The assassination of Agnes Wanjiru, allegedly by a British soldier, in 2012 is back in the news. The body of the 21-year-old sex worker and mother of one was found dumped in a septic tank two months after she disappeared after a night out with a group of soldiers in the central Kenyan town of Nanyuki, where the British army has a permanent garrison. By that time, the soldiers had already left the country and her family’s efforts to ensure justice were frustrated by both the Kenyan and British authorities.
Reports in the British press indicating that a British soldier confessed to killing Wanjiru and showed comrades where he dumped her body, as well as the revelation of social media posts where the soldiers laughed for the murder, have a re-investigation by Kenyan police with promises of British co-operation.
While the new inquiry is welcome, it should be emphasized that the prospects for justice are not as clear as one might suspect. Kenya has a terrible record of justice to foreigners who commit abuses against its own citizens. For many, this case will be reminiscent of the similar case in August 1980 when 19-year-old Frank Sundstrom, a sailor from the U.S. Navy, admitted that he paid 29-year-old Monica Njeri, a mother of two daughters, what he was paying. it, killed it. $ 23 for sex while on shore at the coastal town of Mombasa. Sundstrom pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was released on a $ 70, two-year “good behavior” bond and was immediately returned to the US. Three years later, the US government would agree to an out-of-court settlement with Njeri’s family of nearly $ 17,000.
At the time of the assassination, 17 years after independence, Kenya’s judiciary was still dominated by the British and the case was prosecuted by Nicholas Harwood and heard by Judge LG Harris, both Britons, who conspired to reduce the charge of murder, which a mandatory death sentence, to manslaughter on the false basis that Sundstrom pleaded guilty to.
The case caused a firestorm in Parliament where MPs believed the US had overturned the Kenyan judiciary to free Sundstrom. In an ominous forerunner of things to come, then-Attorney General James Karugu shocked lawmakers by declaring himself “legally impotent” to appeal against the verdict. The statement was made by current Kenyan Defense Minister Eugene Wamalwa, who told a parliamentary committee this week that Kenya essentially needed British permission to prosecute crimes committed by British troops on its own territory. “The defense co-operation agreement that our jurisdiction gives to deal with [the murder of Wanjiru]”Has expired,” he said on Tuesday.
The Kenyan government’s insensitivity and reluctance in dealing with crimes against Kenyans is a reflection of both its own commission of similar crimes against them and of its colonial roots. The report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated abuses committed against Kenyans between 1963 and 2008, concluded that governments were guilty of gross human rights violations before and after independence, of which few were prosecuted. President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose government tampered with the report to remove mention of his father’s abuse and theft as Kenya’s first post-independence ruler and then did his best to bury it, continued in the same vein as his predecessors . In 2017, he praised the police for actions taken during that year’s general election, in which they killed dozens of opposition supporters and even stoned the motorcade of then-opposition leader and current Kenyatta ally Raila Odinga.
The attempt to disguise the Wanjiru case by both the Kenyan and British governments is also a powerful reminder that no British settlers, officials, troops or police officers have ever been held accountable for the brutal killing and torture of thousands, and the imprisonment of up to 1.5 million people in concentration camps, during the 7-year state of emergency declared in 1952 at the height of the Mau Mau rebellion against colonial rule. In fact, for more than half a century, the British government has stolen, destroyed and concealed any documents which, as reported by the Guardian, ” embarrassing [the British government] or other government ‘or cause problems for any colonial policeman, civil servant or member of the armed forces ”. It was only with the filing of a case by victims of the atrocities, and by the work of Dr Caroline Elkins, author of The British Gulag, that the British government would acknowledge the existence of a hidden archive of embarrassing documents. contains which contains the abuse. Nearly a decade later, however, not a single offender has been charged. As Elkins wrote, “there would be no prosecution against former loyalists and certainly not against any of the British officers or settlers, many of whom continued to lead a very privileged life in Kenya”.
In his book, Mau Mau: An African Crucible, Robert E Edgerton describes first-hand stories of the horrific crimes committed by British settlers during the emergency, with many reflecting the attitudes towards African lives displayed by contemporary British soldiers. He quotes a settler who mocked those who were “too ‘chicken-hearted’ ‘to deal with the Mau Mau because they called’ halt ‘before shooting at a suspect. “We just take out our stone guns and cattle-cattle-cattle, cattle-cattle-cattle, we let the bloody vermin get it.” He added approvingly that a friend of his had killed 26 suspicious men on his farm in one night “. In another icy cruel episode, he records an Australian’s memory of the murder of two children by British settlers:
“We are with two of [a settler named] Bill’s friends in another Land Rover and just at dawn we saw two Africans crossing the road ahead. Bill fired a shot over their bow and they raised their hands. I tried to tell Bill that those guys, barely more than boys they were, did not look to me like Mickeys (Mau Mau), but he says, ‘They are Kukes and that’s enough for me’. Well, he snatches them up, but they say they do not know where the gang Mickeys went, so he gets a rope and ties one to the rear bumper of his Land Rover to his ankles. He drives away, not too fast, you know, and the poor black jerk tries to stop plowing the road with his nose. The other cobbers laugh and say, ‘put it in high gear Bill’ and such, but Bill climbs out and says, ‘Last chance, Nugu (baboon), where’s that gang?’ The African boy keeps saying he’s not Mau Mau, but Bill takes off like hell from a bat. When he returned, the negro was little more than pulp. He did not have any face left at all. So Bill and his friends tie the other one to the buffer and ask him the same question. He begs them to let him go but old Bill picks up again and after a while he comes back with another dead Mickey. They left the two of them just in the road ”.
Caroline Elkins’ book contains even more graphic descriptions of the willful and heinous violence and torture to which Kenyans have been subjected within the Pipeline, the network of camps set up by the British to “sift through” Mau Mau suspects. In an era when Germany is prosecuting a 100-year-old former concentration camp guard for aid in the murder of 3,518 prisoners during World War II, it is impeccable that the people who committed similar horrific crimes in Kenya, both Kenyans and Britons, continue. to enjoy a comfortable retirement, undisturbed by concerns about impending justice.
While the British government promises to help with the punishment of Wanjiru’s killer (and his friends), we must not forget that there are many, many more bodies waiting to be discovered in the septic tank that is British colonial history. not. There are many more families who deny justice to the British government, with Kenyan conspiracy. One way to start addressing this is to repatriate the entire stolen archive to Kenya – and to digitize and publish it online – so that local researchers and ordinary Kenyans have access to it. Then serious efforts must be made to find and punish the still living architects and perpetrators of crimes and to provide adequate compensation to all victims and their families.
By 2020, Germany had paid nearly $ 92 billion in damages to Jewish and non-Jewish victims of its World War II crimes. To this day, the country continues to pay grants to survivors, and last year agreed to provide nearly $ 700 million to help 240,000 Holocaust survivors struggling under the burdens of the coronavirus pandemic. By comparison, the British agreement to compensate 5,000 victims of his torture camps at a rate of $ 4,000 per victim, without first offering an apology, a travesty and talk of racism and power imbalance that continued around Africa to devalue their lives and suffering. And not a penny was paid to the vast majority of the tens of millions who terrorized and brutalized it around the world under his Empire.
At the COP26 global climate talks in Glasgow, where delegates from the global south are once again reduced to an appeal to the rich nations of the world who continue to benefit from their suffering, Kenya’s Elizabeth Wathuti, in her speech to the gathering potentate, noted that such appeals have limited utility if the shared humanity is not accepted. “My story will only move you if you can open your hearts. I can encourage you to act at the pace and scale required, but in the end, your desire to act must come from deep inside. ” Similarly, Wanjiru and other Kenyan victims are unlikely to see justice unless the British and Kenyan governments can recognize their humanity. Only with that will there come an appreciation for the extent of the injustices they are committing, and an accompanying “pace and scale” of response.