British Labour Party seeks reparations for Kenya’s WWII heroes
A TV programme, which exposed the fact that numerous Kenyan soldiers serving in the British Army during World War II were paid considerably less than their white counterparts, has led to a call for compensation and justice from the opposition Labour Party in the UK.
During WWII, Britain mobilised a huge army of African soldiers from its colonies on the continent to fight against the Axis powers in battlefields across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
But the Al Jazeera programme, People and Power, exposed the fact that when peace came in 1945, the British Empire “cynically betrayed these men, subjecting them to systematic discrimination and denying them the same post-war benefits as White soldiers.”
A number of elderly Kenyan soldiers were tracked down for the programme including 100-year-old Eusebio Mbiuki.
Al Jazeera said that although the remaining numbers of Second World War veterans “have been whittled down by the passing years, the survivors continue to endure great poverty, hardship and alienation, in spite of having risked their lives for the Allied war effort and despite some of the best efforts of a few members of the UK military establishment who have been trying to address past wrongs.”
Part of the focus of the programme was on Yusuf Suliman, who was among over 500,000 Africans who fought for Britain.
In 1942, in his early 20s, Yusuf left his home in Nairobi, to join the King’s African Rifles (KAR) — a regiment raised from Britain’s East African colonies — and was sent to Somaliland, then Burma, one of the most horrific battlegrounds of WW2 and a place beset by tropical disease and tough terrain.
But on his return, the British government abandoned him and he even had to pay for his way home. Yusuf never received the compensation he deserved and despite years of campaigning, died before he could get justice.
Now pressure is mounting on the UK government to compensate and apologise to Britain’s last surviving African veterans after three Labour Party front benchers called for an acknowledgment of the systematic discrimination of colonial-era troops. They also want an investigation into the matter, a formal apology and paid compensation to the survivors.
The letter from Labour’s front bench said that there would be “righteous anger and concern among the British public at these latest revelations, and also a sense of urgency — given the age and relatively small number of surviving veterans affected — that they should receive at least a thorough investigation and acknowledgment into their unfair treatment, a formal apology, and if feasible, financial compensation, before it is too late.”
“When we look back at posters celebrating the joint service of men from the Empire and Commonwealth during the Second World War, each of them willing to fight and die to save civilisation from fascism, we see Black, White and Asian marching in step under the banner ‘Together’.
“All these years later, it is an unutterable disgrace to discover that the reward for that brave service was callously calibrated according to the colour of those soldiers’ skin,” the letter said.
“They beat us,” said Eusebio, who served in Britain’s Burma campaign against the Japanese. “They beat us a lot. Our bodies became so swollen from the beatings. They would beat us and slap us until you accepted everything you were being told. And you couldn’t answer back. Who would you speak to? They were your commanders.”
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry told The Guardian:
“These servicemen and their families are owed an acknowledgment and apology for the way they were treated, but those few veterans who are still alive today are also owed a financial debt which must now be paid.
“Sadly, that compensation will come too late for tens of thousands of their contemporaries, but at least in death, they too will finally have justice.”