KENYA: Victims of British brutality and torture allowed to go to court

In the June issue of Proletarian, issue 48, (The Kenya Papers) it was reported that four elderly Kenyans seeking justice and recompense for the torture they suffered at the hands of the British in the 1950s have helped uncover hidden evidence of the brutality of British rule across all its ‘dominions.’  The evidence was in the form of colonial papers brought to Britain before Kenyan independence, of which the government originally denied the existence but which were uncovered after historian, Professor David Anderson, expert witness for the litigants in the case against the British Crown, gave evidence of having seen the papers at Hanslope and provided various details about them. 

Unfortunately the most damning evidence of British torture and murder had been destroyed, with only relatively low level information sent back to Britain – but that may be more than enough to prove the case for the three  Kenyans who are still proceeding with their cases (one has withdrawn his claim). 

The article told the tale of rampant thievery of land, and anything else that wasn’t nailed down, extreme torture and murder on an enormous scale by British troops and colonial militias.  Kenyans, especially from the Kikuyu tribe who had held the best land, were the main targets of British atrocities although other tribes were also treated with bestial disregard.  That the Kikuyu, organised into the Land and Freedom Army, fought back against being expelled from their lands brought the British colonial regime to bloody frenzy.

Many ‘historians’ and apologists for the British racist rulers of Kenya often refer to the worst ‘excesses’ of Britain’s forces as being a response to horrible ‘Mau Mau’ (as the British dubbed the patriots of the Land and Freedom Army) ‘atrocities’ or at ‘best’ they claim that ‘both sides were as bad as each other’.  The Proletarian article rubbishes these unproven claims and points out facts such as Governor Evelyn Baring’s dispatch, for the purpose of slaughtering freedom fighters, to the forests of “Lincoln bombers to carry out a programme of indiscriminate carpet-bombing. Between June 1953 and October 1955 the RAF conducted over 900 sorties and dropped nearly 6m bombs. Lack of time and a dearth of reliable intelligence meant bombing was rather haphazard, but many people living in the forests had been killed or wounded by air attack by June 1954.”  He did this careless of the fact that the overwhelming majority of the people being killed in the forests were among the thousands of innocent refugees who had sought refuge there form British barbarities.

Governor Baring wasn’t satisfied with that amount of murder and mutilation and the next phase of his “backlash consisted in rounding up even more Kenyans, stealing their land and livestock as he did it, and forcing ever more people into concentration camps and work camps, where mass ‘screenings’ took place. Violent interrogations and torture (including “most drastic” beatings, solitary confinement, starvation, castration, whipping, burning, rape, sodomy, and forceful insertion of objects into orifices) were used to extract information and confessions. Those suspected of being Mau Mau, or who had had confessions beaten out of them, could be hanged. More than a thousand Kenyans were executed on the basis of this ‘evidence’.”

As far as equality in violence goes the figures tell the story: of the 50,000 deaths that can be attributed to the ‘emergency’, more than half were from disease and malnutrition in the many vast concentration camps that the colonial rulers called ‘villages’. At least half of those who died in that way were children under the age of 10.

Of those who didn’t die of disease or malnutrition, the British probably killed in excess of 20,000 ‘Mau Mau’ or suspected ‘Mau Mau’. For their part, the liberation fighters killed fewer than 2,000 Kenyans, overwhelmingly agents of the British government, while 32 Europeans and 26 Asians were also killed.  If this is any kind of ‘parity’, the lives of Kenyans are shown to be worth very little against the lives of Europeans in the minds of those in charge of the ‘outposts’ of the British Empire.

An article in the Morning Star (MS) on 7 October 2012 entitled ‘Historic Court win for Empire torture victims’ by Paddy McGuffin tells how Wambugu Wa Nyingi, Jane Muthoni Mara and Paulo Muoka Nzili have at long last won the right to sue the British government for their suffering after the British Governments lawyers, who have been twisting and turning trying to deny any British liability for the horrors suffered by Kenyans during British rule lost this last argument as well.

Amazingly, the British government’s first response to the legal moves by the surviving Kenyan victims to sue for compensation was to claim that the Kenyan government, as the successor through independence to the colonial administration, should be sued as they were now responsible.  Even a British bourgeois judge could see how ludicrous that was and dismissed the British government’s objection to the case being heard.  The next argument of the lawyers representing HM Government seeking to get the case disallowed was to claim that too much time had elapsed to get a ‘fair trial’ as most of the individuals accused were long since dead and could not defend themselves. 

That Morning Star edition of 7 October also mentioned this in its editorial which finished with the words; “Our government which feels free to pontificate to other states on human rights abuses, is resorting to procedural nitpicking in order to sweep these crimes under the carpet. It is immaterial whether the individuals who gave the orders, who held sway in Britain’s colonies and who covered up these and similar atrocities, are alive or dead.  Their actions were fully in line with the iron fist of British colonialism revealed from the days of slavery, the 19th century scramble for Africa and the desperate bloody effort to hold on to empire’s ill-gotten gains.

“The names of individuals matter less than honest acknowledgement of the scale of human suffering visited on a third of the world so that a tiny social elite could become very rich, with crumbs from the rich men’s table finding their way to an aristocracy of labour to secure its collaboration with the ruling class.….”

There is nothing in this quote we would argue with but we would ask the Morning Star and the CPB whose programme the MS follows, if you now understand that British imperialism plundered much of the world and that the crumbs of this plunder was used to buy the “aristocracy of labour” to collaborate with the ruling class just who do you think that “aristocracy of labour” is?  If, as we do, you think it is to be found in the Labour Party and the trade-union bureaucracy that is Labour controlled, why do you continue to try to spread illusions that the Labour Party is somehow ‘better’ than other bourgeois parties?

We wish these three elderly Kenyans every success (although the government could well find other reasons to try get the case dismissed) and we declare our hope that the peoples who suffered under British rule follow them to highlight to the world just what it means to be occupied under British Rule.