When the then-Princess Elizabeth visited Kenya in 1952, Kibore Cheruiyot Ngasura was among a group of young men chosen to sing for her at an event near Lake Victoria.
The men wanted to use the opportunity to ask Elizabeth to relocate her parents from an internment camp in the barren, mosquito-infested town of Gwassi, where members of the Talai clan were held for nearly two decades on suspicion of resistance to the British To foment colonial rule rule.
The event never happened. Before Elizabeth could reach Lake Victoria, she learned that her father, King George VI, had died. The new queen rushed back to London.
More than 70 years later, Elizabeth’s son, King Charles, will make a state visit to Kenya this week. And Ngasura, now around 100 years old, once again has a message for the royal visitor.
“I want to tell him that we should be compensated for the hardships we have endured,” Ngasura told Reuters outside his home, a small wood and iron structure on a grassy hill with two light bulbs and no running water.
Buckingham Palace said Charles’ visit, which begins on Tuesday, will recognize “painful aspects of Britain and Kenya’s shared history”. The British ruled for more than six decades before Kenya gained independence in 1963.
But for some communities in western Kenya’s fertile highlands, the injustices caused by British colonization are as much a present reality as they are historical memories.
A 2021 UN report said more than half a million Kenyans around the western city of Kericho suffered serious human rights abuses, including unlawful killings and land confiscation during British colonial rule.
The colonial administration took hundreds of square kilometers of land that communities in western Kenya had lived on for generations and handed it over to British settlers. Much of it has become tea plantations, which are now owned by multinational corporations, the UN report says.
“Most of them live below the poverty line,” said Joel Kimetto, a representative of the Kipsigis ethnic group, of which the Talai are one of 196 clans.
“Most of the vast fertile land was taken by the British and our people were driven into the native reserves where it is hilly, rocky, hilly and unproductive,” he said.
A spokesman for the British government’s Office of Foreign Affairs, Commonwealth and Development noted that the British government had previously expressed regret at abuses committed during an uprising against colonial rule in central Kenya between 1952 and 1960.
In 2013, an out-of-court settlement was agreed to pay almost £20 million to elderly Kenyans who suffered torture and abuse during what Kenyans called an “emergency” trial, after a London court ruled that the victims could sue.
“We believe that the most effective way for Britain to respond to the injustices of the past is to ensure that current and future generations learn the lessons of history and that we continue to work together to meet today’s challenges.” said the spokesman in response to questions from Reuters.
The spokesman did not address the allegations made by the Kipsigis and Talai, which are unrelated to the abuses during the emergency. Buckingham Palace did not respond to a request for comment.
“NO INTENTION” TO COMPENSATE
According to a palace statement, Charles will not travel to western Kenya during his visit, which will take him to the capital Nairobi and the eastern port city of Mombasa.
The British government has historically not been receptive to Kipsigis and Talai demands to discuss compensation. In 2019, it told communities it had “no intention to initiate a process” to resolve the claims, the UN report said.
Ngasura said he was about 12 years old – he doesn’t know his exact date of birth – in 1934 when the British rounded up about 700 Talais and forced them to march to Gwassi for weeks.
In 1945, after the young men’s protests, he and a few dozen others were relocated to an internment camp near Kericho, where they could find women from their community.
They were finally released in 1962, but the land where they once grazed livestock and collected honey now belonged to British settlers and tea companies.
Ngasura was able to scrape together the money to buy a small plot of land from a captain in the British army. Today he and his descendants who live there live on half a dozen cows and a few corn crops.
There is no comparison to what he knew as a child.
“We were able to take the cows anywhere. The country was huge,” he remembers. “This country is not big enough. Otherwise we would have kept a lot of cows and grown coffee.”
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