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Proletarian issue 55 (August 2013)
Compensation for Kenyan torture victims
The rolling pebble that may yet start a landslide.
The British government has eventually been forced, kicking and screaming all the way, to admit that its colonial administration in 1950s Kenya tortured, mutilated and murdered hundreds of thousands of Kenyan citizens suspected of membership of, or sympathy for, the Land and Freedom Army, Kenya’s national-liberation movement, dubbed the ‘Mau Mau’ by British occupation forces.These horrific crimes were carried out on a vast scale by the colonial authorities in a ruthless attempt to suppress the popular uprising against the occupation of Kenya, and the continuing land thefts that had left many hundreds of thousands of Kenyans dispossessed, poverty-stricken and starving in their own land – despite the fact that Kenya is a country that has arable land of the highest quality and many other natural riches besides.

Today’s ‘fair-minded’ government has tried every trick in the book to avoid admitting to the inhuman crimes committed by its 1950s predecessor, even going so far as to claim that all liability had been transferred to the new Kenyan government after independence!

For once, this spurious bit of truth-twisting was rejected even by a British court, as were the ludicrous claims that “there couldn’t be a ‘fair’ trial of those responsible as they were mostly dead and couldn’t defend themselves”, or that there is now “no evidence” relating to events that took place in Kenya 60 years ago.

In fact, however, not only has much evidence come to light revealing the horrific details of British colonial crimes, but the evidence also makes it clear where ultimate responsibility for those crimes lies: “The documents showed that responsibility for torture went right to the top − sanctioned by Kenya’s governor, Evelyn Baring, and authorised at cabinet level in London by Alan Lennox-Boyd, then secretary of state for the colonies in Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government.” (‘Atoning for the sins of empire’ by David M Anderson, New York Times, 12 June 2013)

So the British government, through the mouth of William Hague, has ben forced to make a mealy-mouthed statement of ‘recognition’, ‘sorrow’ and ‘regret’ (but no actual apology), while still denying any real responsibility. The words of the sincerely insincere Mr Hague reveal the obvious chagrin felt by our ruling class at having to make even this small and belated concession to truth and justice:

“I would like to make clear now, and for the first time, on behalf of Her Majesty’s government, that we understand the pain and grievance felt by those who were involved in the events of the emergency in Kenya ...

“The British government recognises that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration ... The British government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place and that they marred Kenya’s progress towards independence.”

Hague went on to announce that the government has negotiated a £19.9m out-of-court settlement with 5,228 victims – around £3,000 per victim. This ‘largesse’ applies only to the still-living survivors of colonial abuses. No recompense has been offered to the families of those who were murdered, or to the families of those who died after a life of pain that was a direct result of torture and mutilation by British forces.

Not surprisingly, this case has been carefully followed by other victims of the profit-hungry British imperialist ruling class around the world. It is to be hoped that these victims and their families – whether in Ireland, India, Aden, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Iraq, or anywhere else that British imperialism has placed its bloodied boot – will form an endless stream at the doors of Britain’s law courts.

There can be no real justice for these victims through paltry compensation payments – only the death of imperialism itself and the ending forever of all exploitation by Britain’s elite can come anywhere within a million miles of that – but public recognition of some of the crimes committed will be an important part of setting the record straight, and may yet help British workers to recognise our rulers for the murderous scum that they are and have been, both at home and abroad, today and throughout their history.

Meanwhile, the armed forces that are used and controlled by this bloodthirsty class must be seen as the monstrous agents that they are and no longer adorned with the misty veil of ‘hero’. Many of the young people who join the imperialist armed forces may do so as a result of poverty, or even with ‘good intentions’, but, regardless of their motives, they are still shaped into monsters and given bloody and bestial tasks to perform.

In the case of Kenya, documents and contemporary accounts consistently show that the British occupiers were extremely sadistic and careless of the lives of the Kenyans whom they had robbed of land, cattle and anything else that could be grabbed.

The colonisers’ attitude was perfectly epitomised by Sir Arthur Hardinge, who insisted that “these people must learn submission by bullets – it is the only school ... In Africa to have peace you must first teach obedience and the only person who teaches the lesson properly is the sword.

After the killing of a single white settler, the colonial authority under governor Evelyn Baring went into a genocidal overdrive of rounding up ‘suspects’ and torturing ‘confessions’ out of them before carrying out mass executions. Not surprisingly, hundreds of thousands of Kenyans fled into the vast forests to escape the British army death squads – an action, that to Baring’s twisted mind, ‘proved’ them to be ‘Mau Mau’ insurgents.

Having put all his troops to use guarding the hysterical settler population and ‘interrogating’ any Kenyan who hadn’t fled, Baring let loose the RAF on the forests. Between June 1953 and October 1955, his Lincoln bombers conducted over 900 raids and dropped nearly 6m bombs.

Bad as it was in the forests, it was much worse for those who didn’t run. Baring set up the ‘village’ system to deny any aid to the rebels. This consisted in rounding up even more Kenyans, stealing their land and livestock as he did it, and forcing them into concentration camps and work camps (‘villages’), where mass ‘screenings’ took place to try to ‘root out’ the ‘insurgents’ and their ‘sympathisers’.

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 from prisoners. The ‘villages’ were actually elaborate prisons, surrounded by deep, spike-bottomed trenches and barbed wire, where the reluctant ‘villagers’, who had now lost all their land and livestock, were watched over day and night.

The inhabitants of these hell-holes were systematically starved, and when the unsanitary conditions gave rise to inevitable outbreaks of disease, the ill were left where they were, making sure that the diseases spread and took the maximum toll possible. Of the 50,000 deaths that can be attributed to the ‘emergency’, half were of children under the age of 10.

Of those who didn’t die of disease or malnutrition, the British likely 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. These figures reveal the real story behind an episode that is often portrayed here in Britain as the plucky British forces fighting back against a murderous insurrection by a band of militant lunatics, or, at best, as one of equal ‘violence on both sides’.

We send congratulations to the persistent survivors of these heinous crimes, and wish all the other victims of British imperialism success in making similar claims. For our part, we pledge to do all in our power to bring to pass the day when the people of the world have no more to fear from British imperial jackboots.

For more on British crimes in Kenya, see ‘ The Kenya Files’ (Proletarian, June 2012) and ‘ Kenya: victims of British brutality and tourture allowed to go to court
(Lalkar, November 2012).
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