Africa, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS-KENYA: Former Freedom Fighters to Sue Britain for Compensation

Joyce Mulama

NAIROBI, Sep 17 2003 (IPS) - Forty-nine years after the death of his wife, General Kibira Gatu is still a bitter man, thanks to the atrocities committed during the British colonial era.

Now aged 68, Gatu, a former guerrilla in Kenya’s Mau Mau movement, was fighting to free his country from the yoke of colonialism when British soldiers abducted his wife in 1954. “They took my wife away and killed her, separating her from our one-year-old son,” he told IPS this week.

“As if that was not enough, they also abducted my mother, who was looking after the boy, and took her to a detention camp that same year. The child was taken by my sister, and still the colonial soldiers abducted her,” Gatu narrated, shaking his head bitterly.

This is just some of the bitterness harboured by freedom fighters who sought to pursue Kenya’s independence through Mau Mau movement, whose 52-year-old ban was lifted by the new government of President Mwai Kibaki.

One of the first things Kibaki, who was elected in Dec. 2002, did was to lift the ban imposed by the British regime, but which was upheld by black KANU government (1963-2002), to contain Mau Mau.

A gazette notice, revoking the ban, was signed by Kenya’s national security minister, Chris Murungaru, on Aug. 30.

“This is a very good move by the government of the day. We have waited for so long and revocation of the ban means a lot to us,” remarked 70-year-old Wamuti Muhungi, former freedom fighter.

“This means that at long last, our role as freedom fighters has finally been recognised by the government after five decades of being shunned,” said Major Muiruri Njuguna, national coordinator of unregistered Mau Mau War Veterans Association of Kenya.

Rights activists have accused previous governments of neglecting the war veterans, most of who have been living in desperate conditions. Many have died in absolute poverty.

Lifting the ban means the freedom fighters can now register their movement and operate freely without fear of harassment.

The move has also paved way for the war veterans, who have already applied for registration of their association, to sue the British government for human rights abuses.

Their lawyer, the Kenya Human Rights Commission, and British-based solicitor Martin Day, are jointly finalising details for filing a reparations suit against Britain which ruled Kenya until independence in 1963.

“We are filing a case against British government for torture, rape and general cases amounting to crimes against humanity,” lawyer Paul Muite told IPS in an interview.

They are optimistic that the British government will succumb to the demands because there is tremendous proof of human rights abuses.

“The evidence is overwhelming and it will be immoral for the British government to sit back and do nothing about it,” observed Muite, who is also a legislator in Kenya’s parliament.

Termed as “terrorists” by the colonial government, the freedom fighters were hunted down and slain in cold blood. Tales of murder, rape and looting of property were the order of the day.

At least 11,000 freedom fighters were killed by the British government during the clampdown on Mau Mau.

More than 20,000 were detained in camps, where they were pushed into abandoning nationalist goals. Mau Mau’s top man, Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi, was hanged in 1957.

Rights activists have described the term “terrorist” as misplaced and abusive, maintaining that the fighters were pursuing independence and self-determination.

“There is absolutely no connection between international terrorists and freedom fighters. The latter had every right to fight against colonial domination,” said Muite.

They assert that the term “terrorists” was propaganda by British government to demonise the freedom fighters, most of who are now in their 70s.

This is the third time Kenya is seeking reparation from British government for rights abuses.

Last year, 233 claimants from northern Kenya were awarded 4.5 million pounds (6.75 million U.S. dollars) in compensation for injuries they sustained from British army explosives left behind on training grounds in their region.

This year, about 650 women from the same region have sued the British government for rape and subsequent impregnation, resulting into mixed race children who have been shunned by the community.

Their lawyer, Day, is seeking up to 30,000 U.S. dollars for each proven case of rape.

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