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June 06, 2013

Britain Apologizes, Pays Compensation for Colonial Abuses in Kenya

by Henry Ridgwell

Britain has apologized and agreed to pay compensation to thousands of veterans of the Mau Mau nationalist uprising in Kenya, which was brutally suppressed by the British colonial government in the 1950s.  It could pave the way for further claims against Britain for its actions in its former colonies.

The uprising by Mau Mau nationalists in 1950s Kenya was brutally suppressed by the British colonial government.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission estimates that 90,000 Kenyans were killed or maimed and 160,000 detained.  Torture and rape were common.

More than 50 years later, British Foreign Secretary William Hague has apologized and agreed to pay compensation.

“The agreement includes payment of a settlement sum in respect of 5,228 claimants, as well as a gross costs sum to the total value of 19.9 million pounds [US $30.8 million].  The government will also support the construction of a memorial in Nairobi to the victims of torture and ill treatment during the colonial era," he said.

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In Kenya, Mau Mau veterans and campaigners celebrated the apology but said the compensation was far from enough.  General Gitu Wa Kahengeri is secretary of the Mau Mau Veterans.

“We were detained for 10 years.  I was detained for seven years with my father, who raised me. So the issue of 300,000 shillings [US $3,500] is far from the amount that I should have been paid or my father or anyone else who was there during the fight," he said.

The deal was reached after a court ruled last year that three elderly Mau Mau veterans who suffered castration, rape and beatings could sue the government.

The lawyer representing the Mau Mau, Martyn Day, said it’s been a history lesson for Britain.

“Post World War II, the mood of everybody was that the Germans and the Japanese did absolutely terrible things to people and we were a cut above.  I think the first lesson is that in fact we have done just as bad things at times,” said Day.

Britain had tried for three years to block the legal action, arguing that responsibility passed to Kenya upon its independence in 1963, and that the claim was brought after the legal time limit.  Both arguments were rejected in court.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said the way the government fought the legal action was an insult.

“Even the colonial administrators of the time admitted that these abuses were happening.  So I do not understand why in good conscience the British government held out and fought so long and hard to deny this compensation and apology,” he said.

Tatchell said thousands more people were abused under British colonial rule.

“I hope this agreement will now pave the way for an apology and compensation for the victims of British colonial repression in other territories such as Malaya, Aden and Cyprus.  They were subjected to similar abuses and it’s time they got justice,” he said.

The British government says it does not believe the settlement with Mau Mau veterans sets a precedent for other victims of British colonial rule.