UK-Kenya shared history: Recognition and Reconciliation

Speech by Dr. Christian Turner CMG on the launch of memorial to victims of torture and ill-treatment during the colonial era

British High Commissioner to Kenya, Dr Christian Turner CMG

Wazee, mabibi na mabwana, habari za asubuhi. Ni furaha yangu kuwa nanyi leo kama mwakilishi wa serikali ya Uingereza katika tukio hii la kihistoria.

Two years ago, on the 6th of June 2013, the then Foreign Secretary Rt Hon William Hague MP, made a statement to the British Parliament on the claims of Kenyan citizens relating to events during the period 1952-1963. The same day I read out his statement in Nairobi to an audience that included Mau Mau veterans, many of whom I am glad to see here again today.

The statement recognized that during the Emergency Period widespread violence was committed by both sides and most of the victims were Kenyan. William Hague made clear that Her Majesty’s Government understood the pain and grievance felt by those who were involved in the events of that period. He recognized that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment and expressed sincere regret for the abuses that took place.

The 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 the victims of torture and ill-treatment during the colonial era and to promote reconciliation between all sides. It is that memorial which we are here today to inaugurate.

I am humbled to be here today to see the culmination of the efforts by a Steering Committee comprising the British High Commission, the Mau Mau War Veterans Association, the Kenya Human Rights Commission, the Nairobi Governor’s Office, the National Museums of Kenya, and the Memorial Design Team; a team that worked tirelessly together on this project.

The memorial stands as a symbol of reconciliation between the British Government, the Mau Mau, and all those who suffered during the Emergency Period. It is an acknowledgement of the difficult parts of our shared history encompassed in a spirit of reconciliation and respect.

I would like to especially pay tribute to Shujaa Gitu wa Kahengeri and his colleagues at the Mau Mau War Veterans Association, for ensuring a very clear focus on the role the memorial must play for future generations, both in terms of recognition of history and as a symbol of reconciliation. Mzee, I salute the way in which you have approached this process, in a spirit of dialogue not confrontation, of friendship not hatred, of building bridges not divides.

My special thanks to the Nairobi Governor’s office which offered the land where the memorial stands today and has developed a new footpath to the memorial at its own expense. I would also like to thank the National Museums of Kenya who going forward will be the curators of this memorial.

Ladies and gentlemen, you will all agree with me that the process of reconciliation and revisiting the past is not an easy one. However, as a student of history, I believe that to deal with the present and move forward into the future we have to recognize and learn from the past. This era of history will remain controversial. History teaches us that you cannot have lasting peace without justice, accountability and reconciliation.

The recent report by the Truth Justice & Reconciliation Commission said that meaningful reconciliation is not an event but a process. I hope that this memorial will allow us to acknowledge and discuss together the issues arising from a difficult period in the history of both Britain and Kenya, and that it offers us the opportunity to draw a line and move forward. This is the right thing to do for those of you who suffered, for Britain and Kenya, and our joint relationship.

It should also allow us to tell our stories. Sharing those very personal stories is a key part of achieving healing, particularly as the affected generation gets older.

That is why today I would like to share with you my personal part in this story. Many of you will be unaware that my step-grandfather, whom I knew as a child, 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, with a task to establish the police force as an autonomous and incorruptible division and bring cases of brutality 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. After only 10 months he resigned, 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”. He returned to a successful police career in the UK, but took his dossier of evidence to Barbara Castle MP who led subsequent UK Parliamentary opposition to the Emergency Period.

That is why, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have felt a particularly personal commitment to this process of reconciliation. It is also why, throughout my tour in Kenya, it has been my overriding aim to try and strengthen our bonds, and ensure that our relationship is based on mutual respect, partnership and shared interests.

In conclusion, while this partnership between our two countries is historic and deep we do not want our relations to be overshadowed by the past. Today, we are bound together by strong commercial, defence and security, development and personal links that benefit both our countries. We must engage in a spirit of understanding, inclusivity and dignity for all. What unites us is far greater than what divides us.

To quote the words of the settlement: “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”.

Asanteni sana.

Published 12 September 2015