The stage is set for renewed infighting among Mau Mau war veterans as the British Government Thursday officially announced a Sh2.6 billion compensation package for atrocities committed by colonial forces during Kenya’s war of independence.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who made the announcement at the House of Commons in London for over 5,000 claimants, also publicly apologised for the atrocities committed by the colonial forces.
Explaining the decision to pay the claimants £19.9 million, Mr Hague said the United Kingdom was eliminating the scar which blighted the relations with its colony.
As Mr Hague was announcing the decision, a group led by a Mr Charles Munuhe claiming to represent 12 Mau Mau veteran groups which were not part of the case heard in London said they would file their own suit.
In a statement to MPs earlier in the day, Mr Hague had said: “The settlement I am announcing today is part of a process of reconciliation. We do not want our current and future relations with Kenya to be overshadowed by the past.
“Today we are bound together by commercial, security and personal links that benefit both our countries. We are working together closely to build a more stable region.”
Mr Hague said the British Government owned up to the torture they took through thousands of Mau Mau fighters during the State of Emergency declared in 1952, stating that they did not condone acts of inhumanity.
He cited the punitive measures which the colonial administration used in its crackdown on Mau Mau, the unjustifiable punishment and brutalities in rehabilitation camps.
“I would like to make clear now and for the first time, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, that we understand the pain and grievance felt by those who were involved in the events of the Emergency in Kenya. The British Government recognises that Kenyans were subjected to torture and other forms of ill treatment at the hands of the colonial administration,” he said.
“The British Government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place, and that they marred Kenya’s progress towards independence. Torture and ill-treatment are abhorrent violations of human dignity which we unreservedly condemn.”
Mr Hague’s statement came after the British Government reached an out-of-court settlement with the Mau Mau War Veterans Association which had gone to court with the support of Kenya Human Rights Commission.
The representative suit was filed in London by solicitors Leigh Day in October 2009 for five Mau Mau veterans seeking compensation for ill treatment in colonial detention camps.
In 2011, the High Court in London threw out claims by the veterans that the British Government should own up to the liabilities of the colonial regime, but allowed demands for compensation to proceed.
Last month, Britain moved to the Court of Appeal to oppose the demands for pay. The decision is yet to be made. But some 12 Mau Mau war veterans groups who were not part of the court case have written to the Attorney General seeking permission to file another case against the former colonisers.
The groups, angered by a decision to exclude veterans who are not members of the Mau Mau War Veterans’ Association — which led by former MP Gitu wa Kahengeri — want the AG to permit them to file a case at the International Court of Justice to seek compensation and reparations.
“We the Mau Mau Freedom Fighters Fraternity, an umbrella of 12 Mau Mau registered groups, wish to notify you of our intention to sue the British Government for having failed to consider us for compensation,” said the group’s national coordinator, Mr Charles Munuhe, in a letter to the AG. The group said it did not approve of the out-of-court settlement by the Kahengeri group in which each of the 5,228 members will be paid Sh367,780.
But Mr Martin Day, the lawyer who represented the group, insisted that the case was over. “The case for the 5,228 is ended. We have agreed not to take any more cases under the agreement with Her Majesty’s government so basically this is the end of our work for the Mau Mau,” said Mr Day.
However, another British lawyer, Mr Brian Cox from Tandem Law representing Mrs Eloise Mukami, widow of Mau Mau war hero Dedan Kimathi, insisted they would seek total compensation for the remaining victims. He said that his firm had been instructed to pursue a fresh case.
It emerged that Sh780 million would be used to settle legal fees while Sh1.6 billion would be be paid out to the veterans as compensation.
British High commissioner Christian Turner, who read Mr Hague’s statement in Nairobi where the surviving veterans gathered to wait for the official pronouncements, said it would help in healing wounds that had existed for years.
“As a student of history, it is important that I also express our regrets to the events in Kenya that led to this case,” Dr Turner stated.
Additional reporting By Kenfrey Kiberenge