Colonial atrocities in Kenya: another crime to lay at the door of British Imperialism

Printer-friendly version

Michael Gove, Tory education secretary, wants “facts” about British history taught in schools and to this end “definitely” wants the right-wing historian, Niall Ferguson, of whom he is “a great fan”, involved in the curriculum for children in Britain. Ferguson is more than an apologist for the crimes  of the British Empire which he sees as a model for US foreign policy (New Statesman, 1.6.10) – which in many ways it already is. Gove's and Ferguson's position is summed-up well by the British historian Dominic Sandbrook writing in the Daily Mail a couple of years ago: “Britain's empire stands out as a beacon of tolerance, decency and the rule of law” (Quoted by George Monbiot in the Guardian, 23.4.12). Not a hint here of the exploitation, racism, torture, starvation and massacres that the British bourgeoisie stood for and exported around the world.

One thing for sure is that under Gove, or any other politician of the ruling class, the children of Britain will not be hearing the truth about the the empire's murderous activity in the British colony of Kenya around the 1950s. Monbiot in the article referenced above gives some of the grisly details:

“Interrogation under torture was widespread. Many of the men were anally raped, using knives, broken bottles, rifle barrels, snakes and scorpions. A favourite technique was to hold a man upside-down, his head in a bucket of water, while sand was rammed into his rectum with a stick. Women were gang-raped by the guards. People were mauled by dogs and electrocuted. The British devised a special tool which they used for first crushing and then ripping of testicles. They used pliers to mutilate women's breasts. They cut off inmates ears and fingers and gouged out their eyes. They dragged people behind Land Rovers until their bodies disintegrated. Men were rolled up in barbed wire and kicked around the compound”.

That was part of Monbiot's summing-up of Harvard professor Caroline Elkin's thoroughly researched book, Britain's Gulag: the Brutal End of Empire in Kenya[1]. Elkin started out sympathetic to the British version of events in Kenya but her ten-year work soon lifted the lid on the reality of the “civilising mission”. In a previous article in World Revolution[2], we used the official British government's figures to show that 90,000 Kenyans were detained by the British authorities. Elkin makes it clear that nearly the whole population of one-and-a-half million were confined to the camps and fortified villages. And here, as Monbiot says: “... thousands were beaten to death or died from malnutrition, typhoid, tuberculosis and dysentery. In some camps almost all the children died”. Some camps’ loudspeakers played the national anthem and other patriotic stuff – Gove would have approved of that – while above the gates of others were slogans such as “Labour and Freedom”, echoing the slogans “Work makes you free” erected above the Nazi concentration camps and the work camps of Stalinist East Berlin.

It was revealed a few weeks ago that the British authorities has systematically destroyed the secret documents showing the atrocities in Kenya and lied about others that pointed out their predecessors’ role in the crimes. Elkin shows that these atrocities weren't the result of “rogue elements” – the British ruling class's usual excuse from Aden to Basra – but sanctioned at the highest level of the state up to and beyond the Colonial Secretary of the time, Alan Lennox-Boyd[3]. As in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the British don't (officially) keep body counts and in Kenya there are mass graves that the victims were often forced to dig themselves, containing tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of victims.

The atrocities in Kenya and their cover-up to this day demonstrate the sickening reality of democratic Britain and its concern for “international law” and “human rights”, which are nothing less than a fig-leaf for its own imperialist interests and  crimes. Evidence is now emerging  (The Observer, 6.5.12) of the cold-blooded murder by British troops of innocent civilians in its Malayan colony. The newspaper shows details of the Batang Kali massacre in 1948 and its continued cover-up. Given the emergence of some of the truth from Kenya, this is probably only the tip of the iceberg in this region with the burning of villages and starvation also being a weapon of the British here. In the World Revolution article on torture mentioned above there's an insight into the modus operandi of the British in general, with reference to the army and RUC approaching the then Northern Ireland prime minister Brian Faulkner: “They told him that the 'in depth' techniques they planned to use (in Ireland) were those the army had used... many times before when Britain was faced with insurgencies in her colonies, including Palestine, Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, the British Cameroons, Brunei, British Guyana, Aden, Borneo, Malaysia and the Persian Gulf”.

Britain was by no means alone in its bestial colonial activities: France, Belgium and Portugal all played out their own murderous versions. If Britain acted from a position of relative strength and intelligence, its whole colonial adventure was steeped in the blood of innocents which can only be the case in a world dominated by imperialism. Britain's process of decolonisation saw the local, equally bloody, gangsters take over and these “liberated” client states, still acting for Britain's interests, immediately immersed themselves in the proxy wars of the west against Russian imperialism. And the end of the Cold War has not brought peace but growing chaos and instability all over Africa, the Middle East and Asia, with Britain's ruling class continuing to manoeuvre and manipulate for the “national interest” of the British state.

Baboon 16/5/12


[1] The Pulitzer prize-winning book is thoroughly documented and there's a fully referenced version of Monbiot's article “Deny the British empire's crimes? No, we ignore them” on

[2]  World Revolution   290, A short history of British torture”.

[3] See his modern equivalent, Jack Straw, denying knowing anything about British kidnapping and torture.


Historic events: