Caroline Elkins: Britain Has Said Sorry to the Mau Mau. The Rest of the Empire is Still Waiting.tags: Guardian (UK), Great Britain, British Empire, Mau Mau uprising, Caroline Elkins
Caroline Elkins is professor of history and African and African American studies at Harvard University and author of Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag, for which she was awarded a Pulitzer prize in 2006
On Thursday nearly 200 elderly Kikuyu people travelled from their rural homesteads and sat before the British high commissioner in Nairobi. Over half a century had passed since many were last in front of a British official. It was a different era then in Kenya. The Mau Mau war was raging, and Britain was implementing coercive policies that left indelible scars on the bodies and minds of countless men and women suspected of subversive activities.
In the 1950s they experienced events in colonial detention camps that few imagined possible. Yesterday they gathered to witness another once unimaginable thing: the much-delayed colonial gesture at reconciliation. The high commissioner read extracts from William Hague's earlier statement in parliament. Hague acknowledged for the first time that the elderly Kikuyu and other Kenyans had been subjected to torture and other horrific abuses at the hands of the colonial administration during the Mau Mau emergency. On behalf of the British government he expressed "sincere regret" that these abuses had taken place, announced payments of £2,600 to each of 5,200 vetted claimants, and urged that the process of healing for both nations begin.
The faces of the elderly camp survivors betrayed the day's historical significance. Tears rolled down faces lined from years of internalised pain and bitterness. Many sat motionless as the high commissioner read the statement. Others let out audible gasps, and cries of joy. Some burst into song....
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