Colonial War Crimes in Kenya…

When I heard the title of the PSU’s Friends of History lecture I was slightly amused. After Dr. Elavie Ndrua’s talk on A Nonviolent Response to Genocide, and other current situations we are dealing with today, the “war crimes” of the colonial past seemed more like a footnote.

I almost went into shock as Caroline Elkins spoke of the atrocities that happened in Kenya in the 1950’s, and of the ensuing silence only recently broken about this. This was not the “crimes” of the Mau Mau, who killed 32 white settlers, but proto-genocide response of ethnic cleansing of the Kikuyu by the British, killing possibly 150,000, and interning 1.5 million. This was not set in the 19th century, but right in the middle of the 20th century, by the British, no less, who had just “freed the world for democracy” in World War II.

After the talk the thank-you by a young Kenyan woman to Elkins pointed out the currency of this issue. She thanked Elkins for helping fill in the gaps of her family’s immediate history, something her family never spoke of.
To Elkins’ (additional) credit, her talk also focused on steps that should be made to resolve this situtation for the Kikuyu people.

Elkins has written a book, “Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya” (Jan 2005) that her talk was based on. While this is a history book, the story it traces is not finished, but is just entering the international arena and consciousness today. Elkins also explores conflict resolution and the requirements for reconciliation in African communities. I can strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in peace today.

– Josh Eddings