Victim of British torture tells of his life of suffering

Rebel talks to the IoS about the Mau Mau court case against the UK Government

Emily Dugan
Sunday 28 June 2009 00:00 BST

Wambugu Wa Nyingi is smiling. He has survived torture, been crippled and left for dead. Now he is jubilant. "I'm happy that I'm coming to seek justice from the people who took away my life," he says, his 81-year-old crumpled cheeks crinkling into a single-toothed grin.

After a lifetime of suffering, Mr Nyingi is finally able to hope. He and four other elderly Kenyans have begun a landmark legal battle with the Government in Britain that goes to the heart of one of the dirtiest secrets of the British Empire. Leaving Kenya for the first time last week, they filed a case in the Royal Courts of Justice.

Like many others who sympathised with and took part in the Mau Mau uprising – a struggle that ravaged Kenya for nearly a decade as Britain clung to its colony – Mr Nyingi was left with a fragment of a life when independence came in 1963.

"Everywhere, there was torture," he says, counting on his fingers the detention camps he had endured: "Kia Riowa; Mageta island; Athi River; Mwea..." he says, before coming to an abrupt halt. The next on the list is Hola, where he witnessed 11 detainees beaten to death because they refused to dig their own graves. He too had refused and was left for dead, only to be discovered three days later when he regained consciousness.

"That is my worst memory. My closest friend in the camp died in front of me. He was beaten so his private parts were completely destroyed before he died. I think it would have been better for them to shoot us than torture us the way they did.

"After the beating, it was years before I was able to stand by myself. My back is still covered in scars, but I never wanted to give up. The more I was beaten, the more urge I had to intensify the struggle. I did not fear death because I had seen people die."

But unlike Jomo Kenyatta, who inspired him to become a trustee of the KAU (Kenya African Union), Mr Nyingi got no recompense for the suffering he had endured. "When I came out of prison, I found my land had been taken by the same men who had beaten us. They still live there. I lost everything, and I have never been able to work because of the injuries I got."

The Kenyan and British governments have been accused by lawyers involved in the case of a "quiet conspiracy" to continue classifying the Mau Mau as a terrorist group, which made it impossible for victims to come into the open and demand compensation until the label was lifted in 2003.

"There must have been a deal that was done," explains Mr Nyingi. "We who fought tirelessly and were not the elite did not get anything, but those that tortured us got land, and some are still very rich. I see the people who tortured me, but I can do nothing. But we got independence, which was more important than land."

Not long after he was released from prison, Mr Nyingi met his wife and settled down. They have children. He was one of the lucky ones. Most of his friends who survived that era suffered brutal castration and were never able to have a normal family life.

It has taken more than six years for their lawyers, Leigh Day & Co, to gather enough evidence to bring the case, and many believe it will be a long time before they see an outcome. If successful, it could cost Britain millions by paving the way for thousands of Kenyans to file similar claims.

Does Mr Nyingi believe he will get justice before he dies? "I know I'll see that day. It has taken a lot of trouble and tribulation to reach here, but I believe justice will be done."

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