Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit on March 27, 2010. The event was a rally to demand justice in the assassination of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah by the FBI on Oct. 28, 2009., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Kenyans Allowed to Pursue Case in British Courts for Torture
Liberation-era atrocities committed by colonialists further exposed
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Three survivors of the colonialist’s detention centers in Kenyan during the 1950s have been granted the legal right to pursue their case for damages against the British government. Wambugu Wa Nyingi, 84, Paulo Muoka Nzili, 85, and Jane Muthoni Mara, 75 have made claims resulting from their arrest, confinement and torture when the imperialists attempted to crush a national rebellion to overthrow white settler rule.
Beginning in 1952, the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA), popularly known as the Mau Mau, set out to take back the land seized by British colonialists in the late 19th century. The assassination of white settlers and their collaborators brought about widespread repression inside the East African colony.
By the end of the decade, millions of Africans had been detained and re-located. At least 11,000 were killed by agents of the colonial authorities and the system of forced labor and land exploitation became enshrined in the economic system of the country.
Many of those who were victims of the detention camps and the brutal repression of the KLFA are no longer alive. The claimants in this case have waited for five decades to have their day in court.
The British government even today, some six decades since the start of the so-called “Mau Mau Rebellion”, takes the position that justice cannot be served due to the fact that such a length of time has passed and that many of the witnesses are deceased. This attempted cover-up has been going on since the period in question due to the sensitive nature of the claims being made by Kenyans victimized by the colonial system.
However, Justice McCombe of the British High Court said that “The governments and military commanders seem to have been meticulous record keepers. I have reached the conclusion that a fair trial on this part of the case does remain possible and that the evidence on both sides remains significantly cogent for the Court to complete its task satisfactorily.” (Telegraph, UK, October 5)
The claimants all want an apology from the British government as well as compensation for unjust detention and torture. Martyn Day, an attorney for the three Kenyan citizens filing suit, said the decision to proceed with the case was historic.
The decision, Day said, would “reverberate around the world. Following this judgment we can but hope that our Government will at last do the honorable thing and sit down and resolve these claims.” (Telegraph, UK, October 5)
Day went on to note “There will undoubtedly be victims of colonial torture from Malaya to the Yemen from Cyprus to Palestine who will be reading this judgment with great care.”
British Imperialists Seeks to Avoid Its History in Kenya
Colonialism in Africa was a vicious, highly exploitative and genocidal system. Millions of Africans died during the Atlantic Slave Trade and the eventual political control exercised by European and North American powers took untold wealth from the continent.
After the failure of the colonial authorities to put down the resistance on the part of the Kikuyu and other groups in Kenya, a more thorough crackdown was ordered in 1954. Documents published at the time show clearly that the establishment of detention camps and the brutal use of force were official government policy.
According to the BBC on April 24, 1954, “The British authorities ordered the clampdown on the Mau Mau, a guerrilla movement opposed to white settlers in the East African colony, following a breakdown in law and order.” (BBC)
This purported breakdown in law and order was the targeted assassinations and attacks on European settlers and some African members of the colonial security forces. In addressing the security issues of the colonial authorities a full-scale war against the African population was launched.
The BBC said in the same above-mentioned article that “Those suspects found to be Mau Mau supporters will be sent to detention camps for further questioning. More than 4,000 British and African troops, Nairobi’s entire police force and African loyalists are involved in the operation. They have orders to shoot to kill if there is any armed resistance.”
The repressive measures were dubbed “Operation Anvil” which started out at dawn throughout Nairobi and surrounding areas. Although they targeted the Kikuyu ethnic group, the BBC pointed out that “any suspects are being handed over for further screening.”
Despite the extreme measures taken by the British colonialists, official reports stated only 32 white settlers were killed during the period of 1952-1960. Numbers for Africans killed was between 11,000-20,000 including those who were members or sympathizers to the KLFA and some additional 4,000 people who were agents of the imperialist police and security forces.
One of the most well-known massacres by the British colonialists during this period took place at the Hola detention camp on March 3, 1959. Government documents reported that 85 detainees were marched out in a labor crew that morning when several of the Africans refused to work.
In response the guards beat to death 11 detainees and another 23 were seriously injured. The massacre was initially denied when the British authorities falsely said that the deaths were caused by contaminated water.
Nonetheless, the truth eventually emerged and created a worldwide chorus of condemnation. In 1960 the British officially proclaimed the end of the emergency measures and the country was granted independence in 1963.
In the aftermath of official colonial rule the actual history of the period was concealed. A policy of national reconciliation was advanced and the successive governments have maintained a close alliance with the imperialist states.
Significance of This Case for Contemporary Africa
British opposition to the continuation of this case is reflected in the government’s response to the decision by Judge McCombe. The UK government says that it will appeal the decision to move forward with a full trial.
Even some within the British press have posed a challenge to what the government has put forward in relationship to the case of the Kenyans seeking justice in the courts. The Guardian said that “the government must stop procrastinating and accept responsibility for events that happened before many of its members were born.” (Guardian, October 5)
This article goes on to say that “it was not only a question of individual failure. Abuse was sanctioned by a particular institutional attitude that has never been adequately challenged.”
With the failure of the governments in Britain and independent Kenya to adequately address the abuses and the overall character of colonial rule has shaped the nature of the post-independence process. The unequal terms of relations in all spheres are still very much in evidence throughout the continent.
Africans are due reparations and other forms of compensations for the atrocities committed during slavery and colonial rule. Progressive forces in the western states should support the legitimate claims made against the imperialist countries by the oppressed peoples throughout the world.