Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kenya's rendezvous with history...

This is turning into a big week for Kenya, with two of its darkest hours making news not only there, but in international media.

Firstly, the “Ocampo Six” have arrived in the Hague, summoned there by ICC Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo.  Beginning Thursday, some high-profile individuals who stand accused of playing a role in the violence that broke open in Kenya after its national election in 2007 will make appearances in court.  Two of the men, William Ruto (who with former-President/Dictator Moi headed up the ‘No’ campaign last summer against reform of Kenya’s constitution) and Uhuru Kenyatta, harboured Presidential ambitions, which will hopefully be soundly derailed by their appearance at the ICC.

Their appearance comes mere days after the two men were cautioned for making inflammatory speeches to their supporters in advance of their departure for the Hague. 

Secondly, several veterans of Kenya’s Mau Mau war (fought against Britain and ‘loyalist’ Homeguards during the 1950s) are bringing a case against the British government.  The Mau Mau war was particularly violent, and the British used a system of camps, combined with torture, to break liberation fighters (who they, in a tradition we’ve learned precious little from, referred to as “terrorists”). 

The British government has persisted in lying about the character of the colonial response to Mau Mau, but looks to get its comeuppance in this trial.  The trial could also be a boon to historians, as reams of new documents will be released.  It is only due to the work of historians David Anderson and Caroline Elkins that new evidence supporting the claims of ex-detainees has come to light.  Elkins in particular is one of a group of historians, which includes Lotte Hughes, whose work is highly relevant to the righting of colonial-era wrongs.

But the British haven’t given up trying to evade responsibility for the violence it committed against many of the hundreds of thousands of Kenyans who were taken into the system of camps known as the Pipeline.  They are invoking international law to suggest that they don’t carry any responsibility for the atrocities.  This comes on the heels of a long and sordid history of hiding documentation of the torture. 

The Kenyan government fired back, rightly calling the notion that Kenya ‘inherited’ responsibility for violence committed by the British after Uhuru absurd.  Of course for many years, Kenya’s government was perfectly happy to ignore Mau Mau veterans...the war was seen as an unhelpful reminder of a past they’d as soon forget.

The reaction of the British press has been mixed.  The BBC’s coverage is reasonable, though it contains a link to the “Bloody Uprising of the Mau Maus”.  The Independent gives us a story on Britain’s manifold negative contributions to our own troubled world, and concludes with a rather silly star system of ranking culpability for things ranging from Climate Change to the relocation of the inhabitants of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.  And where would we be without nationalist bile...the Telegraph issues a pretty standard right-wing apologia for British imperialism, denouncing David Cameron for failing to do what they regard as his job: “stand[ing] up for his country when abroad”.

Much is at stake for Kenyans in the partial resolution of these two moments of national strife.  The proceedings at the ICC will undoubtedly mean more for the nation as a whole, but justice for those who suffered under colonial rule is long overdue, and a court victory for Mau Mau veterans would be a step in the right direction.

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