Shady People


Britain has finally accepted publically that its agents tortured and abused Kenyans during that country’s struggle for independence during the 1950s. Guy Mansfield QC, acting for the British government, told the High Court in London he did not want to dispute that torture and ill-treatment had occurred at the hands of the colonial administration. Mr. Mansfield was, in effect, merely acknowledging what has been widely known for decades, and more recently described with painful clarity by Professor Caroline Elkins in her book, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya.

In spite of being forced to acknowledge the veracity of the accusations of torture and ill-treatment, the British government is resisting demands for the culprits to be brought to trial, insisting that too much time has passed for a fair hearing to be conducted. The British may indeed have a point in relation to staging criminal trials. The passage of time has undoubtedly contaminated or diminished much of the evidence and also means that many of those involved at a senior level have passed away. 

Nevertheless, Britain shouldn’t be allowed to simply pay financial compensation to a few elderly Kikuyu and thereafter dismiss the case as closed. Nor should the seriousness of the events be downplayed, as Nigel Farage of UKIP attempted to do on Tuesday evening’s Channel 4 News when he first argued that this generation of Britons should not have to pay for the misdemeanours of their grandparents and then pointed to the difficulty of making imperial powers responsible for atrocities committed in their names over many years. Why should the UK alone be pilloried, he asked, when the USA, Belgium, France and others were equally brutal.

the fact is that it is imperative that Britain be made answerable for what happened half a century ago in Kenya in order to stop the prolongation of torture and ill-treatment by the Crown’s military agents now and into the future. There is an obvious continuity of British military personnel operating across different campaigns and often they form the core of covert intelligence departments. General Frank Kitson, for example, cut his teeth in Kenya where he organised ‘pseudo gangs’ and a decade later guided British Army strategy in Ireland. Towards the later part of the IRA insurgency, Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Kerr led the Force Research Unit (FRU) between 1987 and 1991 and has since moved on to emerge carrying out a similar role in Afghanistan. It would require a heroic degree of gullibility not to see a connection between Britain’s military practices across the generations and in different theatres of operation. What occurred in Kenya cannot be passed off as an isolated aberration to an otherwise lilywhite record.

General George Erskine, who commanded Britain’s army during the Kenyan insurrection, described the colony as, ‘… a sunny place for shady people …’. Unless Britain is forced to being an end to its long established counter insurgency practices of torture and atrocity, this phrase will now apply to those populating the state’s ruling corridors rather than to the denizens of a long gone colony.

Tommy McKearney

This© Tommy McKearney 2012                                                                                      email:    tommymkearney@me.com