Britain expressed regret on Thursday for the abuse of Kenyans by colonial forces during the Mau Mau insurgency in the 1950s and announced compensation for 5,228 survivors, but stopped short of apologizing.
The deal, settled out of court after three elderly Kenyan torture victims won the right in October last year to sue the British government, could encourage people in other former colonies to press claims over grievances dating back to the days of the British empire.
“The British government recognizes that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill treatment at the hands of the colonial administration,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told parliament.” “The British government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place.”
The 5,228 claimants are due to receive ￡13.9 million (US$21.4 million), about ￡2,600 each, or about 340,000 Kenyan shillings (US$4,000) in a country where average annual income is about 70,000 shillings.
London will also pay for a new memorial in Nairobi to the victims of torture and ill-treatment during the colonial era.
A British diplomat said Hague stopped short of offering a formal apology because that could be interpreted as the government accepting responsibility, which would have had legal implications.
Mau Mau veterans danced, prayed and ululated to celebrate news of the agreement at an event in Nairobi.
“This is confirmation we were freedom fighters and not terrorists. We have been waiting a long time to hear the British say ‘what we did in Kenya was wrong,’” said Gitu Wa Kahengeri, secretary general of the Mau Mau War Veterans Association.
The so-called Kenyan Emergency of 1952 to 1961 was one of the most violent episodes of British colonial rule in Africa. Rebels fighting for land and an end to British rule attacked British targets, causing panic among white settlers and alarming the government in London.
Tens of thousands of rebels were killed by colonial forces and their Kenyan allies, while an estimated 150,000 people, many of them unconnected to the Mau Mau, were detained in camps.
The compensation package is likely to be examined closely by others who complain of human rights abuses during British colonial times, although Hague said he believed it would not give extra force to their claims.
The three Kenyans who took the British government to court were all survivors of the Emergency detention camps. The British government tried for three years to block the legal action by Paulo Nzili, Wambugu Wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara, but the UK High Court ruled in October last year that they had the right to sue for damages.
Nzili was castrated while in detention, Nyingi suffered severe beatings during the nine years he was held without charge, and Mara suffered sexual abuse including rape using a soda bottle full of boiling water.
“This is a story of a massive cover-up and 50 years later justice being done. I don’t know if there will be another case like this,” Harvard professor Caroline Elkins said, whose book Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya served as the basis for the case.