By Rawlings Otieno and Caroline Rwenji
Nairobi, Kenya: Old men and women who gathered to watch live proceedings of the British acknowledgement of atrocities against the Mau Mau broke into song and jubilation when UK Foreign Secretary William Hague offered an apology.
The elderly from different communities had started streaming in at a Nairobi hotel to witness the historic moment as the British Government caved in to the pressure from their representatives who had sued the UK for torture of thousands of Kenyans in the 1952 emergency crackdown.
The Sh2.6 billion payout to 5,228 claimants was a culmination of a protracted legal tussle that the UK Government unsuccessfully tried to stall.
With their flywhisks, walking sticks and small handbags, the Mau Mau war veterans sat pensively as several speakers poured praises and congratulatory messages for the brave fight they showed for Kenya to get independence.
In a gathering that was also attended by the Chief Justice Willy Mutunga and British High Commissioner Dr Christian Turner, Mau Mau War Veteran Association Secretary General Gitu wa Kahengeri rose to a heroic welcome to discharge his gratitude of the compensation.
“We thank the British Government for accepting there were torture and other inhumane acts. We have not accepted the money is enough. It is not, but because of the apology, we will accept,” said Kahengeri amid applause and ululations from the parked room.
The war veterans appeared to have differed with the amount awarded by the British Government with some walking out disgruntled that although the amount is not enough to compensate the torture, detention and inhumane treatment, they were ready to tate what was on offer.
Dressed in their suits and dresses that befit the celebration, the war victims followed the proceedings attentively and where other speakers used English, a translator came in handy to interpret the words.
Kahengeri lighted the room as the veterans burst into laughter after being asked if the compensation they were awarded was enough, and he said that: “We have been seeking this for so long. If we say it’s not enough, we will be taken in circles and by the time we appeal where will I be? It’s better a bird at hand than ten in the bush.”
Their happiness could not be expressed further after the British national lead counsel in the case, Mr Dan Leader, said the money for the victims would be wired directly to their individual bank accounts to minimise swindling of the cash awarded.
British High Commissioner said many thousands of Mau Mau members were killed, while the Mau Mau themselves were responsible for the deaths of more than 2,000 people including 200 casualties among the British regiments and police.
“On behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, we understand the pain and grievance felt by those who were involved in the events of the emergency in Kenya. The British Government recognises Kenyans were subjected to torture and other forms of ill treatment at the hands of the colonial administration,” said Turner.
He said the British Government regretted the abuses took place and that it marred Kenya’s progress towards independence. “Torture and ill treatment are abhorrent violations of human dignity, which we unreservedly condemn,” he added.
The agreement includes payment of a settlement sum in respect of 5,228 claimants, as well as a gross costs sum, to the total value of Sh2.6 billion (£19.9 million).
Part of the money will go to the lawyers who argued the case at the Royal Court of Justice in the UK at a cost of Sh780 million. That means only Sh1.8 billion will be shared among the Mau Mau victims of torture.
While making a public statement to members of the war veterans association, Turner said apart from the compensation, his Government would also support the construction of a memorial in Nairobi for the victims.