The statement from King Charles, expressing “greatest sorrow and deepest regret” for the colonial atrocities carried out by British forces in Kenya, has been condemned as a failure in the eyes of the people in East Africa.
Reactions to the king’s statement were mixed, with the president, William Ruto, diplomatically welcoming Charles’s “courage and readiness to shed light on uncomfortable truths that reside in the darker regions of our shared experience”, but calling Britain’s colonial suppression of Kenya’s freedom movement “monstrous in its cruelty”.
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 countries.
The initial trip by King Charles to a Commonwealth nation since taking the throne has triggered unprecedented demands for the UK to provide a clear apology and make amends for past colonial wrongdoings.
Organizations advocating for human rights and experts in history expressed their disappointment with the king’s deliberate language and called for the two nations to go beyond empty statements.
Ernest Cornel, of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), stated that this was a mistake. The commission had urged King Charles to confront the ongoing impacts of colonialism, such as the loss of land.
UN experts report that during colonial rule, approximately 500,000 individuals from the Kipsigis and Talai communities in Kenya were forcefully removed from their native lands. These lands were then allocated to British settlers and transformed into large tea plantations. Presently, descendants of the displaced Kipsigis and Talai communities still endure impoverished living conditions.
In 2019, the UK government stated that they have no plans to participate in resolving the claims made by communities. There is currently a legal case challenging the taking of land that is being brought before the European Court of Human Rights.
Recent online discussions have brought attention to colonial atrocities, as activists remember traumatic events from the country’s struggle for independence in the late 1950s. One activist shared that Mau Mau suspects were subjected to degrading treatment, including being forced to consume feces and urine. Additionally, Kenyan women were victims of sexual violence, with reports of objects being inserted into their vaginas as a form of humiliation.
“If you have seen those documentaries about colonialism, it can cause strong anger,” expressed Wanjira Wanjiru, who works for the Kenya Social Justice Centres, a community organization. “To us, this individual symbolizes the shame and humiliation our ancestors faced in their own land. It is painful for him to not apologize.”
The older generation of Kenyans and advocacy organizations have called for King Charles to disclose the burial sites of those who fought for freedom, such as Dedan Kimathi, and to return the skull of Koitalel Arap Samoei. He was a leader of the Nandi people who fought against colonialism and his head was taken to the UK as a war trophy.
According to researchers, the king’s expression of “regret” and “sorrow” holds no meaning as previous and current instances of rights violations have not been addressed.
According to Suhayl Omar, a historian specializing in the colonial era, the apology being made is not taking into account the larger context. He believes that the statement is using the colonial experience for its own benefit and only making surface-level amends, without acknowledging the lasting effects of colonialism.
The response from the Kenyan public towards the king’s visit has been varied. Some have urged the UK to address human rights concerns, while others have shown apathy or found interest in lighter moments, such as the king’s use of Swahili and Sheng greetings during the formal dinner.
The youth shared varying opinions on the relationship between two parties.
John Karanja, a 23-year-old university student in Nairobi, stated that we should not forget history but we can move forward from it.
Some people claim that there are still ongoing acts of violence, pointing to more recent accusations of human rights abuses by British military units conducting training in Kenya. These alleged violations include murder, sexual abuse, and harm to the environment. The KHRC reported that demonstrations regarding these allegations were prevented this week.
Wanjiru expressed that there is an ongoing unequal relationship between the UK and Kenya. She stated that as young individuals, they hope for these concerns to be acknowledged and resolved.
The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) has requested evaluations of violations of human rights committed by the British military and multinational corporations in Kenya. It has also urged the United Kingdom to provide reparations for acts of colonial violence.