In a historic first, Britain may pay thousands of Kenyans for atrocities committed during its colonial rule in the African nation, a development that could pave the way for claims from other former colonies of the UK.
The British government is negotiating payments to thousands of Kenyans who were detained and severely mistreated during the 1950s Mau-Mau insurgency in what would be the first compensation settlement resulting from official crimes committed under its imperial rule.
In a development that could pave the way for many other claims from around the world, government lawyers embarked upon the historic talks after suffering a series of defeats in their attempts to prevent elderly survivors of the prison camps from seeking redress through the British courts, a report in The Guardian said.
Those defeats followed the discovery of a vast archive of colonial-era documents that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had kept hidden for decades, and which shed a new and stark light on the dying days of British rule, not only in Kenya but around the empire.
In the case of the Mau-Mau conflict, the secret papers showed that senior colonial officials authorized appalling abuses of inmates held at the prison camps established during the bloody conflict, and that ministers and officials in London were aware of a brutal detention regime during which men and women were tortured and killed.
Kenya gained independence from the U.K. in 1963.
As a handful of details began to emerge last week from the confidential talks between lawyers for the government and the Mau-Mau veterans, the FCO said it acknowledged the need for debate about Britain’s past, and added, “It is an enduring feature of our democracy that we are willing to learn from our history.”
Up to 10,000 former prisoners may be in line for compensation, if the talks result in a settlement. Although the individual amounts will vary greatly, the total compensation is likely to run into tens of millions of pounds, the report said.
The Foreign Office knows that compensation payments to Mau-Mau veterans are likely to trigger claims from other former colonies.
Any such claims, if successful, would not only cost the British taxpayer many millions of pounds, they could result in testimony and the emergence of documentary evidence that would challenge long-cherished views of the manner in which Britain withdrew from its empire, the report said.