Why most colonial powers are now trying to come to terms with the past

On May 28, 2021, the German government also apologised for its role in committing genocide in Namibia between 1904 and 1908. Sources indicate some 80 per cent of the Ovaherero and over 40 per cent of the Nama lost their lives.

King Charles III expressed "greatest sorrow and deepest regret" over colonial atrocities committed by British forces. He did not formally apologise.

Britain has not formally apologised for the Amritsar massacre (Jallianwala Bagh massacre) in India in 1919, except for expressing deep regret to quote Prime Minister then, Theresa May during the 100th anniversary.

The bigger question is why imperial powers are awakening to the atrocities or cruelties dating back centuries.

One interesting trigger has been anniversaries. A good example is 100 years since Amritsar. In Kenya, it's been 60 years since uhuru.

There are other triggers. Globalisation has made us a more open society. We have become more aware of our rights and possibilities. The former colonies have realised that the former powers care about their image.

And bad publicity occasioned by long court cases. That is why Mau Mau's compensation was settled out of court. The Britons feared that if the case went to a full hearing and was won, it would set a precedence.

The political process is easier to handle than the legal one. The demand for apologies and reparations mimics the aftermath of the Second World War (WWII) when African soldiers realised that the colonial masters were too human and could die.

They demanded to be treated as equals, fanning the embers that eventually gave us uhuru. The exposure to Western judicial systems has made our legal scholars and activists see the "weak" points or loopholes in their system.

They have realised a legal route can work. After all, it is unlikely we shall invade the United Kingdom (UK) for revenge for colonialism. Let's ask a probing question; why have the colonial powers been so quick to apologise or offer reparations? It's more than avoiding bad publicity.

They quickly preempted the cases and slowly punctured the tires. Remember how banks removed the wind from the sail by becoming M-Pesa agents?

Big compensations

By taking over the cases or moving further to apologise or offer reparations, the bad publicity or big compensations are pre-emptied. It's like offering your estranged wife some material things to avoid a divorce case. She would accept thinking it's a good deal, only to find you are worth much more.

Without pre-emptying the agitation for compensation and apologies, the former powers fear a new generation might grow with a negative view of their countries.

That's bad for business, more so when China and other rising economic powers are eying Africa, her resources and a youthful market.

They would love to see the next generation admiring Europe, the UK or the United States (US) as the place to be, as the benchmark of economic growth and civilisation.

UK and Germany probably feared that without coming to terms with the past, they could get a backlash like the French in the former colonies culminating in coups.

But the timing is suspect. Why after 60 years? Why after the victims are dead or elderly? No one saw the atrocities for all that time?

It's simple, the younger generation is way removed from atrocities and more likely to see the apologies or regrets positively.

We heard about Mau Mau or Maji Maji from our parents. Our children are from third parties and with fewer emotions. Hearing about the experience of detainees or war veterans from their own mouths is different from reading about them.

Apologising and paying reparations will bring to a closure the issues but have unintended consequences.

One is attenuating the heroism associated with leaders of these rebellions or liberations.

Can heroism be priced? No, it's priceless. Worse is that once apologies are given and reparations are paid, lots of truths will be buried in the mists of history.

How much of the dark past have we documented in our museums and memorials? A good example; can I get the list of all Kenyans who fought in WWI and II and those detained at Manyani or Mageta Island? Why does a dinosaur guard the entry to our national museum? Why not a statue of one of our national heroes?

Let's add that heroism is also being devalued by the next generation.

They have had it easy with technology and higher living standards. I have heard the younger generation say the Britons left under their own volition, not because of Mau Mau.

They give reasons like the cost of running colonies and exhaustion after WWII. If they heard the detainees' or WW II veterans' stories, they would probably change their mind, and be less romantic about colonialism.

Clearly, apologies and reparations, when paid have long-term goals. And strategic goals. The former colonial powers would love to have a favourable image of their country beyond the generation that suffered; through underpaid labour or physical abuse.

Slave trade

Calls for apologies and reparations over the slave trade have also been rife. Some say the black lives matter movement has given this call a new impetus. The argument that Europe and other powers developed Africa and regions, hence no reparations or apologies does not seem to sell.

This debate over apologies and reparations is not about to end. How about debt cancellation as part of reparations? A German friend added a twist to the debate: "Should Germans not claim reparations from Italians who conquered them 2000 years ago?"

I should add, that Italians should pay Britons reparations for colonising them for 400 years. Where does it stop? Let us conclude by spinning your head. The UK once occupied China after the opium war of 1839-1842.

And only got back to Hong Kong in 1997. She has not been vocal about reparations. Did she decide the best way is to grow economically, so much that apologies and reparations pale into insignificance? Can we try that route? Or am I overthinking?