Kenya group from the Talai clan filed a suit on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022, at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against the British government for colonial-era mistreatment, torture, and land theft. The group is seeking an investigation into the crimes committed in the Kericho region in western Kenya. They are also asking for redress.
Kenya’s Kericho region is now a vital tea producer in the world. According to Joel Kimutai Bosek, the lawyer representing the group, the land taken by force is still used for tea production by firms.
The Kenyan Group said they tried to resolve the matter peacefully but all their efforts were turned down. The group submitted an online petition in 2019 to the UN asking for compensation and an apology for colonial crimes dished out to them.
In May 2022, they tried to meet with Liz Truss, the UK Foreign Secretary but their effort was futile. Frowning at the attitude of the UK government, Bosek said,
“The United Kingdom government has avoided every attempt at redress. Thus, our only choice is to approach the court for our clients in an attempt to right historical wrongs”.
Reuters news agency approached the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office for comments but did not get any immediately. However, the same office told the BBC that it was not right to comment on legal proceedings.
According to the Kenyan Group, it is up to the court to determine the right amount of redress the victims deserve.
Why the Kenyan Group is asking for redress
The Kenyan group seeking redress are those from the Talai clan. Members of the clan were forced out of their homeland to make way for tea plantations. In the 1950s, the Talai clan spearheaded European settlement resistance.
To silence the resistance, every member of the clan was detained in a valley that is present-day Lake Victoria. The valley was infested with mosquitoes and tsetse flies leading to the death of many clan members and their livestock in droves. Women also suffered miscarriages due to diseases.
Although the survivors returned to what used to be their ancestral home after Kenya’s independence in 1963, they were unable to recover their land. Instead, they continue to live as squatters close to the tea estates.
“Popular and prosperous multinationals like Lipton, Finlay’s, Williamson Tea, and Unilever still occupy the farmlands and continue to generate profits from its use,” the plaintiffs said in a joint statement.
When Bosek was featured on the BBC radio program Focus on Africa, he highlighted what the claimants are seeking from the British government. This includes an official apology, financial compensation of about $200 billion, and mutual respect going forward.
“The crimes began in 1902 and stretched to 1962,” Bosek said, “Families were separated. Some people were lost and never seen again. Houses were set ablaze and people were ejected from their ancestral homes.”
Life under oppressive British rule
Some of the victims of the Talai clan evictions are still alive to tell the tale. Kibore Cheruiyot is one of the alleged victims. He was only ten years when his family was forced out of their home with other members of the clan and had to resettle far away from home.
“Life was unbearably difficult,” he said. “It is only by the grace of God that I am alive. My brother didn’t make it. He suffered a snake bite and died. I also lost seven members of my family. Tse-tse flies bit and killed many people and animals.”
Previous efforts by Kenya groups to hold the British accountable for colonial crimes
This is not the first time a Kenyan group has sought reparation from the British government. In 2011, four Kenyan seniors got the approval of a London high court to sue the British government over crimes committed during the Mau Mau uprising.
The decision at that time sparked a debate that the decision may open the gates for a flurry of lawsuits against European nations for colonial-era abuses.
A special communique released by the UN special rapporteurs in 2021 expressed concerns over the lack of accountability and redress for the Kericho country’s Talai and Kipsigis people who were victims of gross human rights violations.
In 2013, the British government said it already issued a public apology and settled the victims. However, Talai and Kipsigis people say the apology was in response to an entirely different case. In May 2022, over a hundred thousand people from the Talai clan wrote to Prince William demanding an apology and reparation.
There is no guarantee that the court will hear the case filed at ECHR. However, the court will first make a decision on the admissibility of the case before proceeding to the next step.