Criticism has been directed towards King Charles for his statement of “greatest sorrow and deepest regret” regarding the colonial abuses carried out by British troops in Kenya, with some considering it a failure to adequately address the issue in the east African nation.
Responses to the king’s announcement received a variety of reactions. President William Ruto tactfully praised Charles for his bravery and willingness to address difficult realities that are present in our collective history. However, he also condemned Britain’s brutal and oppressive actions against Kenya’s fight for independence as monstrous and cruel.
Ruto stated that there is still much work to be done in order to fully achieve reparations. He took a conciliatory approach by emphasizing the importance of learning from history to improve relations between the two nations.
The first time King Charles has visited a Commonwealth country since becoming the king has resulted in a demand for the UK to apologize and provide reparations for the atrocities committed during colonialism.
Organizations focused on human rights and experts in history expressed disappointment with the king’s careful selection of language, calling for the two nations to move beyond empty statements.
Ernest Cornel, a member of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), referred to this as a “failure”. The commission had urged King Charles to confront the lasting consequences of colonialism, such as the loss of land.
UN experts report that approximately 500,000 individuals from the Kipsigis and Talai communities were forcibly removed from their native lands during colonial times. These lands were then given to British settlers and transformed into large tea plantations owned by the British. As a result, many generations of the displaced Kipsigis and Talai communities still struggle with poverty today.
In 2019, the British government stated that it did not plan to engage in any proceedings to resolve the communities’ grievances. A lawsuit challenging the seizure of land is currently being heard by the European Court of Human Rights.
Online discussions have brought attention back to colonial atrocities, as activists share memories of the painful events during the fight for independence from 1952 to 1960. One activist shared a memory of Mau Mau suspects being subjected to degrading acts, such as being forced to consume feces and urine. Another recalled the mistreatment of Kenyan women, who were raped and subjected to humiliation through the insertion of items like bottles and hot eggs into their vaginas.
“If you’ve watched those [colonial] documentaries, your blood boils,” said Wanjira Wanjiru of the Kenya Social Justice Centres, a community mobilising group. “For us, he is the representation of when our ancestors experienced that shame and humiliation in their own land, so for him not to say ‘I apologise’, it pains me.”
The older citizens of Kenya and advocacy organizations have requested that King Charles disclose the burial sites of those who fought for freedom, such as Dedan Kimathi, and give back the head of Koitalel Arap Samoei, a leader of the Nandi people who fought against colonialism and whose head was taken to the UK as a war trophy.
According to researchers, the king’s expression of “regret” and “sorrow” holds little weight as previous and ongoing violations of rights have not been addressed.
According to historian Suhayl Omar, the apology being made is not taking into account the full context of the colonial era. He believes that the statement is using the colonial experience for its own benefit and does not truly address the lasting effects of colonialism.
The response of the Kenyan people to the king’s visit has been a combination of positive and negative. Some have urged the UK to address human rights concerns, while others have shown little interest or have been fascinated by more casual moments, such as the king’s use of Swahili and Sheng greetings at the formal dinner.
The youth had varying opinions on the relationship between two parties.
John Karanja, a 23-year-old university student in Nairobi, stated that we do not have to erase history completely, but we can move on from it.
Some argue that there are still ongoing atrocities, pointing to recent accusations of human rights abuses by British military units training in Kenya, such as killings, sexual assault, and harm to the environment. The KHRC reported that planned protests regarding these allegations were prohibited this week.
Wanjiru stated that there is an ongoing unequal partnership between the UK and Kenya and as young individuals, they desire for these concerns to be acknowledged and resolved.
The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) is requesting evaluations to be conducted on violations of human rights committed by the British military and multinational corporations in Kenya. Additionally, they are urging the UK to take responsibility and provide reparations for past colonial atrocities.