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Black History Month: Operation Legacy - Empire, archives and the law

Posted on 29 October 2020

"For many Kenyans who had lived through colonialism, they didn’t need proof of what had happened because they were the proof. Their lives were the proof."

In this pre-recorded event, Managing Associate John Sendama chaired a panel comprised of Lynne Muthoni Wanyeki (Open Society Foundations and formerly, Kenya Human Rights Commission), Richard Hermer QC (Matrix Chambers) and Professor Caroline Elkins (Harvard University).

They explored how our image of the British Empire and its legacy have been shaped by the deliberate concealment and destruction of colonial records. The focal point of the discussion was the High Court test case brought against the British Government by elderly veterans of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, who sought compensation for brutal acts of torture and other ill treatment in British camps.

The work of historians advising on the case forced disclosure by the Government of a secret archive of previously classified documents which confirmed that the widespread human rights abuses had been directed by the colonial authorities. This archive was what remained following a systematic programme of colonial record destruction across the British Empire known as "Operation Legacy". 

About Mishcon de Reya's Black History Month programme:

The programme, entitled "Colonial Amnesia: A Legal and Historical Review of the Afterlife of Britain's Rule in Africa", takes a critical look at the history and legacy of over two centuries of Britain's colonial rule in Africa. It explores alternative perspectives to the celebration of the British imperial age that our building, Africa House, represents. 

We are proud to welcome a range of impressive speakers and experts to help us embark on a process of recovering lost memories of a frequently overlooked and misunderstood period, in doing so we hope to tap into a vibrant and dynamic intellectual space where history, law, race and culture combine to produce fresh ideas to challenge the toxic legacy of colonial injustice.

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