Kenya, at last?

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Subjects: Colonialism, Modern History (Post World War II)
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So (finally) the UK government has been legally forced to pay £19.9 million compensation to 5,228 victims of torture, rape, sexual abuse and maiming by British colonial forces during the ‘Mau Mau’[1] rebellion in Keyna in the 1950s. The compensation works out be a pitiful ‘£3,000 per victim and applies only to the living survivors of the abuses that took place’. The pure number of victims suggests that the argument normally trotted out by the British state in these situations, that is, ‘a bad apple’ (or two) in the colonial administration were responsible, was not really going to stick this time.

Apparently ‘The British government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place and that they marred Kenya’s progress towards independence’, though ‘Mr Hague said Britain still did not accept it was legally liable for the actions of what was a colonial administration in Kenya’[2]. For four years up until very recently (2011) the UK government had been trying to avoid being blamed and (laughably) pass the legal responsibility onto the Kenyan government[3]. Talk about distancing yourselves!

The suspicion held by many (including the victims) is that by hiding the truth and attempting to fight decade long legal battles, the UK government was hoping that the tens of thousands who suffered under British rule would die of old age and there would be no primary sources left on either side! Also of course, the organisers and perpetrators of these war crimes, some of whom are still walking the streets of Britain, would also be dead; removing any problems of embarrassing war crimes trials concerning state-sanctioned rape, torture and murder.

This morning (05-06-13) on Radio 5, right-wing journalist, nationalist and so-called historian, Max Hastings opposed paying the paltry compensation to the victims on the basis that 1950s ‘were a long time ago’ and that the oral history evidence given by the victims ‘couldn’t be trusted’. Also he claimed that the official evidence was ‘thin’. I suppose castration is not good enough evidence for Max?

In any case there is a simple reason for the lack of ‘official’ evidence; the British colonial administration, home civil service, government departments and media covered it up. Whole swathes of documents were ‘weeded’ and suppressed or destroyed by the state[4]. This is why so many arguments persist between historians about the numbers murdered, imprisoned, tortured, raped and sent to concentration camps by the British. The wide range of figures is below:

  • ‘By Elkins’s calculations, as many as 320,000 men and women were held in the camps, and as many as 50,000 were killed’[5]
  • Professor David Anderson (amongst others) regards the “compulsory resettlement” of “1,007,500 Kikuyu” inside what, for the “most” part, were “little more than concentration camps” as “punitive … to punish Mau Mau sympathisers”[6]
  • ‘Of the 50,000 deaths which John Blacker attributed to the Emergency, half were children under the age of ten’[7]
  • ‘Elkins’ claim[ed] that “somewhere between 130,000 and 300,000 Kikuyu are unaccounted for” at the 1962 census’[8]
  • ‘The British possibly killed in excess of 20,000 Mau Mau militants, but in some ways more notable is the smaller number of Mau Mau suspects dealt with by capital punishment: by the end of the Emergency, the grand total was 1,090. At no other time or place in the British empire was capital punishment dispensed so liberally—the total is more than double the number executed by the French in Algeria’[9]

Of course, the same arguments abound concerning the recent campaigns by the West in Iraq and Afghanistan where to avoid publicising the horrific numbers of causalities amongst the population caused by allied invasion, counter-insurgency war and sectarian massacres, the military decided not to count the dead. Apparently the popular ‘body counts’ of the Vietnam war are out of fashion these days. Further spin to reduce the allied casualty figures (which are published) was carried out by the US authorities when they redefined the meaning of Killed In Action (KIA)![10]

So we don’t really know what actually happened in the colonial war in Kenya thanks to the efforts of our ‘democratic’ governments. I suppose this doesn’t really matter as I guess this particular bit of recent history won’t feature heavily in Michael Gove’s Tory history plan for UK schools! Or maybe they will even justify the atrocities on the basis that ‘war is hell’ (BBC) or they were fighting ‘terrorists’ (Hastings). Perhaps they will even take up the unfashionably racist position held by the colonial forces of the time:

‘The contemporary, colonial view saw Mau Mau as a savage, violent, and depraved tribal cult, an expression of unrestrained emotion rather than reason. Mau Mau was “perverted tribalism” that sought to take the Kikuyu people back to “the bad old days” before British rule…. Not for the first time, the British instead relied on the purported insights of the ethnopsychiatrist…This ethnopsychiatric explanation would infect everything, from British psychological warfare, which painted Mau Mau as “an irrational force of evil, dominated by bestial impulses and influenced by world communism” to the later official study of the uprising, the Corfield Report.’[11]

The irony for the ‘Mau Mau’ fighters was that if they had strictly followed the advice of the anti-colonial philosopher Franz Fanon, paraphrased here by Stokely Carmichael…(go to 20.20-21.30 mins)

…then they would have had to have been more violent and ruthless than the British state in order to win independence by force of arms[12]. Which, to be honest, would have been a bloodbath beyond imagining. In all, the ‘evil’ Mau Mau killed 32 white British settlers and less than 2,000 Kenyan collaborators during the war of 1952-60. A tiny response in comparison to the eugenic brutality of the British state, which tortured, raped and murdered its way through tens of thousands in order to hang onto colonial power in Kenya.

The disgusting attempts by Hastings and his ilk to hide or distort the history of the anti-colonial struggle in Kenya, are purely based on the (nationalist) belief that British administration, might make political ‘mistakes’, but cannot do wrong. This kind of patriotic nonsense, based on irrational and mythical belief, will never free British collective memory from the legacy of its colonial past. It will just trap us in it forever. Perhaps this is what Hastings would like?

In any case there is an obvious contradiction in what Hastings was saying, that is;

  • Why has it taken 60 years for the British ruling class to regret that it may have been ‘involved’ in the Kenyan atrocities?
  • Will it take another 60 for them to admit they actually organised and carried out these atrocities?

Sixty years is a long time Max, don’t we fucking know it…


  1. [1]Wiki states: ‘The origin of the term Mau Mau is uncertain. According to some members of Mau Mau, they never referred to themselves as such, instead preferring the military title Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA)’ [Back...]
  2. [2] [Back...]
  3. [3]Wiki states: ‘The Kenyan government sent a letter to Hague insisting that the UK government was legally liable for the atrocities. The Foreign Office, however, reaffirmed its position that it was not, in fact, liable for colonial atrocities, and argued that the documents had not “disappeared” as part of a cover up’ [Back...]
  4. [4]The suppression and ‘losing’ of documents by the British state was still happening in 1995! See and [Back...]
  5. [5] [Back...]
  6. [6] [Back...]
  7. [7] [Back...]
  8. [8] [Back...]
  9. [9] [Back...]
  10. [10]By the way, if you want to calculate the numbers of allied troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan (which aren’t always talked about in the media or Help for Hero’s) then multiply the KIA’s by eight (on average). [Back...]
  11. [11] [Back...]
  12. [12]Fanon’s strategy, despite its unpalatable nature, led to the independence of Algeria from France in the 1960s. [Back...]


  1. Clearly the person who wrote this article is a complete and utter moron and knows nothing at all about the events that took place.

    Perhaps he should try talking to some of the people who were there and who were affected, both directly and indirectly by the Mau Mau attrocities, instead of trying to whitewash the whole thing.

    The fact that so few white people were killed was done to the fact that they were protected by the British forces, otherwise it would have been the most horrendous bloodbath.

    If the perpetrators and those involved with the Mau Mau didn’t like the retaliation of the British forces, then perhaps they shouldn’t have started the whole bloody thing!

    And just for the records, all those thousands of so-called black victims – most of them were tortured, raped and murdered by the Mau Mau – NOT the whites!!

    Try reading the Corefield Report if you want a true account of what really happened.

  2. I suggest you read this article which explains how the British authorities in Kenya and London destroyed or hid most of the evidence of their systematic program of interrogation, torture and killing in concentration camps during the ‘Kenya emergency”:

    Anti-colonial struggles are generally violent because the imperial power will not give up its dominance without a fight. The point here is not to paint the Kenyan Land and Freedom Army (or Mau Mau) as ‘saints’ (far from it), after all they were still branded as ‘terrorists’ til 2003! Instead the article demonstrates the hypocrisy of the British state that claims to follow the Geneva convention, human rights blah blah etc. This is the hidden history of colonial struggles that British nationalists want to deny or in your case justify. You may not like the truth but you can’t deny it. However, I am not sure you should justify it?

    The Corfield report has been discredited as a pseudo-scientific whitewash and clearly did not have all the evidence:

    “The official British explanation of the revolt did not include the insights of agrarian and agricultural experts, of economists and historians, or even of Europeans who had spent a long period living amongst the Kikuyu such as Louis Leakey. Not for the first time, the British instead relied on the purported insights of the ethnopsychiatrist; with Mau Mau, it fell to Dr. John Colin Carothers to perform the desired analysis. This ethnopsychiatric analysis guided British psychological warfare, which painted Mau Mau as “an irrational force of evil, dominated by bestial impulses and influenced by world communism”, and the later official study of the uprising, the Corfield Report.”


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