UK Compensates Mau Mau Veterans

Maumau veterans protest in London

Mau Mau veterans pursue justice in London

The British government has agreed to compensate 5,200 Kenyans tortured during the Mau Mau uprising against colonial rule in the 1950s. The settlement came after a High Court ruling in favour of three elderly Kenyans.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons the government would pay a total of 19.9 million pounds sterling (23.5 million euros, $30.8 million) to 5,228 clients represented by a British law firm.

Hague said the government recognizes that Kenyans were subject to torture and other ill treatment that the “British government sincerely regrets.”

Foreign Secretary William Hague “understands pain felt by Kenyans”.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague AFP PHOTO/ ABBAS MOMANI (Photo credit should read ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

He said the British government understands the pain felt by Kenyans who were involved.

Negotiations with the British government on compensation for the thousands of Kenyans, tortured by colonial forces during an uprising in the closing years of the British Empire, began after a London court ruled in October 2012 that three victims could sue Britain.

The Kenyans, Wambugu Wa Nyingi, Paulo Muoka Nzili and Jane Muthoni Mara, had suffered castration, rape and beatings while in detention in the 1950s.

Veterans in their eighties

The torture took place between 1952 and 1960 during the state of emergency, when fighters from the Mau Mau movement attacked British targets in Kenya, causing panic among white settlers and alarming the government in London.

Lawyer Paul Muite said the apology from the British government was “important”.

Lawyer Paul Muite

According to Paul Muite, a well-known Kenyan lawyer and advisor to the Mau Mau veterans, all victims with sufficient evidence of torture would receive compensation.

Asked if he was satisfied with the size of the settlement, Muite told DW’s Kiswahili language service that there were those who believed they should have held out for a larger sum, but “you have to bear in mind that most of these independence heroes are over 80 years old and are dying every day. Rejecting the cash settlement would have dragged the trial on for another 10 years and who knows if the veterans would have been around then,” he said.

The Mau Mau nationalist movement originated in the 1950s among the Kikuyu people of Kenya. Its loyalists advocated violent resistance to the British domination of the country.

Obama’s grandfather

The Kenya Human Rights Commission has estimated 90,000 Kenyans were killed or maimed and 160,000 detained during the uprising.

Some of 6,000 Africans rounded up in April 1953 by police searching for Mau Mau suspects

Some of 6,000 Africans rounded up in April 1953 by police searching for Mau Mau suspects

The detained included US President Barack Obama’s grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama.

London tried for three years to block the Mau Mau veterans’ legal action in the courts, drawing condemnation from the elderly torture victims who accused Kenya’s former colonial master of using legal technicalities to fight the case.

Britain had first said that responsibility for events during the Mau Mau uprising passed to Kenya upon its independence in 1963, an argument which London courts rejected.

The government then said the claim was brought long after the legal time limit. But a judge in October’s ruling said there was ample documentary evidence to make a fair trial possible.

The announcement by the British government may raise questions about compensation by other former colonial powers.

Mark Stephens, a UK-based human rights lawyer, told DW’s Africalink show that “Germany’s got problems, but I think France has a much, much bigger problem with the rather systemic torture that took place in Algeria. It is part of the healing process that someone in authority should stand up on behalf of the state and acknowledge that a wrong was done.”