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Legacies of British Colonial Violence: Viewing Kenyan Detention Camps through the Hanslope Disclosure


A number of works have recently been published that seek to re-narrate colonial histories, with a particular emphasis on the role of law in at once creating and marginalizing colonial subjects.1 Focusing on mid-twentieth century detention camps in the British colony of Kenya, this article illuminates a colonial history that was deeply buried in a Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) building for many years. As such, the analysis supports the revelatory work of David Anderson and Caroline Elkins, who highlighted the violence that underpinned British detention and interrogation practises in Kenya.2 In particular, the article explores recently declassified colonial files, and pieces together a picture of administrative subterfuge, suppression of facts, and whitewashing atrocities, threaded through with official denial, which long outlived its colonial genesis. Against the hypothesis that detention laws created an architecture of destruction and concomitant custodial violence in Kenya, the article establishes that an accountability deficit is the legacy of detention without trial as it was practiced in colonial Kenya. By untangling a complex web of colonial records and government papers relating to Kenya, this article reveals the often insurmountable pressure that was exerted to conceal evidence of detainee violence, and the role of a highly sophisticated propaganda machine that controlled the public narrative of a violent incident when outright denial was impossible.

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Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
  • URL: /core/journals/law-and-history-review
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