Mau Mau to sue the British Government

First Posted on Commercial Law International on June 24, 2009.

Concentration Camps

Concentration Camps

By Charles Wanguhu

The above move by the Kenyan freedom fighters to sue the British government has elicited some very interesting responses from some readers of the times online paper:

This is all about money and bashing the UK. Africa does not want to take responsibility for its current problems
Also if this happened in the 50’s so why have they waited till now?

Lawyers and Money again: A poisonous mix. Why after so long drag up these horrors. The Mau Mau allegedly used to drink the blood of the white farmers they killed. The British allegedly tortured Mau Mau. What good can come of this knowledge now? Time to put these things back in the box of history

While the above sentiments may be of a few it may be worth placing their arguments in a context. Firstly during the emergency in Kenya loads of kikuyu men were rounded up and accused of being Mau Mau based on accusations by guards who were collaboratoring with the british. We can therefore not claim that all those held in prison camps tortured and killed were indeed Mau Mau fighters.

Secondly what is more at stake is the recognition by the UK government that it was official colonial policy to run concentration camps and that it was sanctioned at the top.

In the article :

Professor Anderson states that is doubtful the lawsuit in its current form — targeting the state rather than those surviving individuals who allegedly carried out the abuse — will succeed.

“There can be no doubt that torture was used by British Forces . . . but the question remains ‘who is responsible?’,” he said.

Whoever this notion is flawed in that when a criminal offence occurs it is not the role of the victim to seek evidence against the offender and then bring in criminal charges against them. When a state decides to open up institutions of incarceration it is the states responsibility to ensure that the inmates are treated in a humane way and not subjected to torture. In this instance the British colonial state failed in their duty and they should therefore be brought to account for their inaction when it was clear what is happening. The Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya by Caroline Elkins is an account of the atrocities carried out on the Kikuyu population in Kenya and is worth a read for any individual prior to defending the british actions.

The Mau Mau atrocities cannot be denied and were definitely atrocious. It is however pretentious to claim that they were on a similar scale as the colonial state with their better equipped and organised forces. In addition the fact that they used Machetes and not guns is akin to declaring that the British killings were undertaken in a humane way.

The question is should it be placed in history and forgotten about? Well while seeming to take a leaf from its predecessors the Kenyan Government extra judicially killed up to 400 Kikuyu young men accusing them of being Mungiki (a group not too dissimilar to the Mau Mau if not claiming their inspiration from the Mau Mau) should we forget about them as well.

While it is in the interest of majority of British people to be forward looking, the victims of atrocities still seek justice. History appears to be relative as the World Cup win in 1966 is considered fresh enough to be brought up at every opportunity but atrocities committed six years earlier than the win are too far to be worth remembering.

The issue is not so much monetary compensation but recognition that it was official British Gvt policy to carry out such atrocities and that indeed the victims of these actions were in some instances innocent people who happened to be members of the wrong ethnic community at the time.

4 Comments on "Mau Mau to sue the British Government"

  1. Alaska Brigades | June 29, 2009 at 11:32 pm |

    You said, “History appears to be relative as the World Cup win in 1966 is considered fresh enough to be brought up at every opportunity but atrocities committed six years earlier than the win are too far to be worth remembering.” I’d rip this to shreds, but you or your “editors” would just bowdlerize my reply or drag some stinky red herring across it. So just look at what you’ve written, and ask yourself if even you would hire your services, whether as counsel or comic! And then further demean yourself by saying “yes.”

  2. The particular passage that you have chosen to base your whole judgement was merely an illustration of the hypocrisy of individuals. The easy route is indeed to consign past injustices to the bin and stake claim to the current advanced state of the British society. However that would be to deny the very pillars that built the British society.
    I would invite your comments on other aspects of the piece and more so any informed insights if existent

  3. Ainsley: for indeed more informed legal insight (from a Kenyan perspective), go to the above mentioned link. It’s an article of mine.
    ( )

  4. Alexander,
    Thanks for the link to the article and i agree with you on several aspects. I do however disagree with you that the suit as it is spurious and not worth teh trouble.
    The publicity that has been associated with suit has given new impetus to discussions beyond the merits or otherwise of the suit.
    As they say those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. And like i mention in the blog the current government tactics especially in controlling the civilian unrest or yearn for reforms has not been to dissimilar from the stance taken by the colonial authorities in handling the emergency period.

    In addition in the current context the truth justice and reconciliation commission(the issues surrounding it i cannot get into as that would be a whole different piece)that has been set up to look at historical injustices, will do well to look at the issues arising from the suit in an attempt to understand some of the nuances in the Kikuyu community.

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