UK-Funded Mau Mau Memorial Acknowledges Colonial-era Abuses in Kenya

9/17/2015

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On September 12, a memorial to those killed and tortured during Kenya’s Mau Mau uprising was unveiled in Nairobi. The memorial is a symbolic reparation addressing the harm suffered by the Mau Mau while fighting against British colonial rule, and was funded by the United Kingdom as part of a settlement between the UK government and Mau Mau veterans.

In 1952, groups of mostly ethnic-Kikuyu Kenyans, facing increasing economic marginalization due to colonial policies that included the expropriation of land and forced wage labor, took arms against British colonial authorities. By the end of the rebellion in 1960, around 90,000 people were killed, tortured or maimed, according to the Kenya Human Rights Commission. At least 160,000 were detained in inhumane conditions.

The establishment of the memorial, which features two Mau Mau fighters—a man and a woman—exchanging bread, is an important development in Kenya’s transitional justice process, representing an acknowledgement of some of the injustices suffered by Kenyans under British colonial rule.

To learn more about the memorial and its significance, we spoke with Ruben Carranza, director of ICTJ’s Reparative Justice Program. In this podcast, Carranza discusses how the memorial’s design was agreed upon, the importance of the UK’s involvement, other reparations included in the Mau Mau settlement, and what it means for transitional justice not only in Kenya, but in other countries around the world that were subject to colonialism.

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Carranza notes that the memorial and its inscription is a testament to the violations perpetrated during the Mau Mau rebellion. “It captures what the case was about and perhaps introduces those who look at it to the larger history of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya,” says Carranza.

The fact that the memorial was funded by the UK government is particularly important, Carranza stresses, because “it is a clear acknowledgement of state responsibility, and it reflects how reparations and transitional justice approaches the question of responsibility—that it is the perpetrator of violations that should take responsibility for repairing the harm done and in this case, if the state is involved, it should be the state who must acknowledge the violations that were committed.”

Carranza says the settlement—which also included compensation for over 5,000 victims—marks a stepping stone for the Kenyan government to acknowledge its treatment of Mau Mau fighters, who were banned under Kenyan law until 2003. “The settlement, while it reflects specific points of agreement, opens the door to the past and allows Kenya to re-examine this part of its history,” says ICTJ’s Reparative Justice Director.

While the memorial and other reparations measures represent an important step in Kenya’s transitional justice process, Carranza notes that the Kenyan government should take other actions to go beyond the case of the Mau Mau and address other injustices endured by Kenyans. “This example tells the government that it can be done and it should be done before victims die, before victims grow old, before stories that have not been told cannot be told anymore, and before justice that has not happened may not be possible because the victims have died,” says Carranza.

The settlement could also have implications beyond Kenya. Carranza says that the memorial “represents a door that has been opened not just for Kenya, but for other countries in the Global South that went through the same experience of colonial abuse, the same experience of human rights violations under occupation.” One such country is Tunisia, whose truth commission’s mandate covers the period just after French colonial rule.


PHOTO: The memorial to Mau Mau fighters at its unveiling in Nairobi, Kenya. (nKiirũ Photography/Flickr)