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Dispossessed Kenyans demand compensation ahead of King Charles’ visit

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 planned to use the occasion to petition Elizabeth to relocate their parents from a detention camp in the barren, mosquito-infested town of Gwassi, where members of the Talai clan had been held for nearly two decades on suspicion of fomenting resistance to British colonial rule.

The event never happened. Before Elizabeth could make it to Lake Victoria, word came that her father, King George VI, had died. The new queen hurried back to London.

More than 70 years later, Elizabeth’s son, King Charles, will visit Kenya this week on a state visit. And Ngasura, now about 100 years old, again has a message for the royal visitor.

“I wish to inform him that we should be compensated for the hardship that we went through,” Ngasura told Reuters outside his house, a small wooden and iron structure on a grassy hill with two lightbulbs and no running water.

Buckingham Palace has said Charles’ visit, which begins on Tuesday, will acknowledge “painful aspects of the UK and Kenya’s shared history”. The British ruled for more than six decades before Kenya won its independence in 1963.

But for some communities in western Kenya’s fertile highlands, the injustices caused by British colonisation are as much present-day realities as historical memories.

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A U.N. report in 2021 said more than half a million Kenyans around the western town of Kericho suffered gross human rights violations including unlawful killings and land expropriation during British colonial rule.

The colonial administration took hundreds of square kilometres of land that communities in western Kenya had lived on for generations and handed it to British settlers. Much of it became tea plantations that today belong to multinational companies, the U.N. report said.

“Our people, most of them, are living below the poverty level,” said Joel Kimetto, a representative of the Kipsigis ethnic group, of which the Talai are one of 196 clans.

Kibore Cheruiyot Ngasura, 105, a member of the Talai community, which accuses the British colonial government of displacing them from their farms, sits outside his house ahead of Britain’s King Charles’ and Queen Camilla’s visit to Kenya, in Tugunon village of Kericho County, Kenya October 25, 2023. REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi

“The majority of the vast fertile lands were taken by the British and our people were chased away to the native reserves where it is hilly, rocky, slopey and unproductive,” he said.

A spokesperson for the British government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office noted that the UK government had previously expressed regret for abuses committed during a 1952-1960 uprising in central Kenya against colonial rule.

It agreed to an out-of-court settlement in 2013 to pay almost 20 million pounds to elderly Kenyans who suffered torture and abuse during what is known by Kenyans as “the emergency” after a London court ruled the victims could sue.

“We believe the most effective way for the UK to respond to the wrongs of the past is to ensure that current and future generations learn the lessons from history and that we continue to work together to tackle today’s challenges,” the spokesperson said in response to questions from Reuters.

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The spokesperson did not address the allegations raised by the Kipsigis and Talai, which are separate from the abuses during the emergency. Buckingham Palace did not respond to a request for comment.

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, according to a statement from the palace.

The British government has not been receptive in the past to requests by the Kipsigis and Talai to discuss compensation. In 2019, it informed the communities it had “no intention to enter any process” to resolve the claims, according to the U.N. report.

Ngasura said he was about 12 years old – he does not know his exact birth date – in 1934 when the British rounded up around 700 Talais and forced them to march for weeks to reach Gwassi.

Following protests by the young men, he and a few dozen others were relocated in 1945 to a detention camp closer to Kericho, where they could find wives from their community.

They were finally released in 1962, but the land where they had once grazed their 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 from a British army captain. Today, he and his descendants who live there survive off of a half-dozen cows and some maize crops.

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It is no comparison to what he knew as a child.

“We could take cows anywhere. The land was huge,” he recalled. “This land is not big enough. Otherwise, we would have kept a lot of cows and grown coffee.”