End to colonial nostalgia?

by Simon Collings

Last weekend’s Financial Times (30 March 2013) included a very interesting article by Simon Kuper about the the growing challenges to our  nostalgic ideas of colonial rule. I wrote a letter in response which appears in this week’s magazine.  My letter reads:

“Simon Kuper makes some important observations on the gap between our nostalgic image of the British Empire and the often brutal reality. My parents lived in Kenya during the Mau Mau period, both serving with the British Army. As a child I was fascinated by their sunny memories of the country.

Later I had the chance to travel to Kenya myself the first of many visits. Over the years I have searched for traces of my parents and read up on the history. My image of the Kenya Emergency has changed dramatically as a result.

Around 100,000 Mau Mau suspects were detained without trial. Beatings and torture were widespread. More than a million Kenyans were corralled into ‘protected villages’ – effectively concentration camps. The patterns of forced re-settlement around Limuru where my parents lived are still visible.

Kuper mentions the former detainees who are seeking compensation from Britain. The government does not dispute that they were tortured, but has used a series of appeals to try to defeat the case. This is a disgrace.

We regularly lecture other nations on human rights yet as a nation we have failed to deal with our own appalling record. Until we do so we have no basis for casting stones at others.”

Several other people posted supportive comments on the FT website. Is the tide starting to turn?