The Mau Mau Rebellion:  Commemoration and Memory

The Mau Mau Rebellion:  Commemoration and Memory

Lauren Brown

Showcasing some of our students work at the University of Dundee, the second blog for the SCGH from Lauren Brown examines the commemoration and memory of the Mau Mau rebellion.  

The accused Mau Mau prisoners suffered greatly as detainees in colonial detention camps; however after decades of silence, 2011 marked the year when finally, these abuses were finally accounted for and the long process of reparation could begin. For the first time, the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) was eventually brought to court by ex-detainees and tried for their crimes – since then, many more cases concerning over 40,000 Kenyans has followed.[1] As a result, the British government decided the best course of action was to compensate some 5,200 Kenyans who were abused in the camps and as a gesture of commemoration, a memorial was erected in 2015.[2] Not only this, but the FCO were then to admit having stored sensitive archival documents at Hanslope Park – previously unseen (and broadly unknown), these documents proved crucial in these court cases and were soon released into the public domain.[3] Whilst this recognition and compensation for the sufferings caused by British colonial rule was definitely a move forward for the commemoration of the Mau Mau detainees, in its commemoration, the British government has still ensured the prevalence of the British historical narrative.

The building of the memorial in Nairobi in 2015 signified for many that a future of recognition may be on its way. However, despite the memorial funded by the British Government, one only has to look at the media coverage surrounding the memorial’s unveiling to get a taste of how deeply rooted Britain’s own historical narrative still remains in contemporary Kenya. Various news outlets such as the Kenyan Daily Nation, alongside The Telegraph and BBC News all detailed that Mau Mau fighters ‘terrorised’ colonial communities’, or ‘attacked British officials’ and ‘began a violent campaign’. [4] [5] [6] Just as the anti-Mau Mau propaganda leaflets circulated during the rebellion made no mention of the forced removal of land from the indigenous peoples by the British settlers, neither did these news reports.[7] Subsequently the continuity of the British narrative remains central to contemporary Mau Mau press coverage.

These contemporary news reports, and the monument itself have demonstrated that Kenya is now allowed to remember the past of Mau Mau, but only so long as the British portrayal of events remains dominant. This screams of the kind of colonial paternalism which Kenya desperately wanted to eradicate upon independence. Ironically, upon the unveiling of the monument the British High Commissioner stated that ‘we should never forget history’, yet the British government seemingly supported the active forgetting of Mau Mau, and still propagates a one-sided version of the story.[8] Not only this, but former UK Foreign Secretary William Hague made clear upon the day of the Mau Mau monetary settlement that the British government did not believe that this settlement ‘established a precedent’. Vice News reported that in his statement Hague implied that the additional cases from Kenya would not be entertained, nor those from other formal colonial territories. [9] In light of this announcement, it is easy to argue that the British government feels it has corrected the evils carried out under the colonial regime by supporting the memorial in Nairobi, and compensating a small number of those affected by the camps.

Unfortunately, we can see how these gestures are either sullied, hold little integrity, or are simply not enough and don’t really hold up to further scrutiny. Specifically, it’s fair to say that the 2015 memorial was a silencing tool that would end all further accusations against the British government, and any attempts to pursue them for reprisals. Clearly, it was intended that after the erection of the memorial all further questions about the brutality of empire would end.[10] This once again highlights the British government’s desperation to maintain the over-arching narrative that it was justified in its actions during the emergency, and that British authorities should not be questioned even now, many years after Kenyan independence.

Aside from the building of the memorial and the compensation to ex-detainees, the hidden archives reveal something worrying about the control which the British government has had over the narrative of its imperial history – the discovery of the Hanslope Park cache highlighted that the British Government not only holds the ability to commit what can only be described as atrocities, but equally as sinister, deliberately attempt to cover its tracks after doing so.

Bio

Lauren Brown is a history graduate from the University of Dundee who achieved a First Class Honours degree. Lauren has a keen interest in African history with a focus on colonial and the early post-colonial period. She is studying for a post-graduate degree in History at the University of Dundee.

 

[1]David Anderson, Mau Mau in the High Court and the ‘Lost’ British Empire Archives: Colonial Conspiracy or Bureaucratic Bungle? Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol 39, Issue 5 (Taylor and Francis Publishing: New York and London, 2011) p.669.

[2] Tony Karumba, The Daily Nation, ‘Mau Mau Memorial Set to Open in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park in Rare Colonial Apology’, https://www.nation.co.ke/news/British-funded-Mau-Mau-memorial-set-to-open-Uhuru-Park/1056-2866564-ba2v9tz/index.html, 11/09/15, Accessed: 02/09/18.

[3]Katie Engelhart, ‘An Alleged Victtim of British Colonial Abuse in Kenya Testifies in London – Six Decades Later’, Vice News, 12/07/2016,  https://news.vice.com/article/kenyan-emergency-group-litigation-trial-in-london, Accessed: 02/04/18; David Anderson, Mau Mau in the High Court and the ‘Lost’ British Empire Archives: Colonial Conspiracy or Bureaucratic Bungle? p.712.

[4] Tony Karumba, ‘Mau Mau Memorial Set to Open in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park in Rare Colonial Apology’.

[5] The Telegraph, ‘Kenya Unveils Memorial to Victims of Torture in Mau Mau Era’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/kenya/11861041/Kenya-unveils-memorial-to-victims-of-torture-in-Mau-Mau-era.html, 12/09/15, Accessed: 01/02/18.

[6] BBC News, ‘Kenya Mau Mau Memorial Funded by UK Unveiled’, 12/09/2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-34231890, Accessed: 03/02/18.

[7] Solimar Otero, eds. Toyin Falola, Hetty Ter Haar, Narrating War and Peace in Africa (University of Rochester Press: New York, 2010) p.61.

[8] Dr Christian Turner, ‘Launch of the Mau Mau Memorial in Kenya’, Gov.uk, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/launch-of-the-mau-mau-memorial-in-kenya., Accessed: 02/02/18.

[9] [9]Katie Engelhart, ‘An Alleged Victtim of British Colonial Abuse in Kenya Testifies in London – Six Decades Later’.

[10] Wangui Kimari, ‘A Monument for Mau Mau At Last, But No Land’, Africaisacountry.com, http://africasacountry.com/2015/09/a-monument-for-the-mau-mau-at-last-but-no-land/, Accessed: 30/1/18.