300 White farmers, some 5000 African loyalists, just 30 White soldiers and about 200 British police officers of different races were killed.
In 2013, after a group of elderly Kenyans sued the Foreign Office for atrocities during the eight-year emergency, the British government was forced to admit it had illegally hidden more than one million colonial-era documents that should have been declassified. To date, these documents remain in the UK and are yet to be repatriated to the colonies they were stolen from.
These documents are not only hidden from Kenyans and researchers but also from the British public who have a romanticised image of the white man developing and civilising an African land. The petitioners were paid a paltry sum as compensation. The honours bestowed on the officers of the Empire – the Queen’s medal and so on – were all in the name of the monarch. The demand for freedom gathered pace in the late fifties and early sixties until the British government yielded and granted independence to Kenya in December 1963. Read More… Become a Subscriber
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 16 September 2022
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