Friday, June 07, 2013

Caroline Elkins: Britain has said sorry to the Mau Mau. The rest of the empire is still waiting

June 5, 2013.
In the wake of its announcement, Britain now faces potential claims from across its former empire. From a historical perspective, the government has every reason to be concerned about its legacy. There is unequivocal evidence of colonial brutalities in end-of-empire Malaya, Cyprus and elsewhere. Whether there is enough for successful legal claims is another matter altogether, however.

Lessons from the Mau Mau case in the high court are instructive. History was on trial, as it would be in other cases. As such, the level of historical reconstruction needed was extraordinary, as was the volume of evidence for a successful claim. The case was one that clearly rose and fell on highly detailed levels of historical knowledge and evidence.

The Kikuyu had a team of three historical experts – myself, David Anderson and Huw Bennett. Together, we brought decades of revisionist research to the case, and with it a full range of knowledge necessary for a successful claim. Outside Kenya, no other field has the depth or breadth of revisionist scholarship documenting British colonial violence at the end of empire. In part, this is due to the fact that British colonial authorities destroyed evidence at the time of decolonisation, or withheld other boxes of files for years. Regardless, without revisionist work, other potential cases will be at a disadvantage.
Read the rest here.
Comment: Also see the Guardian's "UK to expect more colonial-era compensation claims" (June 6) for more discussion.

Mau Mau veterans who posed individually at the Hilton hotel in Nairobi, 
Kenya, during a press conference by the British High Commission. 
Photograph: Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images

This is an extraordinary case even though the damages to be paid is very small.  One could cynically say that the settlement has bought the UK the right to excuse its brutality.

According to The Guardian the settlement is as follows:
Some 5,228 Kenyans are to receive a total of £13.9m in compensation – worth about £2,600 per person – under the terms of the settlement. The government is also paying £6m in legal costs and has agreed to fund the construction of a memorial to the country's victims of colonial-era torture.
A paltry sum and marginal concession indeed but I am going to hold out for the principle of confrontation that is being demonstrated.  The past is never in the past and the truth will find a way out in one way or the other.

Still, it should be remembered that the truth about the past was always known to the victims.

What is significant is that the decision to draw compensation for the victims clearly identifies Britain as the perpetrator of gross human rights violations.

More to come no doubt.



Anonymous said...

And America is of course innocent in historical mistreatment of foreign peoples?! What did the Americans do to the Native Americans Caroline Elkins? Perhaps you should write about your own country's faults hmmm?

Ridwan said...

Thanks for your comment.

I am somewhat confused though by your main point.

Are you saying that Professor Elkins has no right to speak on this issue because she is an American and not British?

She is an expert in the field I think you may know.

Wikipedia says this about her:

"Caroline Elkins (born 1969) is a professor of history at Harvard University.[1] She studies the colonial encounter in Africa during the twentieth century, and the British treatment of the Kikuyu in Kenya. She was a Policy Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government in the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy, Harvard University in 2006. She is best known for her 2005 book Imperial Reckoning, which detailed conditions in the British detention system in Kenya during the Mau Mau Uprising."

Based on this excerpt she is certainly qualified to offer her opinion.

Also, do you know that she disagrees that the US has violated the rights of "foreign peoples" or cause a near genocide of Native peoples?

I do not know her or have any reason to defend her but I think it important that we deal with issues and not sideline arguments on who can and cannot criticize Britain or the US or any other country for that matter.