Jul 3, 2015

Mau Mau

This is the story of a few documents that tumbled out of the secret archives of the biggest empire the world has ever known, offering a glimpse of histories waiting to be rewritten.

Just down the road from a pub in rural Hanslope Park, England is a massive building — the secret archives of the biggest empire the world has ever known. This is the story of a few documents that tumbled out and offered a glimpse of histories waiting to be rewritten.

When professor Caroline Elkins came across a stray document left by the British colonial government in Nairobi, Kenya, she opened the door to a new reckoning with the history of one of Britain's colonial crown jewels, and the fearsome group of rebels known as the Mau Mau. We talk to historians, archivists, journalists and send our producer Jamie York to visit the Mau Mau. As the new history of Kenya is concealed and revealed, document by document, we wonder what else lies in wait among the miles of records hidden away in Hanslope Park.

Produced by Matt Kielty with reporting from Jamie York

Special thanks to:

Mattathias Schwartz for first bringing us this story. Martin Mavenjina and Faith Alubbe of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission

Nyakinyua Kenda for the use of their music, Rose Mutiso and Anne Moko for translation help, and Sruthi Pinnamaneni for production support.

 
Correction: An earlier version of this episode contained two errors, which we have corrected. 

The first was our mention of Israel as a former British colony where official documents were purged. In fact, Israel was a successor to the British mandated territory of Palestine, which we also listed, and so we removed the redundancy. 

The second was that we qualified our statement about Kikuyu support for the Mau Mau. Some listeners misinterpreted our claim that support for the Mau Mau cut across all demographics among the Kikuyu to mean that all Kikuyu supported the Mau Mau, which is untrue. We tempered the language in that spot.

 

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Speaker 3:

Wait, wait, you're listening.

 

Speaker 4:

Okay.

 

Speaker 3:

All right.

 

Speaker 4:

Okay.

 

Speaker 3:

All right.

 

Speaker 4:

You're listening to Radiolab.

 

Speaker 3:

From WNYC.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is Radiolab. Today we're going to start off with a building.

 

Robert:

Not just any building, but a building that is heavy with secrets.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And it's a building we first really learned about, or at least got a picture of, from this woman.

 

Katie:

Katie Englehart. I'm a reporter at Vice News in London.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And Katie, like all of us now at Radiolab is-

 

Katie:

Obsessed. Devastatingly obsessed.

 

Jad Abumrad:

With this place called Hanslope Park.

 

Katie:

So Hanslope Park is this huge, sprawling complex in Buckinghamshire, near a town called Milton Keynes.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Which, isn't too far from London and our producer, Jamie York, happened to be in London on vacation. So we asked him, well why don't you just grab your tape recorder and go down there.

 

Jamie York:

Yeah, let's do this.

 

Robert:

Check it out.

 

Katie:

So, it's a bit of a drive from London.

 

Jad Abumrad:

About an hour and a half on the M1, M2.

 

Katie:

You approach this sort of beautiful town with adorable little posh cottages and little pubs.

 

Jamie York:

I'm not form around here. I'm looking for Hanslope Park.

 

Katie:

I mean, it's your sort of typical, ye olde British village.

 

Newscaster:

It won't shake the guard dogs. Very secure place.

 

Jad Abumrad:

About a four minute drive past that Ye Olde town, you go through some fields, crest over a hill, and... There it is. This massive, massive building surrounded by razor wire.

 

Jamie York:

Let's see what's going on here.

 

Katie:

So the archives are held in a purpose built building from the nineties.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And these are archives, by the way, from the largest empire ever known.

 

Katie:

It's like if you were creating a movie set for like a secretive government compound where they keep secret files, you would literally just make this.

 

Robert:

Jamie parked a quarter mile away, and walked up to the gate.

 

Jamie York:

There's a big, it looks like electrified fence.

 

Robert:

Through the gate.

 

Jamie York:

Taller than me.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And past these traffic spikes.

 

Robert:

And just as he barely stepped inside.

 

Speaker 10:

Are you in a car?

 

Jamie York:

I am.

 

Speaker 10:

Just come back to your car. I'm not comfortable with any of this activity you're doing.

 

Jad Abumrad:

A guard grabs him, takes him to a guardhouse.

 

Speaker 11:

Well can I just ask what that is?

 

Jamie York:

It's a microphone.

 

Speaker 11:

Could you just disconnect it while you're in here though, please?

 

Robert:

And then...

 

Speaker 10:

Where is your vehicle?

 

Jamie York:

Oh, it's down...

 

Speaker 10:

Right. Okay.

 

Robert:

They walk him...

 

Jamie York:

Are you going to escort me all the way back to my car?

 

Robert:

The entire quarter mile back to his car.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now, we've heard it said that the files in that building, if they were ever released, could rewrite 200 years of history. No idea if that's true.

 

Katie:

We just don't know.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But we're starting to know.

 

Robert:

And today we're going to focus on the one story that has so far, anyway, tumbled out. Kind of by accident.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And it's a story... That we find kind of startling. And we should also warn that there's some stuff coming up that is graphic and disturbing. So if you're listening with kids, you might want to skip this one. Though if you're not listening with kids, don't skip it. Don't skip it. Okay.

 

Speaker 12:

Our story is of Kenya.

 

David Anderson:

Kenya was always seen-

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is Historian David Anderson.

 

David Anderson:

In a kind of sepia-tinted haze.

 

Speaker 12:

Many years ago came white men of adventure, pioneers who found the country beautiful, the climate kind, and the soil fertile.

 

David Anderson:

Bougainvillea, sunshine, smiling, happy servants.

 

Jad Abumrad:

David says that in the 1910s, 20s, 30s, the British public was obsessed with Kenya. You had books, eventually-

 

David Anderson:

Television programs.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It was one of crown jewels of the empire. And so you had all of these Brits leaving Britain and going to Kenya to start a new life.

 

David Anderson:

And many of the settlers who flocked out to Kenya were lower-middle classes who could have a much better salary and a much better living standard in Kenya than they ever could back at home.

 

Speaker 12:

They stayed and founded the young colony, where men make their homes, where their children are born, taught, and grow strong and healthy.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now, it probably goes without saying that this new life of the British citizen came at the expense of the Kenyan who was already living there.

 

Caroline:

Two problems that were always encountered in Africa, and in general with colonization is the issue of land, and the issue of labor.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's Harvard historian Caroline Elkins. She'll play a big role in our story.

 

Caroline:

So in Kenya they solved the land problem by simply alienating it and giving it to the white farmers. It then becomes the labor problem. How do you force Africans to labor cheaply on plantations? Right? Like in this case tea and coffee. Well, the way you do it is you create what are called "native reserves." We had them here for Native Americans.

 

Jad Abumrad:

She basically says that the native Kenyans were forced off their land into slums, where they could barely eke out a living. And so the only option they had was to work for the white people. And that's how it went-

 

Caroline:

For decades.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Until...

 

Caroline:

The second world War.

 

Newscaster:

Acts of aggression has started. War clouds gather.

 

Jad Abumrad:

1939.

 

Caroline:

Suddenly, thousands and thousands of men-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Young Kenyan men, are forced into war.

 

Newscaster:

The people of Africa are doing excellent work to help the allied cause.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Many get thrown into the British army.

 

Caroline:

King's African rivals.

 

Newscaster:

Among the finest troupes in the empire.

 

Caroline:

Where they came into contact with ideas of independence. And they anticipated when they returned-

 

Newscaster:

Today is victory in Europe day.

 

Caroline:

That they would have access to land, that their conditions would be getting better. But, nope. They find their condition has not only not gotten better, it's gotten worse.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And so, after the war, a few of these vets from the largest ethnic group in Kenya...

 

Caroline:

Called the Kikuyu.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They get to together.

 

Caroline:

And they decide to take and oath. Now, oathing is traditional amongst the Kikuyu. So, for example, men a hundred years ago or more would take an oath pledging allegiance to their ethnic group as they went to war with somebody else. In this case, they'd take an oath, pledging themselves to kick all Europeans out of the colony. And then the oath was [inaudible 00:07:13] designed pledge to kick all Europeans out of the colony, out of Kenya. And if I don't, may this oath kill me. I pledge to take up arms against the Europeans. If I don't, may this oath kill me.

 

Caroline:

Now, of course, the last thing that was said was always was if I reveal the contents of this oath, may this oath kill me.

 

Jad Abumrad:

She says the first thing they did was attack the settlers livestock.

 

Caroline:

Doing things like hamstringing cattle.

 

Robert:

Hamstringing cattle?

 

Caroline:

Cut their hamstrings.

 

Robert:

Oh, cut their hamstrings.

 

Caroline:

So they can't walk.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They started destroying property. Their oaths started to involve things like-

 

Caroline:

Goat eyeballs, ram scrotums, intestines, blood, things that absolutely repulse the local European settlers and put terror into them.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And why do they end up calling themselves the Mau Mau?

 

Caroline:

Ah, it's a good question. It's the etymology of that is much debated, with nobody quite agreeing on how it came to pass. But Mau Mau is, many think, is a Swahili derivative of sort of more and more. That there was... Some say it has to do with Europeans, and I don't believe this one, overhearing what was the Mau Mau oath.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Whatever was the case, in 1952, the colonial government, which was sort of the British arm in Kenya, they declare a state of emergency.

 

Caroline:

And those pledging allegiance to the Mau Mau.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They escalate.

 

Caroline:

They start going after the loyalists.

 

Jad Abumrad:

The Kenyans who'd been helping the settlers.

 

Newscaster:

Savagely attacking the defenseless.

 

Robert:

Shooting them or-

 

Caroline:

Oh yeah. They murdered them.

 

Jad Abumrad:

One assassination after the next.

 

Newscaster:

Men and women with their bodies carved forever.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They raid loyalist villages...

 

Newscaster:

With clubs, knives, and fire.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And the British?

 

Caroline:

They're terrified.

 

Newscaster:

Troops are in the streets of Nairobi.

 

Caroline:

This is the night of long knives, coming into reality. And it's only about to get worse.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And that happens on the night of January 24th, 1953.

 

Caroline:

Which was the murder of the Ruck family. The Rucks were these very young, lovely couple.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Roger Ruck was a farmer. Esme Ruck was a doctor who actually administered to the local population. And they had a little boy named Michael, who was six.

 

Caroline:

Just that day, the little boy had fallen off his pony, and one of their trusted servants carried him back up to the house.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Later that night a group of Mau Mau crept out of the forest, lured Roger and Esme Ruck out of the house, killed them. And then the whole gang, including that same servant that had helped the boy, they march into the house, go up to the little boy's room, and they hack him to death.

 

Caroline:

And there's a very famous photo of the young boy's bed. Absolutely bloodied, which is in every major newspaper.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And almost overnight, Mau Mau becomes synonymous with pure evil.

 

Nasser's Mother:

In our mind, in children's mind, Mau Mau were bigger than life, darkest dark people that you ever saw. Men, men men.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And actually as we were reporting this story, one of our reporters, Latif Nasser, told us about how his mom grew up next door to Kenya in what is now called Tanzania. And to her and her friends, the Mau Mau were like,

 

Nasser's Mother:

Like a monster to children.

 

Jad Abumrad:

The bogeyman.

 

Nasser's Mother:

That was sort of a threat, all the time. Our mothers especially would refer to, if you don't drink your milk or if you don't sleep, Mau Mau [foreign language 00:10:28]. The Mau Mau will come and get you.

 

Latif Nasser:

And how scared were you?

 

Nasser's Mother:

You know what? Just the word Mau Mau would make us run, crawl under the bed.

 

Robert:

I'm old enough to be one of the people who thought there were communists-

 

Caroline:

That were going to come get you in the middle of the night.

 

Robert:

Yes, they were like ISIS or some weird, sort of self organizing terrorist group.

 

Caroline:

Yes, the most bestial, horrible, awful, savage movement that had ever hit the face of the British Empire.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay, so here's where we get to the part of the story that is in deep flux. After the murder of the Ruck family, the settlers demanded that the colonial government do something. And they did. They pursued the Mau Mau fighters, it's supposedly small band of fighters, into the forest. There were skirmished that lasted for years. Story goes, the Mau Mau movement never quite gained traction, and ultimately the British quelled the rebellion. They handled it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now, as for how they handled it, for the longest times people would look back, it was this giant blank spot. No one quite knew what happened. And here's why: According to David Anderson, by the time the British finally decide to leave Kenya. This is 1963.

 

David Anderson:

By that time, Kenya is around the 20th different colony that Britain will leave. So it's about halfway down the list. So, there's already in place a process.

 

Newscaster:

At the Uhuru stadium, the articles of Independence were handed by the Duke to the country's prime minister.

 

Jad Abumrad:

There's a formal exchange of powers. They set off fireworks and then...

 

Newscaster:

At midnight, the Union Jack was lowered for the last time.

 

Jad Abumrad:

The Brits roll out.

 

David Anderson:

In other words, they run a smooth and colorful and happy exit.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And at some point in that well worn exit process, either right before the exit or right afterwards, there was, as David calls it...

 

David Anderson:

The weeding of documents.

 

Katie:

I mean, the British government conducted very, very sophisticated purge operations in all of its former colonies.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's Katie Englehart again. She says, everywhere you look: Uganda, Palestine, Rhodesia, Zanzibar, Nigeria, Jordan, Malaya, Hong Kong...

 

Katie:

There are stories of papers being kind of tightly packed into boxes and dropped at sea. A lot of papers were burned.

 

David Anderson:

There's a joke among Indian historians. On the day that India achieved its Independence, when the celebrations were taking place in Delhi, you could hardly see what was going on on the podium because the waft of smoke blowing across from the bonfires of burning documents.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All of which is to say, that it was assumed for 30 years that that blank spot of the Mau Mau emergency would just stay blank and the story of the evil Mau Mau would just continue, because there were no documents to say otherwise.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But then, we get to Caroline Elkins.

 

Robert:

How did you... Like, once upon a time you were a curious, young grad student or something? Not-

 

Caroline:

Yeah, more or less. In fact, we even have to go back further. I'm dating myself at age 45, but I have to go back to my undergraduate years. Talking 1990. And I was at Princeton, and you do senior theses there. And Princeton was ahead of its time. And I got lots of funding and I went off to London and Kenya.

 

Robert:

How old are you when you're taking this trip?

 

Caroline:

Oh, I'm 20.

 

Robert:

So, Caroline is working in Nairobi...

 

Caroline:

And I'm doing research. At the time, my senior thesis was looking at the Kikuyu, which is the largest ethnic group in Kenya. And, I was looking primarily at the shifting roles of women and the ways in which they were impacted by colonialism.

 

Robert:

So, Caroline would wake up every morning and would walk to this old colonial building, right in the middle of Nairobi city center.

 

Caroline:

Called the National Archives. It's loud, it's dusty... You know, sometimes you had to jump under the desk for several hours because there was a shootout across the street.

 

Robert:

You're kidding! Really?

 

Caroline:

Yeah. That was quite a Saturday. Long story short-

 

Robert:

So one day, she was at the archives flipping through some files when-

 

Caroline:

I came across some files on detention camp. Kamiti detention camp.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Is it Kamiti? Kamiti you say?

 

Caroline:

Kamiti. K-A-M, as in Mary-I-T-I.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And this was in Nairobi?

 

Caroline:

Just outside Nairobi. And I said, gosh, you know, I know nothing about this.

 

Robert:

So, she calls over the archivist.

 

Caroline:

Guy named Evanson. And I said, "Evanson, you've got anything else like this?" He said, "Yeah, let me take a look." And then Evanson starts bringing me some other files, also related to Kamiti. Very bureaucratic files.

 

Robert:

These pages were filled with details, numbers of prisoners. A lot of them were women.

 

Caroline:

Well, over a thousand. Because they would mention a hundred of this, and a couple hundred of that. And at that point, I thought, what's going on? So-

 

Jad Abumrad:

A short time later she gets back to Princeton.

 

Caroline:

And being the good little undergraduate history major that I was, I searched high and low about detention camps in Kenya.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Nothing much.

 

Caroline:

Yeah.

 

Robert:

No mention of this center anywhere?

 

Caroline:

There's nobody who had done a systematic study of it. And, that's what I was after.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So without anything else to go on, Caroline just started driving upcountry, as they say.

 

Caroline:

In the middle of nowhere Kenya.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All these tiny little villages in the Central Province.

 

Caroline:

Really, if you wanted to find middle of nowhere on the map, I was in it. I would just show up at somebody's little [shamba 00:15:46] or farm one day and... [foreign language 00:15:52] Next thing you know, I'm conducting an interview.

 

Caroline:

Can you ask her while working about how many people?

 

Jad Abumrad:

These are tapes she recorded on a few of her trips. She would speak to people through her research assistant, [Terry Wyremu 00:16:03].

 

Caroline:

Some of these interviews would go on for hours. Then one interview begets the next. Every time you finish an interview, you say do you have somebody else I could talk to? And they say, oh yeah, I've got my friend who lives three ridges up and four hills over.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So she would talk to that person. And then the person they referred to. And then the person they referred to. And this was what she did for like five years.

 

Caroline:

I went and interviewed several hundred villagers.

 

Robert:

And what exactly are they telling you?

 

Caroline:

Stories you can't imagine.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What those stories were, and what those stories have begun to unravel, is up next.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert:

And I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is Radiolab. Before we get to the stories that Caroline was referring to, we should say that as we were sort of reporting this story, we really kind of fell in deep. To the point where Jamie York, who had already gone to London to get hassled by those guards at Hanslope Park, he then decided to spend part of his vacation in Kenya, basically following in Caroline Elkins footsteps. And that's when he stumbled into something kind of surprising.

 

Jamie York:

So I got picked up early one morning in Nairobi, and driven about three hours into the countryside. And after what felt like five right turns, 37 lefts, we finally wind up in this completely rural place. It really does feel like the middle of nowhere.

 

Jad Abumrad:

With like a little village or something?

 

Jamie York:

Yup, a little cluster of houses and rolling hills in a county called Nyeri. Got my stuff, got out of the car. Followed Terri, who had arranged the trip.

 

Terri:

My name is Terri [Erimu-Echoke 00:21:04]. I am 41 years old.

 

Jamie York:

This is the same Terri who translated for Caroline Elkins many years ago. Anyhow, passed a few kids. And Terri walks me into this little clay hut. There's a table in the center of the room. There's a handful of plastic chairs around it. And eventually, people start showing up.

 

Jamie York:

I'm good, how are you?

 

Jamie York:

Women, nine women, who are all in the their late-80s early-90s. Make introductions, and honestly, I'm a little bit disappointed, because the Mau Mau I thought were just men, fighters. And seeing these women, I thought, oh no. I realized most of the men have died of old age.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh, so you thought you weren't going to meet anybody?

 

Jamie York:

Exactly. But I thought, okay, I'll just ask.

 

Jamie York:

How many of the women, like show of hands...

 

Jamie York:

How many of you identified as Mau Mau? Instantaneously, everyone put their hand up.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All nine people?

 

Jamie York:

Yeah. And then started to sort of chuckle.

 

Terri:

They find it funny that we're asking them, because it's obvious they were supporting Mau Mau.

 

Jamie York:

They were like, of course we were supporting the Mau Mau. We were the Mau Mau. Like that was everybody.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh, interesting. So it wasn't just like a small band of militants.

 

Jamie York:

There wasn't a small band of militants. Amongst the Kikuyu, it was almost everyone.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is one of the first things that caught Caroline Elkins attention. Made her really question that official narrative. Because when she was doing interviews 15 years ago, she says everyone she spoke to-

 

Caroline:

Everyone, to a person, and we're talking hundreds of interviews, started with I took the oath on such and such a date. Very interesting.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Seemed to her what you had here was not a small insurrection. This was a mass movement. And she would discover that the British response to it was also massive.

 

Jad Abumrad:

1953, shortly after the murder of the Ruck family, the white settlers marched, demanded that the colonial government do something. And so what happened is that the colonial soldiers...

 

Terri:

They came to the village.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They started going to villages across Kenya.

 

Caroline:

They rounded everybody up.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Slaughtered their cattle, slaughtered their goats.

 

Caroline:

Burned down their homesteads.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And but them into these prison villages.

 

Caroline:

Some 800 barbed wire villages throughout Central Province Kenya.

 

Terri:

[foreign language 00:23:41] The village was like a concentration camp.

 

David Anderson:

The thing to grasp here is that this is very carefully designed and very practical.

 

Jad Abumrad:

David says that there was a very carefully planned system at work. The barbed wire villages were primarily for women and children. Men were usually sent to these detention camps which were basically prisons. The logic of those camps was actually thought up by a group of British academics who met in 1953, sort of an emergency meeting to discuss the "Mau Mau problem." And they decided at that meeting that clearly, the real reason the Mau Mau are rebelling-

 

David Anderson:

Is that they were captured by some kind of mental illness.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It had nothing to do with the fact that their land had been taken away from them. No, it was that they were temporarily crazy and the committee decided it must have something to do with those oaths.

 

David Anderson:

Oaths were seen by the British as a primitive way of capturing a Kikuyu mind. And making the person unreasonable and insensible. The only way, they argued, you could get rid of the oath was to convert the person back to sanity. Part of that involved a confession of what they'd done. Once confessions were made, they would then be rewarded by a better prison regime. They'd be moved into another compound, given privileges, given better food. You moved along the system. They called a pipeline. You moved along the pipeline until you were released.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But you first had to confess.

 

Gitu:

To confess?

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is [Gitu Wak Hungari 00:25:11]

 

Gitu:

Freedom fighter. I joined the Mau Mau freedom struggle when I was 17 years of age.

 

Jad Abumrad:

He quickly became an organizer, recruiter, and therefore a target.

 

Gitu:

They had to search for me. And they caught me. They put me into a detention camp. They want us to say loudly that we forsake the Mau Mau struggle. But we refused. We refused.

 

Jad Abumrad:

In fact, one man told us the story of how in one of the barbed wire villages, every once in a while...

 

Terri:

The Mau Mau would come to the edge of the forest.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Just outside the village's fence. These were the fighters who hadn't been captured yet. They'd come right to the edge of the camp where a lot of the children would be playing.

 

Terri:

And because no grownup would suspect children of [inaudible 00:26:06] anything about what was happening that country, the people in the village used to use the children to take messages to the people, the fighters in the forest.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's how they passed food and information to the fighters. And in a way kept things going. That point is, according to David, that inside the camps you had-

 

David Anderson:

Massive resistance.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And so in many cases the British colonial soldiers would double down. Warning, the following is pretty graphic. There's a BBC documentary called "White Terror" that has tons of these frighteningly common stories of abuse from detainees.

 

BBC narrator:

He told me how naked, tied by his feet to the bars, he was brutally beaten on the testicle with a stick.

 

Jad Abumrad:

One of them is a man giving a tour of the prison cell he was kept in.

 

BBC narrator:

Then they seared his eyes with hot coals. They kept him there for eight days.

 

Jad Abumrad:

There's another day of these three men who were made to strip naked.

 

BBC narrator:

One of the men was made to put his head into a bucket of water. Then the white officer held one of the prisoner's legs aloft, while a guard held the other. And another guard brought some sand, which they started to push into the detainee's anus with a stick. They kept on doing this, alternatively putting in sand and water, all the while pushing the mixture in with the stick. That act still gives me nightmares to this day. Because that was something that should never be done to a human being.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And that period-

 

David Anderson:

Of coercive violence...

 

Jad Abumrad:

It lasted throughout the 1950s.

 

David Anderson:

Now, the Mau Mau were bad guys.

 

Caroline:

Listen, there's nothing to excuse this kind of terrorism,

 

David Anderson:

But, the Kenyan campaign was a sledge hammer used to crack a nut.

 

Robert:

There have been a lot of different estimates to try and pin down the scale of the British campaign. They range from 160,000 people killed, maimed, tortured, detained, to much, much higher numbers. Caroline Elkins did her own calculations, and according to her...

 

Caroline:

By the time it was done, nearly the entire Kikuyu population of a million and a half people were detained, tortured, murdered, systematized force labor. And you have to look at scale and if you weigh the balance sheet of this, is how many Europeans died. 32.

 

Jad Abumrad:

  1. Huh.

 

Robert:

Like why isn't this a tail that everybody in the world knows. In the event, say, of the enslavement of the Hebrew people under the Pharaoh, they were slaves in Egypt. The Pharaoh wouldn't let them out. Moses had to cross the... It becomes the national story of the Hebrew people. In this situation, you have General Kenyatta, I believe is a Kikuyu, becoming the first president. Why wouldn't he make this the national story?

 

Caroline:

Well, Kenyatta comes out of detention, and one of the first things he does is he denounces Mau Mau as being hooligans. This same organization that accelerated independence in Kenya.

 

Jad Abumrad:

She says the same movement that scared the British scared him. He didn't want them suddenly organizing and taking his power.

 

Caroline:

So, for decades, from 1948 until 2002, the ban on Mau Mau that had been put in place by the British colonial government remained in place.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Meaning it was illegal to even talk about it. But eventually in 2005, Caroline publishes her book, "Imperial Reckoning" which included the hundreds of interviews and painted a picture of just this systemic violence. The book was well received, but she says that a lot of critics told her, nice story but-

 

Caroline:

No. This is an act of fiction.

 

Robert:

An act of fiction?

 

Caroline:

I made it up.

 

Robert:

But you had all these interviews.

 

Caroline:

Right. But one of the lines of critique was that it's all based upon oral testimony. Oral testimonies aren't usable. There's no story here.

 

Jad Abumrad:

She says a lot of that was just blatant racism.

 

Caroline:

You know, Africans make up stories.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But buried in there is sort of a legitimate concern. I mean, memory is faulty. We know that oral histories are notoriously unreliable. If you're going to rewrite an entire history, you need to get beyond personal anecdote. You need-

 

David Anderson:

Documents. That illustrate and prove it beyond doubt.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And as we mentioned, beyond those few that she found, the documents didn't seem to exist. Nonetheless, fast forward. 2009.

 

Caroline:

That book,

 

Jad Abumrad:

Caroline's "Imperial Reckoning,"

 

Caroline:

Became the basis of a very large lawsuit.

 

Newscaster:

These Kenyan independent veterans-

 

Jad Abumrad:

In June of 2009, five Mau Mau veterans representing over 5,000 Mau Mau flew to London-

 

Newscaster:

The seat of an empire they say is responsible for torturing them-

 

Jad Abumrad:

And filed a lawsuit against the British government.

 

Caroline:

The first time the British government had ever been sued by a former colonized population.

 

Newscaster:

The Mau Mau veterans want an apology and some form of recompense for what happened.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Are you at all nervous going into the court?

 

Martin Day:

I think the word nervous is not the word I would have used. I told my partners to write off the case. I was not at all convinced that we were going to go anywhere but down.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's Martin Day. He represented the Mau Mau veterans in court. And the reason he was so sure that the case was going to go down in flames was, well, same issue.

 

Martin Day:

You just didn't have the documents.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All they had were stories, that weren't exactly rock solid.

 

Martin Day:

It was a nightmare. Old Kenyans in their late 70s and 80s. First of all, most Africans in my experience find dates extremely difficult. But people in their 70s and 80s are almost impossible?

 

Jad Abumrad:

And this was actually a huge problem, because in the British system if you're going to bring forward an old case, like one that's more than 6 years old,

 

Martin Day:

The key question to the judge is can you still get a fair trial.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And the government could plausibly argue, no. Too much time has passed.

 

Martin Day:

We really worried that the judge would say, well look, there can't be a fair trial because actually these witnesses are so old, so up and down just in terms of their memories, that really their evidence isn't worth a great deal.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, to recap.

 

Martin Day:

I wasn't really optimistic.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But then, it's kind of a last ditch effort, he contacted historian David Anderson-

 

David Anderson:

To act as an expert witness.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Because David had written a book about African history that was chocked full of legal documents.

 

David Anderson:

And they approached me to ask whether there was material in the legal cases I dealt with, that might be useful to them.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And that's when he told him something that would ultimately lead all of us back to that scary building of secrets. He told them, for the past 20 years, he has had this hunch.

 

David Anderson:

Well, long before the Mau Mau trial came to court, I and a number of other historians believed that documents had been brought back from Kenya to Britain.

 

Jad Abumrad:

David says that in that same Nairobi archive where Caroline Elkins had found the document about detention and thought,

 

Caroline:

Gosh, you know, what's going on?

 

Jad Abumrad:

In that same place, somebody else had found another document that had also fallen through the cracks. And this one was a simple packing slip.

 

David Anderson:

Listing of documents for transportation. All of their packing up and removal.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now as for where those documents were moved to, no one knew.

 

David Anderson:

No.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Maybe to an incinerator or bottom of the ocean.

 

David Anderson:

But, from 1997, '98, '99-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Like a starving man with a single Pringle, David kept on.

 

David Anderson:

And I eventually got documents from the National Archives in Britain that confirmed-

 

Jad Abumrad:

The stuff from Kenya actually landed in an airport in Britain.

 

David Anderson:

On the eve of independence. I then was able to find out who took them, which van they went in. I even got the car's registration number. But-

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's when the trail went cold. They filed document request after document request.

 

David Anderson:

And we get nowhere.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Then, something totally unexpected happens.

 

David Anderson:

Two historians working on Southern Africa actually got access to Hanslope Park.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They got inside. One of them was a former colonial administrator, so he could work some connections to get his way in. Anyhow, afterwards, he sends David Anderson a text message,

 

David Anderson:

Telling me that in Hanslope Park he'd seen miles of miles of shelving of documents from other colonies, including Kenya.

 

Robert:

Was that a figure of speech miles or was that literal?

 

David Anderson:

I think he meant it literally.

 

Robert:

Really?

 

David Anderson:

He's seen a vast hangar, as he described it, with row up on row up on row of documents.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, when Martin Day, the lawyer, contacted David Anderson and asked him, "Can you help us with our case?" David said, "Here's what I can do. I can't actually give you any documents because I don't have any, but I can outline the documents that I think might be out there."

 

David Anderson:

The documents I believed the British government were hiding away.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, he wrote a witness report for the judge, summarizing everything he knew.

 

David Anderson:

Giving all the details I had. I didn't mention Hanslope park. I didn't say where I thought they were. I just said I knew they'd come into Britain, and I wanted to know what happened.

 

Jad Abumrad:

The judge read that report and then basically asked the government, do you have him or not?

 

David Anderson:

Look, if you can't answer this question, you'll be held in contempt of court. In other words, I will interpret this as you withholding information. And that basically means you lose the case. That decision was the turning point.

 

Newscaster:

Half a century on from Britain's withdrawal from Kenya, documents detailing the alleged brutality employed by the British colonial authorities have finally been released.

 

David Anderson:

And suddenly, having spent years denying these documents existed, within four days they found them.

 

Newscaster:

Kenyans were waiting in Nairobi today for the news from London.

 

Newscaster:

Well, you can see the reaction of these people here. They've won an important battle here today.

 

Katie:

I mean, we're talking something like 300 boxes of files. Tons of missing documents. 15,000 papers relevant to the case.

 

Robert:

This again is Katie Englehart of Vice News. She reported on the trial and the extensive number of files that the government produced.

 

Katie:

100 linear feet, I think those files held. And they contained really, really damning evidence of Britain's conduct in Kenya.

 

Robert:

The files made it clear that the central government in London did know what was happening in Kenya. There was specific documentation of rounding up of Mau Mau fighters. There was even a memo about a Kenyan being roasted alive.

 

Katie:

And there was this pleading letter written by detainees that had been smuggled out of a camp. And it, hurry, hurry, hurry, in order to save our souls. Absolutely damning evidence.

 

Robert:

The government ultimately agreed to pay about 20 million pounds to the people who brought this lawsuit, which works out to roughly 4600 dollars each.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yes, here's what I don't understand. Why would they even save those documents?

 

David Anderson:

Well, looking through the collects that have now emerged, it's quite clear to me that they wanted to save documents that showed that not all the European staff in Kenya had been happy about compulsive force.

 

Katie:

There's a letter written in 1953 by the colony's attorney general. He observed that detention facilities in Kenya were, "Distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia."

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh, so you think that people... some of the British officers in Kenya saved the files precisely because they were damning?

 

David Anderson:

Yes, they saved stuff that would demonstrate that we didn't like this.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Whatever the reason, here's why the Mau Mau case has become so much bigger than just the Mau Mau case. As soon as journalists and historians learned about the existence of those files, they started to relentlessly poke and request more documents. And soon, those 1500...

 

Katie:

Very soon, that became 8,800 files. And then 20,000 files. And then 1.2 million files. And at the time, the estimate was that the files occupied about 15 miles of floor to ceiling shelving.

 

Robert:

What?

 

Katie:

15 miles.

 

David Anderson:

The process that has been invoked by the Mau Mau case is going to have even wider repercussions than people yet realize.

 

Jad Abumrad:

We got a little... Just a little waft of that when we were talking with a woman named Mandy Banton.

 

Mandy Banton:

Senior research fellow at London University.

 

Jad Abumrad:

She used to work at the National Archives in London. And we called her just to help us parse all this stuff. And at one point I asked her, is this just a Kenya thing? And she said,

 

Mandy Banton:

Oh no, no, no, it's not. By any means.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And then she explained that after the Mau Mau case, the Foreign Commonwealth office, which is the technical name for the place that was holding those documents...

 

Mandy Banton:

Almost immediately afterwards, it admitted that it actually had documents from 37 former colonies.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Whoa.

 

Mandy Banton:

Yes, exactly.

 

Robert:

You mean that there could be dirty stuff from Malaysia, dirty stuff from Palestine, dirty stuff from-

 

Mandy Banton:

Cyprus, you know, the obvious sort of trouble spots, if you like.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I mean, this is like a rewriting of history, essentially is what could happen?

 

Mandy Banton:

Well, it is a rewriting of history. And I mean, there are now quite a lot of people looking at these comparatively newly released records.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now, both David and Katie cautioned us that the new stuff, when it comes out, might not be quite as revelatory as all those Mau Mau files.

 

Katie:

Well, I think there are nuggets. And I think... I think historians will find them.

 

Jad Abumrad:

For David Anderson, one of those nuggets might be the documents about the Cold War.

 

David Anderson:

Those could be historically really very, very important.

 

Jad Abumrad:

For Caroline Elkins,

 

Caroline:

Israel and Palestine, and Malaya and Singapore.

 

Katie:

And I want to know what's in those Hong Kong files.

 

Jad Abumrad:

There's over 250,000 documents on Hong Kong, just Hong Kong. Which sort of brings us to the situation that we're in now.

 

David Anderson:

Just the most ridiculous, ridiculous, stupid situation imaginable.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Which is that, for the moment, the British government's policy-

 

David Anderson:

Is that all documents must be reviewed and redacted before release.

 

Katie:

So, each file needs to be looked over by what's called a Senior Sensitivity Reviewer. Although colloquially it's just weeders. It's basically retired, senior diplomats. So if you can imagine, you've got 15 miles of papers and you've got literally a couple of dozen retired diplomats.

 

David Anderson:

And they sit in an office literally turning pages, trying to stay awake.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Sitting here I just imagine like take a little sip of tea, and redact. All day long. Sip, redact. Sip, redact.

 

Katie:

And at the rate that we're going-

 

Jad Abumrad:

By the time these files finally see the light of day,

 

Katie:

It will not be within my lifetime. It could literally be hundreds of years.

 

Jamie York:

I keep thinking about these two groups of elderly folks.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Again, producer Jamie York.

 

Jamie York:

The litigants in the Mau Mau case are in their 80s and 90s. It just strikes me that what a crazy, lucky break for them that in the very final years they're alive that they've survived to hear this apology from the British government and acknowledgement of the story they've been telling for 50 years.

 

David Anderson:

Well, I [crosstalk 00:41:25]

 

Jamie York:

I suspect others won't be so lucky?

 

Martin Day:

Think you for putting it that way, because I am having got to know the plaintiffs in the case when they came to London, it was very clear to me that what mattered to these people was not a financial settlement, at all. But rather, acknowledgement. Just simple acknowledgement that these things had been done to them. So, on the day that the barrister for the crown stood up in court, and to all of our astonishment said quite simply, the British government admits the tortures. Once I gathered my wits and looked round behind me in the court, two of the plaintiffs were in tears. And it brought home to me what a traumatic, appalling experience this had been for them. From start to finish. So yes, I agree, for them to get that triumph was remarkable. Remarkable.

 

Robert:

But, says our producer Jamie York, it was really remarkable only for some people.

 

Jamie York:

So when I went to Kenya and I was talking to these people who had lived through the emergency, I wanted to know about what they thought of the settlement. And a lot of them were like, what settlement?

 

Terri:

They had rumors about the government of Britain having agreeing to apologies.

 

Jamie York:

Some of them had heard about it. Some of them hadn't. But it doesn't really matter to them, because the people who got paid, that's just a tiny sliver of the vast majority of people who suffered.

 

Jamie York:

What this one guy told me is that what he and most people, what they want, need, isn't so much an acknowledgment, it's to get back what was taken from them.

 

Terri:

Pieces of land, a place where on can keep some goats or cows.

 

Jamie York:

So that he can do what any 80, 90 year old wants to do, leave something behind.

 

Terri:

To give their children and blood children a better life.

 

Robert:

Special thanks to [Metathias Schwartz 00:44:54] for first bringing us this story, and to Martin [Lavengina 00:44:57] and to Faith [Alube 00:44:59] of the Kenyan Human Right Commission.

 

Jad Abumrad:

[inaudible 00:45:02] for the use of their music. And Sruthi Pinnamaneni for production support. This story was produced by Matthew Kielty. Original music from Matthew Kielty. A hell of a lot of travel and reporting support from Jamie York. I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Thanks for listening.

 

Michael:

Hey, this is Michael. I'm calling from Culver City, California. Radiolab is produced by Jad Abumrad. Our staff includes Brenna Pharell, Eldon Horn, David Gebel, Dylan Keefe, Matt Kielty, Andy Mills, Latif Nasser, Kelsey Padgit, Arianne Wack, Molly Webster, Soren Wheeler, and Jamie York. With help from Damiano Marchetti, Molly Jacobson, and Alexandra Lee Young. Our fact checkers are Eva Dasher and Michelle Harris.

 

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