Seminar: Guilty secrets: Torture, Abuse and the British in Africa


Video duration: 
1 h 27 min.

Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion was the most brutal and savage of all Britain’s wars of decolonisation, and has generated a deeply contested history. This paper charts the struggle for recognition of the grim realities of this war through the long battle, spanning more than half a century, to identify and recover the archives of the insurgency and counter-insurgency of the 1950s. It is a tale of deliberate deceit, and incredible conceit; of institutional accident, and bureaucratic bungle; and of a prolonged and continuing struggle for memory, dignity, and recognition. With the discovery and release in 2012 of more than 1500 files of colonial papers from the period, Kenyans have begun to rejoice that they may get their history back: but some in Britain still wish to deny the realities of that history. In 2013, it was revealed that a further secret archive exists in the catacombs of the British Foreign Office, this one containing 1.2 million files. Do these records contain more guilty secrets of Britain’s imperial past? This story highlights the ignorance that exists around the manner in which British empire archives are created and cared for, and suggests the need for greater scrutiny of the entire process of selecting and preserving the documents that mark out Britain’s national history, and asks whether other European imperial powers also have secrets to keep?

Portrait David AndersonDavid M. Anderson is Professor of African History at the University of Warwick, having previously taught at the University of Oxford, SOAS London, and Birkbeck London, and held visiting positions at Princeton University and the University of Cape Town.  He has published widely on the history and politics of eastern Africa, recent books being Histories of the Hanged (2005), The Khat Controversy (2007), and The Routledge Handbook of African Politics (2013).  He is the founding editor of the Journal of Eastern African Studies, inaugurated in 2007. His next book, Red Continent: Africa and the Cold War, will be published in 2015. 

Date, time and location

06 November 2014
15.30 - 17.00
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
5A23 (5th floor)