A anti-colonial guerilla force, the Mau Mau embarked on a violent campaign to overthrow their British imperial rulers, in a rebellion that lasted from 1952 until 1960. This was by no means a united Kenyan effort, with the British maintaining important alliances with members of the native elite which ultimately helped them to quash the legitimacy of the uprising and subsequently to quell it militarily.
Thousands of the defeated Mau Mau ended up in British prison camps where, as evidence has conclusively proved, they were subjected to barbaric torture by their handlers. Such is the reason for the long-awaited payout announced today.
Mr Hague – subjected to the awkward position of having to apologise for the misdemeanours of his forebears – was seemingly placed in an untenable position with regards to the compensation agreement. Having been pressured by surviving Mau Mau prisoners, and their Western lawyers, for several decades, the British government has had to relent.
The decision, whilst not unfair, begs for certain questions to be asked. Firstly, what precedent does such an agreement set in terms of British justice policy towards its former colonies? Like most occupying powers, the British were responsible for a great many atrocities in the lands under their control. What is to stop minority groups across the Commonwealth appealing for compensation based on a well-supported case for historical mistreatment? If the evidence is as conclusive as that given by the Mau Mau supporters, then surely similar remuneration cannot be refused.
Secondly, are only the atrocities of the British, or any other colonial power for that matter, to be counted? Whilst not a similarly systematic scale, the Mau Mau insurgents were responsible for their own barbarisms during the uprising, both against colonists and other Kenyans. Such is the nature of warfare. There is a sense in the developed world today that we should feel guilty and sorry for the actions of our predecessors abroad, particularly in Africa which remains cut adrift at the foot of the development table.
One must reflect on the history of one’s country and accept its wrongdoings. For the British there were many faults in their colonial policy, some born out of incompetency rather than cold-blooded malice. We must acknowledge the wrongs perpetrated against peoples who had no desire to be colonised. As such, today’s ruling is an important step.
However, British leaders must avoid the persisting Japanese conundrum of being pressured into apologising for the actions of their ancestors, and must be aware that today’s ruling could lead to them being held to ransom by minority groups the world over who feel that they deserve vindication and compensation for the perceived wrongs perpetrated against them.