King Charles, visiting Kenya, faces calls to answer for colonial abuses | ET REALITY


At 86, his gnarled hands clutching a walking stick as he wandered around his small plot of land in front of Mount Kenya, Joseph Macharia Mwangi bitterly recalled the years he had spent fighting British colonial rule in Kenya.

Seven decades ago, he had camped with the Mau Mau rebels on that mountain and in the forests, braving the freezing rain, the lions and the elephants. British troops shot him twice, he said, and he nearly died. And when colonial forces finally captured him, he said he was tortured and sentenced to two years of hard labor.

“The British forces were very hard on us. They were terrible,” said Mwangi, who served directly under the uprising’s historic leader, Dedan Kimathi. “Now we want an apology and money for what they did.”

Kenya’s shadowy colonial past loomed large as King Charles III officially began a four-day tour of the East African nation on Tuesday. It is his first state visit to any member of the Commonwealth group of nations since he became king last year, and his first to an African country.

Charles and Queen Camilla arrived in Kenya where many communities are still grappling with the pain and loss they or their families suffered during decades of British colonial rule, which lasted from 1895 to 1963. The king is under pressure from human rights groups , elders and activists for repair historical injusticesapologize and pay reparations to those who were tortured and expelled from their ancestral lands.

His family has a close association with Kenya. Her mother, Queen Elizabeth II, was visiting the Treetops game lodge in 1952 when she learned that her father had died and that she would succeed him as monarch. That year, Britain launched a bloody eight-year campaign to crush Kenya’s independence movement, led by Mau Mau rebels.

There are still around 400 British military personnel stationed in Kenya for training. King Charles is also being asked to address the abuses that some of those troops have been accused of committing over the years. The issue is so sensitive that Kenyan police on Monday blocked a news conference meant to raise awareness about the allegations.

The king faces a younger generation of Kenyans, some apathetic and others welcoming, but many of them disdain the monarchy after learning of its dark and cruel legacy. Many Kenyans have watched closely as other former British colonies, such as Barbados, have severed ties with the monarchy or are considering doing so, such as Jamaica.

Kenya is a republic and Charles has no official government role, but the country belongs to the Commonwealth, headed by Charles. The Commonwealth, comprising 56 nations on five continents, was born from the embers of the British Empire, hoping to promote shared values ​​of democracy, peace and economic cooperation.

Buckingham Palace has saying that the king will “recognize the most painful aspects” of the two countries’ history and “deepen his understanding of the wrongs suffered” during the intense counterinsurgency of 1952 to 1960. Charles told the Commonwealth meeting in Rwanda last year that “The time has come” to “find new ways to recognize our past.”

Britain has never directly apologized for its abuses in Kenya, but has expressed regret for them. After a lawsuit was filed, Britain paid a decade ago some 20 million pounds ($24.3 million) to more than 5,000 people who had suffered abuse during the Mau Mau uprising. Mr Mwangi was not among them.

“There is a lot of pain and harm that goes unacknowledged and refuses to be reckoned with,” said Aleya Kassam, a Kenyan writer and co-founder of LAM Sisterhood, which produces plays, podcasts and musicals about women, including those involved in Kenyan liberation movements.

“I felt angry when I found out about that dark history and how much of it is still present,” she said, adding: “I don’t think he should feel comfortable coming here at all.”

But for Charles, the trip is a chance to strengthen Britain’s relationship with Kenya, a key economic and military ally in a turbulent region.

He will attend a state banquet hosted by President William Ruto and visit a naval base in the coastal city of Mombasa. Charles, a lifelong environmental advocate, will visit Nairobi National Park and attend an event celebrating the life of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai in the Karura Forest, which she helped save from developers before die in 2011.

Wanjira Mathai, Ms Maathai’s daughter and environmental activist, said: “I have admired how she has leveraged her influence and support on sustainability and environmental issues for decades, and that needs to be recognised.”

Mathai said Charles and his mother had been close friends who spent hours speaking at conferences or drinking tea in his office about environmental sustainability and climate change. “So for him to come and honor his legacy is deeply personal,” said Mathai, who will meet the king on this visit.

On Tuesday, the king also visited a new museum dedicated to Kenya’s history on the site where the country was declared independent in 1963. There, he and Camilla, accompanied by Mr Ruto and first lady Rachel Ruto, walked through the Martyrs Tunnel. which commemorates the lives of Kenyans during the anti-colonial resistance struggle as well as the terrorist attacks of recent years.

They also saw exhibits documenting Britain’s colonial legacy, including the state of emergency period when the British government attempted to detain anyone suspected of belonging to or helping the Mau Mau.

Millions of people, mostly from the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest ethnic group, were detained during this period, forcibly transferred and held in detention camps or villages surrounded by barbed wire fences and trenches lined with sharp sticks. Many of them were tortured, raped, subjected to forced labor and left to die of disease and hunger.

The repression divided the Kikuyu. Those who collaborated with the colonial authorities gained access to large tracts of land from which they and their heirs continue to benefit today.

“There was a lot of agony in those villages,” said Jane Wangechi, 96, who acted as a spy and cook for the Mau Mau. Ms. Wangechi said her family was moved to detention villages for three years, during which, she said, she lost two uncles and a cousin.

The king also faces calls to account for other abuses and injustices, both old and new.

Across Kenya’s Rift Valley, elders of the Nandi ethnic group are calling on the British government to return the head of Koitalel Arap Samoei, a spiritual leader and anti-colonial fighter. Nandi elders say a British officer cut off his head in the late 19th century and sent it to England as a war trophy. The Nandi are part of the Kalenjin tribe to which Mr Ruto belongs.

Leaders of the Kipsigis ethnic group also say they want compensation for being forcibly removed from their fertile lands, which paved the way for the arrival of white settlers and the establishment of profitable tea and pineapple farms. This year, a BBC report on sexual abuse on tea farms owned by British companies caused resentment and tension over land in Kenya.

Charles’s visit is also resurfacing complaints about the conduct of British soldiers currently in Kenya.

The training unit has also been accused of sexually abuse womencausing a devastating fire and using harmful chemicals.

Additionally, a British soldier was suspected of the murder of Agnes Wanjiru, a sex worker, in 2012, but was never arrested or charged. An agreement between the two countries exempts British soldiers from prosecution. Some lawmakers want to change that. In August, the Kenyan Parliament launched a investigation into the activities of British soldiers.

“Agnes has never rested in peace,” Esther Muchiri, Wanjiru’s niece, said in an interview. “We are not asking for special treatment from the king. “We just want justice to be done.”

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