Bitter scars of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya run deep

 

Veterans of the Mau Mau revolution in Kenya against the British in the 1950s are alleging torture, humiliation and murder by the occupiers, reports Rob Crilly in Nairobi.

Wanjiru wa Kimani cuts a frail figure at the Mau May veterans' office which she visits once a week. Her right hand is little more than a stump - one of the outward signs of the 94-year-old's past in the guerrilla movement that fought British rule in Kenya.

But the scars of her time in detention during the 1950s Mau Mau emergency run much deeper.

Her written statement alleging torture is one of dozens which have been gathered by human rights workers in Kenya. They have spent two years compiling a multimillion pound case for compensation.

The campaign stepped up a gear this week, when the Kenyan government threw its weight behind the claim.

Moody Awori, the country's vice-president, has demanded an apology from Britain.

"The colonial masters were brutal, cruel and pitiless," he said. "They treated Kenyans as savages; all they wanted was the rich and fertile land of Kenya."

Wanjiru is one of a handful of veterans who may visit Britain to tell her story.

She was 42 when the British rulers of Kenya, rattled by growing insurgency, declared an emergency.

Wanjiru was among those in her tribe - the Kikuyu - who had sworn a blood oath to drive out the colonials.

Her husband was a Mau Mau fighter and Wanjiru's role was to recruit women to the cause, as well as provide food for the guerrillas holed up in their forest bases.

She was arrested when white soldiers came looking for her husband.

As she reads through her statement in the Mau Mau office the fingers of her good hand move to her forehead. A half-inch groove shows where the soldiers directed their gun butts.

One fired a bullet, intending to kill her, but instead it ripped through her hand, reducing her fingers to a set of knuckles.

They took her - bleeding and carrying a young baby - to their guard post for further interrogation.

"One of them took a bottle, broke it and forcefully inserted it in my vagina as I screamed in agony," reads her statement.

"I felt my flesh tear and warm blood streaming down my thighs as I helplessly lay in shock. The pain was more than I could handle and I wished for death."

She spent three years in a detention camp with her baby son, carting stones and sand around a quarry.

By the time she left, her husband was dead and his land seized, leaving Wanjiru to bring up nine children by herself.

Other accounts dictated in the gloom of the office in Kenol, about 64km (40 miles) from Nairobi, detail gang rapes, arbitrary executions and ritual humiliation.

They include those of Wanjiku Thigira, who tells how as a 14-year-old girl she was forced to sleep with her father for the amusement of locally recruited home guard soldiers.

Ngigi Njoroge, who was a young man during the emergency, says he was castrated at Kamiti maximum security prison.

At first the Mau Mau rebellion was directed against the exclusive use of land by whites but it soon escalated into an independence struggle and ultimately civil war.

Mau Mau fighters were known for their brutal use of the panga - the Kenyan machete.

In all, 37 white settlers were murdered. The revolt was eventually defeated after four years, but not before 100 soldiers and about 11,000 Africans on both sides had died.

Kenya finally won independence in 1963 although successive governments refused to recognise the movement. However, Mwai Kibaki, who became president in 2002, lifted the ban on the Mau Mau last year, paving the way for legal action.

A spokesman for the British High Commission in Nairobi said yesterday it was not for the British government to consider compensation.

"The Mau Mau that were detained were detained under the laws of Kenya at that time," he said. "Therefore, the proper place to challenge those detentions is Kenya and would be the Kenyan courts."

Paul Muite, a Kenyan MP and one of the lawyers working on the case, says his colleagues in London have unearthed public documents revealing fresh evidence.

"The documentation is there. There is no way the British government can get out of this," he says.

"We are asking Britain to meet its moral obligation and accept that they violated human rights." Mr Muite says that what they did "amounted without any doubt to crimes against humanity".

He said time was running out for many of the alleged victims.

"The British government should show some moral compassion by offering something, without prejudice, to these people so that in their twilight years they can live with some dignity," he says.