19 June 2013
By Sreeram Chaulia
Foreign Policy in Focus
The British government’s offer of monetary compensation of £20 million to over 5,000 living Kenyan survivors of systematic torture during the Mau Mau anti-colonial revolt is a historic reckoning with an ugly past. Instead of bringing the sordid chapter of crimes committed against nationalist movements to closure, this settlement is bound to trigger other claims in the former colonies of Pax Britannica.
It also augurs a thorough re-evaluation of European colonial empires and their tactics of control. The myth that the British were far more enlightened, benevolent, and liberal in their self-anointed “civilizing mission” in Africa and Asia than the French, the Dutch, the Portuguese, or the Belgians is due for a revision.
According to a groundbreaking book, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya, by Harvard University historian Caroline Elkins, as many as 300,000 Africans were butchered in the 1950s upon the orders of racist British officers determined to stamp out the Mau Mau guerrillas. Usage of Nazi-style concentration camps, attempts to exterminate entire ethnic groups, aerial bombardment, collective punishment, and slave labor were just some of the despicable acts committed by the British in central Kenya, where the Kikuyu peasants had rebelled against colonial expropriation of land.
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Reparations announced for colonial abuse in Kenya
Also see below: "Britain`s colonial shame: Slave-owners given huge payouts after abolition."
Official United Kingdom Government statement
read by Foreign Secretary William Hague
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on a legal settlement that the Government has reached concerning the claims of Kenyan citizens who lived through the Emergency Period and the Mau Mau insurgency from October 1952 to December 1963.
During the Emergency Period widespread violence was committed by both sides, and most of the victims were Kenyan. Many thousands of Mau Mau members were killed, while the Mau Mau themselves were responsible for the deaths of over 2,000 people including 200 casualties among the British regiments and police.
Emergency regulations were introduced: political organisations were banned; prohibited areas were created and provisions for detention without trial were enacted.
The colonial authorities made unprecedented use of capital punishment and sanctioned harsh prison so-called ‘rehabilitation’ regimes. Many of those detained were never tried and the links of many with the Mau Mau were never proven.
There was recognition at the time of the brutality of these repressive measures and the shocking level of violence, including an important debate in this House on the infamous events at Hola Camp in 1959.
We recognise that British personnel were called upon to serve in difficult and dangerous circumstances. Many members of the colonial service contributed to establishing the institutions that underpin Kenya today and we acknowledge their contribution.
However I would like to make clear now and for the first time, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, that we understand the pain and grievance felt by those who were involved in the events of the Emergency in Kenya.
The British Government recognises that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill treatment at the hands of the colonial administration.
The British government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place, and that they marred Kenya’s progress towards independence. Torture and ill treatment are abhorrent violations of human dignity which we unreservedly condemn.
In October 2009 claims were first brought to the High Court by five individuals who were detained during the Emergency period regarding their treatment in detention.
In 2011 the High Court rejected the claimants’ argument that the liabilities of the colonial administration transferred to the British Government on independence, but allowed the claims to proceed on the basis of other arguments.
In 2012 a further hearing took place to determine whether the cases should be allowed to proceed. The High Court ruled that three of the five cases could do so. The Court of Appeal was due to hear our appeal against that decision last month.
However, I can announce today that the Government has now reached an agreement with Leigh Day, the solicitors acting on behalf of the Claimants, in full and final settlement of their clients’ claims.
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 £19.9 million. The Government will also support the construction of a memorial in Nairobi to the victims of torture and ill-treatment during the colonial era.
The memorial will stand alongside others that are already being established in Kenya as the country continues to heal the wounds of the past. And the British High Commissioner in Nairobi is also today making a public statement to members of the Mau Mau War Veterans Association in Kenya, explaining the settlement and expressing our regret for the events of the Emergency Period.
Mr Speaker this settlement provides recognition of the suffering and injustice that took place in Kenya. The Government of Kenya, the Kenya Human Rights Commission and the Mau Mau War Veterans Association have long been in favour of a settlement, and it is my hope that the agreement now reached will receive wide support, will help draw a line under these events, and will support reconciliation.
We continue to deny liability on behalf of the Government and British taxpayers today for the actions of the colonial administration in respect of the claims, and indeed the courts have made no finding of liability against the Government in this case.
We do not believe that claims relating to events that occurred overseas outside direct British jurisdiction more than fifty years ago can be resolved satisfactorily through the courts without the testimony of key witnesses that is no longer available. It is therefore right that the Government has defended the case to this point since 2009.
It is of course right that those who feel they have a case are free to bring it to the courts. However we will also continue to exercise our own right to defend claims brought against the Government. And we do not believe that this settlement establishes a precedent in relation to any other former British colonial administration.
The settlement I am announcing today is part of a process of reconciliation. In December this year, Kenya will mark its 50th anniversary of independence and the country’s future belongs to a post independence generation.
We do not want our current and future relations with Kenya to be overshadowed by the past. Today we are bound together by commercial, security and personal links that benefit both our countries. We are working together closely to build a more stable region. Bilateral trade between the UK and Kenya amounts to £1 billion each year, and around 200,000 Britons visit Kenya annually.
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.
I trust that this settlement will support that process. The ability to recognise error in the past but also to build the strongest possible foundation for cooperation and friendship in the future are both hallmarks of our democracy.
British Prime Minister David Cameron`s ancestors were among the wealthy families who received generous reparation payments that would be worth millions of pounds in today`s money with total payouts in the billions, documents reveal.
The true scale of Britain's involvement in the slave trade has been laid bare in documents revealing how the country's wealthiest families received the modern equivalent of billions of pounds in compensation after slavery was abolished.
The previously unseen records show exactly who received what in payouts from the Government when slave ownership was abolished by Britain – much to the potential embarrassment of their descendants. Dr Nick Draper from University College London, who has studied the compensation papers, says as many as one-fifth of wealthy Victorian Britons derived all or part of their fortunes from the slave economy.
As a result, there are now wealthy families all around the UK still indirectly enjoying the proceeds of slavery where it has been passed on to them. Dr Draper said: "There was a feeding frenzy around the compensation." A John Austin, for instance, owned 415 slaves, and got compensation of £20,511, a sum worth nearly £17m today. And there were many who received far more.
Academics from UCL, including Dr Draper, spent three years drawing together 46,000 records of compensation given to British slave-owners into an internet database to be launched for public use on Wednesday. But he emphasised that the claims set to be unveiled were not just from rich families but included many "very ordinary men and women" and covered the entire spectrum of society.
Dr Draper added that the database's findings may have implications for the "reparations debate". Barbados is currently leading the way in calling for reparations from former colonial powers for the injustices suffered by slaves and their families.
Among those revealed to have benefited from slavery are ancestors of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, former minister Douglas Hogg, authors Graham Greene and George Orwell, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the new chairman of the Arts Council, Peter Bazalgette. Other prominent names which feature in the records include scions of one of the nation's oldest banking families, the Barings, and the second Earl of Harewood, Henry Lascelles, an ancestor of the Queen's cousin. Some families used the money to invest in the railways and other aspects of the industrial revolution; others bought or maintained their country houses, and some used the money for philanthropy. George Orwell's great-grandfather, Charles Blair, received £4,442, equal to £3m today, for the 218 slaves he owned.
The British government paid out £20m to compensate some 3,000 families that owned slaves for the loss of their "property" when slave-ownership was abolished in Britain's colonies in 1833. This figure represented a staggering 40 per cent of the Treasury's annual spending budget and, in today's terms, calculated as wage values, equates to around £16.5bn.
A total of £10m went to slave-owning families in the Caribbean and Africa, while the other half went to absentee owners living in Britain. The biggest single payout went to James Blair (no relation to Orwell), an MP who had homes in Marylebone, central London, and Scotland. He was awarded £83,530, the equivalent of £65m today, for 1,598 slaves he owned on the plantation he had inherited in British Guyana.
But this amount was dwarfed by the amount paid to John Gladstone, the father of 19th-century prime minister William Gladstone. He received £106,769 (modern equivalent £83m) for the 2,508 slaves he owned across nine plantations. His son, who served as prime minister four times during his 60-year career, was heavily involved in his father's claim.
Mr Cameron, too, is revealed to have slave owners in his family background on his father's side. The compensation records show that General Sir James Duff, an army officer and MP for Banffshire in Scotland during the late 1700s, was Mr Cameron's first cousin six times removed. Sir James, who was the son of one of Mr Cameron's great-grand-uncle's, the second Earl of Fife, was awarded £4,101, equal to more than £3m today, to compensate him for the 202 slaves he forfeited on the Grange Sugar Estate in Jamaica.
Another illustrious political family that it appears still carries the name of a major slave owner is the Hogg dynasty, which includes the former cabinet minister Douglas Hogg. They are the descendants of Charles McGarel, a merchant who made a fortune from slave ownership. Between 1835 and 1837 he received £129,464, about £101m in today's terms, for the 2,489 slaves he owned. McGarel later went on to bring his younger brother-in-law Quintin Hogg into his hugely successful sugar firm, which still used indentured labour on plantations in British Guyana established under slavery. And it was Quintin's descendants that continued to keep the family name in the limelight, with both his son, Douglas McGarel Hogg, and his grandson, Quintin McGarel Hogg, becoming Lord Chancellor.
Dr Draper said: "Seeing the names of the slave-owners repeated in 20th‑century family naming practices is a very stark reminder about where those families saw their origins being from. In this case I'm thinking about the Hogg family. To have two Lord Chancellors in Britain in the 20th century bearing the name of a slave-owner from British Guiana, who went penniless to British Guyana, came back a very wealthy man and contributed to the formation of this political dynasty, which incorporated his name into their children in recognition – it seems to me to be an illuminating story and a potent example."
Mr Hogg refused to comment yesterday, saying he "didn't know anything about it". Mr Cameron declined to comment after a request was made to the No 10 press office.
Another demonstration of the extent to which slavery links stretch into modern Britain is Evelyn Bazalgette, the uncle of one of the giants of Victorian engineering, Sir Joseph Bazalgette and ancestor of Arts Council boss Sir Peter Bazalgette. He was paid £7,352 (£5.7m in today's money) for 420 slaves from two estates in Jamaica. Sir Peter said yesterday: "It had always been rumoured that his father had some interests in the Caribbean and I suspect Evelyn inherited that. So I heard rumours but this confirms it, and guess it's the sort of thing wealthy people on the make did in the 1800s. He could have put his money elsewhere but regrettably he put it in the Caribbean."
The TV chef Ainsley Harriott, who had slave-owners in his family on his grandfather's side, said yesterday he was shocked by the amount paid out by the government to the slave-owners. "You would think the government would have given at least some money to the freed slaves who need to find homes and start new lives," he said. "It seems a bit barbaric. It's like the rich protecting the rich."
The database is available from Wednesday at: ucl.ac.uk/lbs.
Slavery on an industrial scale was a major source of the wealth of the British empire, being the exploitation upon which the West Indies sugar trade and cotton crop in North America was based. Those who made money from it were not only the slave-owners, but also the investors in those who transported Africans to enslavement. In the century to 1810, British ships carried about three million to a life of forced labour.
Campaigning against slavery began in the late 18th century as revulsion against the trade spread. This led, first, to the abolition of the trade in slaves, which came into law in 1808, and then, some 26 years later, to the Act of Parliament that would emancipate slaves. This legislation made provision for the staggering levels of compensation for slave-owners, but gave the former slaves not a penny in reparation.
More than that, it said that only children under six would be immediately free; the rest being regarded as "apprentices" who would, in exchange for free board and lodging, have to work for their "owners" 40 and a half hours for nothing until 1840. Several large disturbances meant that the deadline was brought forward and so, in 1838, 700,000 slaves in the West Indies, 40,000 in South Africa and 20,000 in Mauritius were finally liberated.
Pambuzuka Editor's note: the above report from a British establishment paper downplays the real number of slaves transported to the Americas from Africa aboard ships where they were stacked like sardines. Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi was one of the African leaders campaigning for a $777 trillion compensation package to be paid by the Anglo-Americans for Africans in the diaspora whose ancestors were enslaved.