Will Kenya government follow UK example?

by Simon Collings

The UK government’s acknowledgement of its appalling treatment of Mau Mau detainees in the 1950s has been well received here in Kenya. People I have spoken to see it as very positive. The level of compensation may be small but the former detainees who brought the case accepted the terms of the settlement, so people assume they are satisfied. The big thing was the ‘apology’.

The settlement of the case in London has interesting ramifications in Kenya. The 5,228 individuals covered by the settlement are only a portion of those with potential claims. Many former detainees did not believe the case could succeed and did not join the legal action. Now there is infighting among Mau Mau veterans. Some of those not covered by the settlement are questioning the claims of certain individuals who are due to receive payments. There is talk of some of the 5,228 being replaced with others. The Law Society of Kenya has warned the British government to be careful about the recipients of compensation.

The settlement also poses challenges for the government of Kenya. Many Mau Mau detainees suffered injustices at the hands of their fellow Kenyans after independence. Confiscated lands and property were not returned to the detainees nor compensation paid. Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, amassed vast land-wealth at the expense of people who suffered in the struggle for freedom.

In 2008 a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission was set up in Kenya to hear evidence of abuses from the time of independence in 1963 up to the present. The commission was established with international political support and was meant to provide a forum to heal the wounds of the past. Under the process which created the commission the Kenyan government is obliged to prosecute individuals named in the report. After some delays the final report of the TJRC was submitted to the president on 21 May. It has some explosive content, particularly the chapter on land. Prominent public figures are named and by rights should face trial. But those who are accused are now threatening the commission with legal action and a campaign is underway to trash its findings.

Now that the British have admitted culpability, will the Kenyan government deal with its own skeletons? Few of my friends here expect to see justice done.