UK-Kenya shared history: Recognition and Reconciliation

By Dr Christian Turner
As a student of history, I believe that to deal with the present and move forward into the future we have to learn from the past. History teaches us that you cannot have lasting peace without justice, accountability and reconciliation. Reconciliation is a process, not an event. It should allow us to tell our personal stories in order to achieve healing, particularly as the affected generation gets older. This rings especially true today when a memorial to victims of torture and ill-treatment during the colonial period shall be inaugurated in Uhuru Park’s Freedom Corner.

In the spirit of sharing our personal stories, I would like to share mine. My step-grandfather was appointed Commissioner of Police in Kenya in February 1954. His name was Colonel Arthur Young. He was appointed with the express purpose of cleaning up Kenya’s police force and transforming it into an impartial instrument of the rule of law. His was a philosophy of policing as service to the community, and he wanted to establish the police force as an autonomous and incorruptible division, bringing cases of wrongdoing to the attention of the Attorney-General for prosecution. For all his efforts, he fell out with Governor Baring over the colonial administration’s failure to address brutality committed by the security forces. He resigned after only 10 months, citing in a controversial resignation letter, later published in the UK Parliament, his “anxiety at the continuance of the rule of fear rather than that of impartial justice”. Upon his return to the UK, he took his dossier of evidence to Barbara Castle MP who led UK Parliamentary opposition to the Emergency Period.

My story explains why I feel a particularly personal commitment to the process of reconciliation between our great nations. It is also why, throughout my tour in Kenya, it has been my overriding aim to try and strengthen the bonds between Kenya and the UK, ensuring that our relationship is based on mutual respect, partnership and shared interests.

It has been two years since the then British Foreign Secretary, Rt Hon William Hague MP, made a statement to the British Parliament recognizing the suffering of the Emergency Period in Kenya, during which violence was committed on all sides. He made it clear that Her Majesty’s Government understood the pain and grievance felt by those who were involved in the events of that period in Kenya and expressed regret for the abuses that took place. His statement followed settlement of a claim by five individuals who were detained during the Emergency Period regarding their ill-treatment in detention. The claim was in respect of 5,228 claimants, each of whom received a settlement payment. As well as the expression of regret and the financial settlement, the British Government also pledged to support the construction of a memorial in Nairobi to all victims of torture and ill-treatment during the colonial era and to promote reconciliation between all sides.

Since then the British High Commission has been working closely on this project with my friend Mzee Gitu wa Kahengeri and the Mau Mau War Veterans Association, the Government of Kenya, the Kenya Human Rights Commission, the Nairobi Governor’s office, and the National Museums of Kenya. The memorial now stands as a symbol of reconciliation between the British Government, the Mau Mau, and all those who suffered during the Emergency Period. It is my hope that it will allow us to acknowledge and discuss together the issues arising from a difficult period in the history of both Britain and Kenya, and will afford us the opportunity to draw a line and move forward in a spirit of reconciliation and respect.

The partnership between Kenya and the UK is historic and deep. Today, we are bound together by strong commercial, defence and security, development and personal links that benefit both countries. What unites us is far greater than what divides us. To quote William Hague’s statement: “although we should never forget history and indeed must always seek to learn from it, we should also look to the future, strengthening a relationship that will promote the security and prosperity of both our nations.

Dr Christian Turner is the British High Commissioner to Kenya

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