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The Gap between Recognition and the ‘Compensation Business’: The Claim against Britain for Compensation by Kenya’s Former Mau Mau Fighters

Discussion Papers

No.321

February 2012

ABSTRACT

During the first Kibaki administration (2002-2007), a movement by the former Mau Mau fighters demanded recognition for the role that they had played in the achievement of independence. They began to demand, also, monetary compensation for past injustices. Why had it taken over 40 years (from independence in 1963) for the former Mau Mau fighters to initiate this movement? What can be observed as the outcome of their movement? To answer these questions, three different historical currents need to be taken into account. These were, respectively, changing trends in the government of Kenya, progress in historical research into the actual circumstances of colonial control, and a realization, based on mounting experience, that launching a legal action against Britain could turn out to be a lucrative initiative. This paper concludes that, regardless of the actual purpose of the legal case, neither of their objectives was certain to be achieved. Two inescapable realities remain: the doubts cast on the reputation of the government by its decision to lift the Mau Mau‟s outlaw status – a decision that was widely seen as a latter-day example of the „Kikuyu favouritism‟ policy followed by the first Kibaki administration – and the popular interpretation of the involvement of Leigh Day, well known in Kenya ever since the unexploded bombs case for its success in obtaining substantial compensation payments, as a vehicle for squeezing large amounts of money from the British government for the benefit of the Kikuyu people.

Keywords: Kenya; ethnicity; Kibaki; colonization; Kikuyu; compensation; Mau Mau

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