Colonial abuses loom large as King Charles visits Kenya

King Charles III visits Kenya
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Content warning: This article contains mention of sexual assault and abuse. 

Charles and Camilla began a state visit to Kenya on Tuesday 31 October. It marks the king’s first visit to an African and Commonwealth nation since taking the throne in September 2022.

The four-day trip has been billed as an opportunity to build on the now-cordial ties between London and Nairobi. However, the legacy of decades of British colonial rule is looming large – accompanied by mounting calls to make an apology over Britain’s bloody colonialism.

The royal visit comes as pressure mounts in some Commonwealth countries to remove the British monarch as head of state. It also follows anti-monarchy demonstrations in the UK during Charles’ own coronation.

‘Painful aspects’

The British High Commission said the tour will “spotlight the strong and dynamic partnership between the UK and Kenya”. However, it will also “acknowledge the more painful aspects” of Britain’s historic relationship with the country as it prepares to celebrate 60 years of independence in December.

These “painful aspects” include the 1952-60 ‘Emergency’. Colonial authorities brutally suppressed the Mau Mau uprising, one of the bloodiest insurgencies against British rule. At least 10,000 people – mainly from the Kikuyu tribe – were killed. Additionally, tens of thousands more were detained without trial in concentration camps where reports of executions, torture, and rape were common.

However, the British authorities made efforts to hide and destroy records of their atrocities, and some historians and rights groups claim the true figure is far higher.

Read on...

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On 29 October, the Kenya Human Rights Commission urged the king to pay reparations for colonial-era abuses, and make an:

unequivocal public apology… for the brutal and inhuman treatment inflicted on Kenyan citizens.

Britain agreed in 2013 to compensate more than 5,000 Kenyans who had suffered abuse during the Mau Mau revolt. The deal was worth nearly GBP £20m. Then foreign secretary William Hague said Britain “sincerely regrets” the abuses, but stopped short of a full apology.

British soldiers remain in Kenya

Another lingering source of tension is the fact that the UK has kept around 200 troops stationed in Kenya since its independence. Some of the soldiers have been accused of rape and murder, and civilians have been maimed by munitions.

On 30 October, Kenyan police blocked the airing of a news conference which would have aired environmental and human rights abuse allegations against British troops. Reuters reported that

Residents of central Kenya’s Lolldaiga area have accused a British army training unit based nearby of causing a 2021 wildfire that destroyed much of a nature reserve, leaving behind ordnance that injured locals, and being involved in the 2012 murder of a woman last seen with British soldiers.

The woman in question was Agnes Wanjiru. Her body was found stabbed and dumped in a septic tank attached to a hotel near the army base. As Foreign Policy reported:

British troops had allegedly paid Wanjiru and other local women for sex on a drunken night, which was the last time that Wanjiru was seen before her body was discovered. The Sunday Times said another soldier reported the killing to senior British officers at the time­—but no action was taken. Her body was discovered nearly three months later. Reports in the U.K. media claim soldiers laughed and joked about the murder on Facebook.

An autopsy found evidence Wanjiru had been beaten and died as a result of stab wounds to her chest and abdomen. A 2019 inquest in Kenya concluded that British soldiers were responsible for her murder and ordered further investigations. Eleven years later, no one has been charged.

In August 2023, the Kenyan parliament launched an official inquiry into the activities of British Army Training Unit Kenya (Batuk). The parliamentary defence committee in charge sent out a call for public accounts of the UK soldiers’ crimes. The report marks the first time that the British army’s activities will be reviewed by Kenyan authorities on such a scale.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

Featured image via via MSN/ITN/screenshot. 

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