Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for Britain's The Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan."
The Government has announced that Kenyans abused by British colonial forces during the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s will receive compensation totalling £20 million, and that it regrets the “suffering and injustice”. Be of no doubt: these people went through terrible things. Wambuga Wa Nyingi, a former detainee at the bloody camp Hola, who says he was not a Mau Mau fighter, claims that he was “battered on the back of my head and around my neck repeatedly with a club”. His unconscious body was mistaken for a corpse and dumped in a room with 11 murdered men. Mr Nyingi slept among the dead for two days before he was discovered.
But before we express regret or say sorry for anything, we have to make sure that we entirely understand what we’re talking about. In the case of the Mau Mau uprising, only one side of the story tends to be told – a story that serves a particular political purpose. It’s the tale of an evil imperial power that used internment and torture to keep hold of a beautiful African colony that only ever wanted to be free. It is a fantasy version of history.
The Mau Mau was a terrorist organisation, dominated by Kenya’s major ethnic grouping, the Kikuyu. Kikuyu extremists were furious about what they saw as the theft of their land by white settlers, so they launched a war from the jungle against the colonial authorities. Crucially, like many terrorist groups they enforced discipline by declaring that anyone who was not with them was against them – which meant they also declared war on the vast majority of moderate Africans who did not share their demands. Something that began as a nationalist uprising quickly turned into an ethnic civil war....