Five veterans of the Mau Mau movement arrived last week in London to launch a complaint against the British government for acts of torture committed before the Kenyan independence. Tens of thousands of Kenyans were arbitrarily detained, tortured and executed in response to a rebellion against the settlers. The victims are now demanding compensation and recognition of the atrocities committed by the English.
On June 23, five men who fell prey to violent acts of the colonial British troops left their country to file a complaint in London against the British government. Between 1952 and 1960, the Mau Mau rebelled against the British settlers while they laid claim to their occupied lands. The uprising was violently suppressed with killings, torture and internment in camps.
Today, the survivors are demanding compensation with emphasis on the recognition of the crimes they fell victim to. In the past fifty years, the Kenyan and English States have failed to address the bloody events that took place before the Kenyan independence.
Should the complaint prove successful, thousands of Kenyans could in turn seek reparation. The Kenya Human Rights Commission has documented some forty cases involving castrations, sexual abuses and unlawful detentions committed by officers of the colonial troops, five of which will be presented at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Questioning the validity of the case whilst arguing that the time lapse is too long and also that the liability of the colonial empire rested with the State of Kenya with the country’s independence, London faces an embarrassing lawsuit. For the survivors who are between the ages of 70 and 80 years, the lawsuit is their last chance to witness an acknowledgement of justice.
The Kikuyu, the largest ethnic group in Kenya, dominated the Mau Mau movement. During the first part of the 20th century, Europeans owned most of the lands in the country. At the end of World War II, Jomo Kenyatta, leader of the Mau Mau, created the Kenyan African Union (KAU), which demanded access to lands for black people. It is in that context that the Mau Mau led violent actions to recover their birth-right between 1952 and 1960. A state of emergency was introduced and the rebellion was brutally silenced by imprisonment, executions, and torture among others.
Kenyans suspected of supporting or sympathizing with the Mau Mau movement were imprisoned without trial in camps, where guards engaged in barbaric acts such as castrations and sexual assaults that often led to death. Historians estimate that 150 000 people were interned in 150 camps across the country, but the figures differ depending on the source. According to an official review, the settlers had imprisoned 80 000 potential supporters of Mau Mau. 11 000 of them were killed after the review, but historians claim the figures range between 20 000 to 300 000 deaths.
In 1959, the state of emergency was lifted and discussions on forming a Kenyan government began. The country’s independence was declared December 12, 1963. That same year, Mau Mau activists were granted amnesty, while Jomo Kenyatta became the country’s first president in 1964.
Wa Nyingi Wambugu, 81, is one of the complainants who made the journey to London. Before his arrest on 24 December 1952, he worked as a tractor driver and a member of the Kenyan African Union (KAU), a political party that campaigned for more freedom and independence for Kenyans. Wambugu was never a part of the Mau Mau movement. He was nonetheless arrested one night by seven white officers who took him to a first camp, without trial.
Transferred from camp to camp, he remained captive for nine years. He was attacked several times, including Hola Camp where eleven detainees were beaten to death after they refused to dig their own graves. Memories of violence are still very present in the Kenyan society. But survivors of that time recall that the Mau Mau rebellion was violent to the people and that Kenyans themselves committed atrocities.
For now, although the British government understands the “strong feelings” from the Kenyans, they “expect to contest the cases on questions around liability and limitations.”