The British government should be applauded for its decision to release critical documents about brutal efforts in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa to crush independence movements. But once scholars and policymakers have a chance to study these records, the government ought to consider doing more: moving beyond regrets and apologies for the murder, torture and imprisonment of thousands of Kenyan men and women in the 1950s. Britain should ponder whether more concrete steps to atone for the country’s “dirty war” against Kenyan nationalists should be forthcoming. Such steps could include:
1. A formal apology and payments to victims of mistreatment by both British government officials and British citizens living in Kenya.
2. The identification and surrender of valuable lands, essentially stolen by British colonists, in the 20th century. In encouraging the Kenyan government to strip illegally-obtained lands from British nationals, the British government could guarantee compensation payments to those who lose their land in the process.
3. A British-Kenyan historical commission should be formed in order to create a series of public history monuments, and a museum, in which the abuses against Kenyans could be presented in context and in detail.
Time is running out for Britain in its long official denial of flagrant abuses in Kenya in the years running up the country’s independence in 1963. The possibility of an independent British court mandating remedies for the colonial abuses now seems impossible, given a court ruling earlier this month in London in which the government was found to be immune from liability for any of its against individual Kenyans. The basic unfairness of the court ruling, and the additional information brought out by the release of important government records, should increase the pressure on the British government to fully account for its bad actions in colonial Kenya — and to do so in a myriad of ways.
There’s already overwhelming evidence about British abuses in Kenya in the 1950s; see, for instance, David Anderson’s authoritative History of the Hanged, and Caroline Elkins’ Imperial Reckoning). As a country whose official often lecture others in the world about human rights violations, Britain owes the very same world a full and fair disclosure — and a porfolio of remedial actions, including the payment of reparations to victims — about the shameful efforts to suppress Kenyan nationalists prior to 1963. To fail to do so risks undermining British influence in Africa, and around the world.