Kenya’s rights commission, the Kenya Human Rights Commission, has formally demanded an “unequivocal public apology” from King Charles for the colonial abuses inflicted on Kenyan citizens during the country’s fight for independence.
The commission is calling on the British government to issue this apology during King Charles’ visit to Kenya in order to acknowledge and address the painful history of colonialism.
Between 1952 and 1960, at the height of Kenya’s struggle for independence, British soldiers forcibly placed approximately 1.5 million Kenyans suspected of being involved in the Mau Mau anti-colonial movement into concentration camps. These camps were rife with torture, rape, and dehumanizing treatment. The scars of this brutal period of history remain fresh in the collective memory of Kenyans, and the KHRC believes that an apology from the British monarchy would go a long way in recognizing the injustices that were perpetrated.
The purpose of King Charles’ visit to Kenya, scheduled from October 31st to November 3rd, should extend beyond traditional diplomacy. The Buckingham Palace’s statement regarding the visit mentioned that the king intends to deepen his understanding of the wrongs suffered by the people of Kenya during the emergency period. However, the rights commission contends that this falls short of their expectation for a full and unconditional apology. They argue that the king should openly acknowledge and take responsibility for the brutal treatment inflicted on Kenyan citizens during this time.
The demand for an apology is not an attempt to dwell on the past or to incite conflict. Rather, it is a necessary step towards healing and reconciliation. Acknowledging and apologizing for past wrongs demonstrates a willingness to learn from history and to forge a better future. It is an opportunity for the British monarchy to show solidarity with the Kenyan people, to stand against the injustices of the past, and to foster a relationship based on mutual respect and understanding.
The Kenyan government, for its part, has been supportive of the KHRC’s call for an apology from King Charles. President William Ruto has expressed his hope that the visit will be an occasion to address the painful events of the past and to strengthen the ties between Kenya and the United Kingdom.
The mistreatment of detainees has been described in a letter by the British colony’s attorney general, Eric Griffith-Jones, as distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany or communist Russia. In 1957, Griffith-Jones addressed this issue to a British governor. Subsequently, he drafted legislation that allowed beatings, with the condition that they remained undisclosed.
In 2013, the UK reached an out-of-court settlement of £20m with 5,228 Kenyans involved in a class-action lawsuit over the abuses committed during the emergency. This settlement was accompanied by a statement of regret from the British government. The resolution followed an 11-year campaign and legal battle initiated by five elderly Kenyans.
The case brought to light the destruction or concealment of official records by the British, regarding the colonial authorities’ brutal crackdowns. Historians discovered documents during the discovery process, which placed the UK government in an embarrassing and scandalous position.
As awareness of colonial atrocities has grown in the past decade, similar reckonings have taken place within the Commonwealth. Calls for acknowledgment and reparations for these historical wrongs have become more prominent.
During his first visit as king to a Commonwealth member country, Charles’s approach will serve as a signal of how he intends to address and apologize for colonial atrocities, in response to similar calls for acknowledgment.