This article was printed in the Times of Oman. Britain's colonial past is finally coming home to haunt them.
Time for Britain to Rue its Colonial Past
by Debasish Mitra
May 21, 2013
Noted international affairs expert and author, Finian Cunningham, is seemingly apprehensive. He fears that Britain may soon have to rue its colonial past and sing an anthem with 'chest thumping and moist eyes.' "Rue Britannia, Britannia rues the waves." Earlier this month, The Guardian reported that the British government is negotiating payments to thousands of Kenyans who were detained and severely mistreated during the 1950's Mau Mau insurgency in what would be the first compensation settlement resulting from official crimes committed under imperial rule.
At least 50,000 Kenyan nationals were tortured and were inhumanly treated to crush the Kenyan independence struggle. Thousands were killed and many went missing. The suppression of the Kenyan independence has been one of the bloodiest perpetrated ever by the colonial powers of yesterday. It was brutal. Britain said 10,000 were killed and executed, but the real figures were said to be double. Britain, who is now like a poodle of the United States, lectures the world on human rights; upholds humanitarian intervention in Syria ostensibly to save human lives, but has been denying its brutality and crimes against humanity it perpetrated in Kenya.
In a landmark judgement the British High Court on October 5 last year espoused an appeal of the Mau Mau veterans "allowing them to proceed with compensation claims against the British government" which "would be the first compensation settlement resulting from official crimes committed under imperial rule."
"Discovery of a vast archive of colonial-era documents which the British Foreign Office had kept hidden for decades shed new and stark light on the dying days of British imperialism, not only in Kenya but around the empire" sealed Britain's fate in the legal wrangling against the Kenyans.
An already bankrupt Britain may have to cough up tens of millions of pounds as compensation to the Kenyans as there are at least 10,000 Mau Mau veterans who survived the hell are still alive and have claimed compensation. For cash-starved England the torment doesn't end here. In fact, Britain's defeat in the legal battle against Mau Mau veterans may open the floodgate of demands for compensation from around the world where the Britons once ruled with cynical apathy for the locals.
In fact, the country may have to put itself on auction to settle compensation demands if former colonies including Cyprus, India, Yemen, Swaziland, British Guiana, British Somaliland, Myanmar, Ghana, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, and Zimbabwe too decide to follow the Kenyan suit. Britain would have to hypothecate itself to India if this former colony seeks compensation for the crimes Britannia committed. They have been endless and spine chilling. From creation of starvation, massacres, mass imprisonment, pillaging national wealth and destruction of farming and textile livelihoods to give British exporters a competitive advantage the list is too long.
But it isn't only a question of money and the amount of expenditure Britain would have to incur if it has to compensate for its imperial crimes. The UK High Court ruling has exposed the country's moral duplicity. It has long been demanding that "imperial Japan and Nazi Germany must pay out compensation to victims of their conquests."
We are not dismissing Britain's demand but are asking it a simple question. If Britain can demand compensation from Japan and Germany why wouldn't it pay compensation to its colonial subjects? Isn't the decree of the British House of Lords arrogant? It has declared, "No cases for compensation stemming from before 1954 can be brought to an English court."
Today, Britain sounds appallingly hypocritical when it talks about humanitarianism, pontificates on the rules of Bashar Al Assad and in Iran. In fact, it reserves no right to preach the world on "national obligations".
The barbarity it had exposed time and again in each and every colony it lorded over has no parallel in the history of our civilization. With the full range of its crimes on display today, Britain, on the contrary should be hanging its head in shame and undergo a period of repentance seeking clemency from all its colonial subjects. Silence should have been its only language.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is determined to give Sri Lanka a lesson or two on human rights when he would be attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting later this year. The meeting is scheduled in November and in Colombo. It is a noble intention indeed which is sure to dig open the buried bones of past. The obnoxious face of imperialism which virtually till yesterday claimed that sun never set on its empire may get smeared all over again if Cameron is asked about suspected British complicity in the murder of General Aung San.
Prescient were the words of Nobel winning poet Rabindranath Tagore. In his widely acclaimed anti-imperialistic poem Africa the poet had written:
O umbrageous one
Beneath veil of darkness
Unknown was your humanity
In perverted eyes of contempt
They came with iron chains
Claws sharper than your wolves'
Came hordes of man-hunters
In pride, blinder than your sun bereft woods
Barbaric greed of civilization
Stood denuded in unashamed cruelty
It is time for the British government "Say two words 'Forgive me' / Let those be the ultimate sacred words of civilization".