In a personal letter to Mr Cameron, obtained by The Daily Telegraph, Raila Odinga throws his weight behind the “petitions that continue to be made” by victims of Britain’s suppression of the Mau Mau uprising between 1952 and 1960.
Three Kenyans are suing the Foreign Office for compensation for torture they suffered at the hands of British colonial officials. Last month, the High Court ruled that the case could proceed to full trial, although the Government has appealed.
Mr Odinga’s highly unusual intervention will increase the pressure on William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, to reach an out-of-court settlement.
“The Kenyan government is ready to cooperate with your government in reaching a permanent solution to this matter and in resolving these questions that have become a stain in our long and strong relationship,” writes Mr Odinga, who became Kenya’s prime minister in 2008.
In the letter, dated Oct 9, Mr Odinga notes that Britain has been a “vocal advocate of respect of human rights in Kenya”, adding: “The people of Kenya would like to see a similar approach by your government towards accusations of torture against its own officials.”
Mr Odinga urges the British Government to “acknowledge the truth about the conduct of some of its colonial officers and to take responsibility for any harm that was caused”.
Paul Mwangi, the Kenyan prime minister’s legal adviser, confirmed a letter had been sent to Downing Street. He stressed that Mr Odinga was not “finding fault” with the present British Government, but simply wanted Mr Cameron to act out of “humanitarian concern”.
Lawyers representing the Foreign Office have accepted that the three Kenyans were tortured during the “Civil Emergency” in the British colony. Jane Muthoni Mara, 73, suffered sexual torture; Paulo Muoka Nzili, 85, was castrated; while Wambugu wa Nyingi, 84, was beaten and whipped.
A Foreign Office spokesman acknowledged the “pain and grievance felt by those on all sides”, but added: “There are important legal issues at stake and that is why we continue to defend the case. In particular, we do not accept that the present British government is liable for those terrible acts. And we do not believe it is possible to have a fair trial more than 50 years after these events.”
As for an out-of-court settlement, the spokesman declined to comment, but said: “We are committed to resolving this litigation in the best interest of all concerned.”
The Mau Mau uprising was the bloodiest chapter of Britain’s retreat from Empire in Africa, claiming about 25,000 lives, according to David Anderson, professor of African politics at Oxford University and author of “Histories of the Hanged”, a study of the revolt.
The fact that the colonial administration used torture was beyond question, added Prof Anderson, and the “attempts of various people in Britain to minimise this is laughable”.
Prof Anderson warned that if the compensation case goes to trial, “you’re going to get two full weeks every day of detailed descriptions of tortures carried out by British officials”.
But the Mau Mau also carried out atrocities, notably the Lari massacre of 1953 when about 120 African “loyalists”, who sided with the British, were hacked or burned to death. Instead of being a simple anti-colonial rebellion, the insurgency was also a brutal civil war within the Kikuyu tribe.
During the entire uprising, the Mau Mau killed only 32 white settlers – and perhaps 5,000 Africans. Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of independent Kenya, publicly called them “scum”.
Prof Anderson described the Mau Mau as a “disorganised, shabby movement that didn’t have any national base and failed to unite people and, I argue, created a sort of civil war”.