BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Programmes: Correspondent  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Correspondent Saturday, 9 November, 2002, 03:19 GMT
Kenya: White Terror
Kenyan demonstrators
Fifty years on, and Kenyan anger is boiling over
John McGhie

Kenyan Mau Mau veterans' groups are cataloguing a potentially damaging dossier on alleged human rights abuses in the 1950s.

This could lead to a huge legal action for compensation against the UK Government. BBC Two's Correspondent programme reveals some of the new evidence that lies behind the veterans' claims.

Suspects being checked for the mark of the Mau Mau
Suspects would be checked for the mark of the Mau Mau
The Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in the 1950s was a murky part of the British military's past.

The ruthless, clandestine Mau Mau movement found its roots in the Kenyan Kikuyu tribe.

Their aim was to win back their land and personal freedoms denied them by the British colonial power at the time.

Lawyers, working with Kenyan Mau Mau veterans' groups, have taken over 6,000 depositions alleging numerous major human rights abuses, including rape, torture, indiscriminate killing and theft of property.

Mwangi Kanyari
Mwangi Kanyari reflects the thousands now looking for justice
Mwangi Kanyari is one of the Mau Mau veterans - he feels bitterly aggrieved.

He gave six years of loyal service in the Kings African Rifles and was wounded in action.

After retiring from the regiment in 1946, he was left with nothing. It was then he joined the Mau Mau.

New evidence has been unearthed alleging British atrocities, on such a scale that it will require the rewriting of British imperial history.

Professor Caroline Elkins
Prof Caroline Elkins - the figure of 50,000 deaths is a conservative estimate
Professor Caroline Elkins of Harvard University has been investigating the claims.

She says that in excess of 50,000 people could have been killed by British security forces. A significantly higher figure than was previously admitted.

Human rights abused

The Correspondent programme reports a number of human rights abuses:

  • Horrific tortures and murders committed by white officials and local soldiers under their command
  • Castration and blinding for defying captors
  • Fatal whipping
  • Rape by British soldiers
There were also tales of daily killings at a British-run slave labour camp called Embakasi.

It was here that Mau Mau convicts were made to build the foundations for what is now Kenya's main airport.

These stories are typical of a widespread and systematic attack by British forces against the Kikuyu people who were sympathetic to the Mau Mau campaign.


The Correspondent programme has interviewed a former colonial official, Terence Gavaghan, living in London.

Terence Gavaghan
Terence Gavaghan denies allegations

He was ordered, at the time, to implement a system to unblock the Mwea camps of the 20,000 "hard-core" Mau Mau who refused to confess their oaths. This allowed for the open beating of detainees.

Secret documents obtained by Correspondent show that both the Colonial Administration and the British Government knew about - and sanctioned - the regime.

Mr Gavaghan categorically denies that he personally knocked anyone unconscious or saw anyone else being knocked out.

There is no suggestion that Mr Gavaghan is connected with any of the other alleged abuses.


John Nottingham was a district colonial officer during the time and has stayed on in Kenya after the emergency.

John Nottingham
John Nottingham is concerned that compensation is paid now
He said that compensation should be paid to victims now. They are mostly in their 80s and would soon die.

He told Correspondent: "What went on in the Kenya camps and villages was brutal, savage torture.

"It is time that the mockery of justice that was perpetrated in this country at that time, should be, must be righted.

"I feel ashamed to have come from a Britain that did what it did here."

The revelations go far beyond what was known at the time.

They go a long way to proving the suspicions of anti-colonial campaigners, like the late Labour MP, Baroness Barbara Castle, that there were massive abuses taking place.

She and others revealed several individual scandals by British security forces during the 1950s.

Despite this, the then Conservative Government, headed by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, consistently denied systematic abuse.

Past returns to haunt

But the legacy of this bloody struggle against large sections of the Kenyan people is returning with a vengeance.

Mau Mau veterans have now delivered the first part of their dossier cataloguing the abuses to the British High Commission in Nairobi.

The new evidence that Correspondent details in their programme "Kenya: White Terror" coincides with the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the state of emergency in Kenya.

Kenya: White Terror, Sunday 17 November 2002 on BBC Two at 1915 GMT

Reporter: John McGhie
Producer: Giselle Portenier
Editor: Karen O'Connor
Deputy Editor: David Belton
Online Producer: Andrew Jeffrey

Prof Caroline Elkins, Harvard University
"War crimes... were happening in Kenya"
Prof Caroline Elkins
"Conservatively, I would put that figure at somewhere around 50,000"
John Nottingham, former district colonial officer
"If we needed more force, more opression, then we had to bring in more troops"
John Nottingham
"I feel ashamed to come from a Britain that did what it did here"
Terence Gavaghan, former colonial official
"If somebody howls, then it has to be maybe 10 minutes of enforcement"
Terence Gavaghan
"I feel no guilt"
Kenya: White Terror

See also:

22 Mar 01 | Africa
20 Aug 99 | Africa
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Correspondent stories are at the foot of the page.

 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Correspondent stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |