The British Gulag in Kenya

In 1895, the Britsh colonial government established the East Africa Protectorate, whose territory comprised most of modern-day Kenya. It was succeeded in 1920, by the establishment of the ‘Colony and Protectorate of Kenya,’ which was ruled by the British until the declaration of Kenyan independence in 1963. Leading up to the end of the 20th century, the UK government had done a solid job of convincing the rest of the world that British rule in Kenya had been benign at worst and immensely beneficial to Kenyans at best. However, Harvard professor Caroline Elkins’ research in the early 2000s on the realities of British rule in Kenya, revealed that the British governed despotically, and even used the same fascistic tactics during Kenya’s 1950s Mau Mau rebellion that Nazi Germany had used less than a decade earlier during the Holocaust. 

The Mau Mau rebellion (1952-1960) was a revolt against British colonial rule, led primarily by the Gikuyu, Embu, and Meru people. In response to the revolt, the British (under Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s complicit eye) imprisoned approximately 1.5 million Kenyans in 21 large concentration camps (and a greater number of smaller ones) enclosed with barbed wire and patrolled by guards with orders to kill escapees. In these camps, tens of thousands of Kenyans were beaten, tortured (including rape, electrocution, forced work, burning, castration, and insertion of metal and glass into anal cavities), and starved to death. Some scholars estimate that over one hundred thousand (100,000) Kenyans died in the camps due to various factors such as disease, physical abuse, and public executions. Additionally, from November 1953 to July 1955, the British Royal Air Force dropped over 6 million bombs on Kenyan forests to ‘pacify’ the Mau Mau resistance, and the British concurrently ran a vast defamation campaign back in Europe and the United States, painting the Mau Mau as savages that were out of control and killing white settlers en masse. The violence did not end until the end of the rebellion in 1960.  

In 2013, 50 years after Kenyan independence, the British government agreed to award 5,228 victims of torture during colonial rule a total of £19.9 million ($24.6 million), an average of about £3,000 ($3,714) per victim. 

By Tre Hunt

(Image: NY Times)

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