— well, one whitey’s perspective and, for my British friends, a few words on the queen from abroad, here in Kenya, where the pretty pop-version is merely that in 1952 she climbed a Kenyan treehouse as a princess and stepped down as a queen the next morning.

The fairy-tale is partially true, but there are genuine, sensible reasons why, across the ‘Commonwealth’, many folk — who we are patronizingly told ‘the queen loved’ — dislike the monarchy as an institution and Queen Elizabeth II as a monarch, and why they are not lamenting, wailing in the streets, or bowing at her standard-draped coffin.

These are not cruel people. These are not irrational people. They are people who remember a period of great trauma, a period not honestly taught to British children, either in the past (simple Boy’s Own Empire texts) or the present supposedly post-Imperial moment.

As a Brit expatriate, I am quite happy to count myself amongst these ‘naysayers’, these sceptics of the goodness of the queen and its monarchy. Perhaps I was always a slight Republican lefty, but I’m also privileged to have spent the last couple of decades in a Kenya whose flora and fauna I was aware of, but whose history I probably wasn’t. At least, I wasn’t intimately aware, by which I mean that in all my youthful days in Britain, I’d never heard anyone speak about Kenya or its history.

I probably heard of something called ‘Mau Mau’ told in British colonial narrative as a slightly sinister group of oath-taking wildies who did unspeakable things with goat blood.

A biased nonsense, of course.

I’m abroad, here in a country where I try to listen to people — and, anyway, distance often brings fresh ‘insight from the outside’, as it were, as any scholar of Europe’s Modernist emigres and exiles will be aware. Or any connoisseur of those flaneurs of old, who walked around the streets of Europe in a previous century, observing while not engaging, and who, as a consequence, gained profound insight into the ways of ‘their own’ from a slightly objective position.

I live (squat) on a hill, Lukenya, on a ranch that was ‘owned’ by a colonial land-grabber, Louvaine Tom Dunman. He was a chap who wandered the continent, and who eventually settled here a long time ago. His ranch originally spread for countless miles, and now remains a good 4500 acres or so.

Now, we could focus on the romantic side of things and stress the airstrip he built so that relatively nearby Nairobi colonialists could visit and watch the city from afar, or climb the rock-face of the hill, which remains in use by the Mountain Club of Kenya.

I could share the ‘Out of Africa’ type loveliness of the other, slightly eccentric white settler artist who, in addition to the genuinely ancient rock art of the hill (and it’s apparently one of the greatest concentrations of rock art on the continent of Africa, rather than the most complex), came and painted some fake art, possibly to attract tourists.

I could point out how, on a clear day, you can stand on the top of the hill and on one side view the Aberdare Range and Mount Kenya, walk a few paces and see Kilimambogo, then walk a little further and see a vast distance across the long Kapiti Plains down to Tanzania, where the snowy summit of Kilimanjaro rises impossibly high, a mighty, stand-alone mountain just as our tiny Lukenya Hill is an inselberg that simply lies here, alone. Both of Africa’s two snow-capped mountains from the same little Lukenya Hill.

For the NatGeo-loving readers, I could mention how, in his monumental Field Guide to the Reptiles of East Africa, Steve Spawls correctly identifies the hill as one of the rarer habitats of the black mamba. I could mention the reedbuck, which live nowhere else nearby, or that the ranch and the contiguous ranches house the greatest population of giraffes outside of Kenya’s often vast game parks — game parks that are also a relic of colonialism, and not always a positive one. Oh, and all the other animals that I can see on my short commute to work: warthogs, jackals, kongoni, hyrax, hyenas… and the birds… the endless birds.

I could mention the springs, or the archaeological digs, which still happen, and the extinct giant zebra and other animals and humans that were found here. Depending upon what we focus on, we can spin The Hill to be a profoundly joyful place, a place of fascination and scientific value.

That is what the world does: it slices cultures, places, and peoples into manageable ‘fields and disciplines’, foregrounding certain narratives in a manner enabling us to hide or downplay other narratives, other versions, other competing truths. Almost everything ‘nice’ written above, is part of the white colonial narrative, the Western and more powerful history of Kenya, the rolling fields of tea and coffee in which the ‘natives’ joyfully labour, happy with their lot.

But there are alternative narratives that we must listen to more because they are the narratives of people who have lived here for ages, who lived here during colonialism, and who still live here now after colonialism, who still live here even after the whiteys left and destroyed the evidence of their crimes.

I need not go into detail as there are excellent books that you can read — Kenyan-authored books, or books penned by younger white academics, if you’d prefer, which you probably would. I could perhaps relate some alternative historical memories (more reputable memories) of this tiny hill on which I squat, in a part of the country where things are slow and where, during colonialism, things weren’t even as bad as they were elsewhere. But they were bad. Very bad. Very very bad indeed.


On the Nairobi side of Lukenya Hill there is a tumble of white granite rocks, which the untrained eye might believe have simply fallen down its slope over the millennia. Yet, if you wander and inspect closely, you’ll see holes bored in them, where explosives were inserted. These twinkly white granite rocks were blown from the hillside. White rocks. Very white rocks. They were then hacked by prisoners; broken, as a punishment.

Prisoners in the 1950s — East African prisoners, er, who had every right to exist in East Africa, were hacking rocks pretty much at the same time as Queen Elizabeth II was, elsewhere in Kenya, romping around with lovely elephants with her dashing young husband.

Shackles are still visible, attached to some of these rocks, driven deeply in so that the prison-labourers working on dangerous rocks couldn’t escape. Outdoors, mind you, in the terrible heat of a semi-arid part of this equatorial country. Nothing much remains, beyond these remnants of barbarism. The evidence of the camp and its policies were destroyed by the colonial rancher (also a police officer) who personally committed some of the atrocities.

My mother-in-law’s house is that colonialist’s house: its kitchen doors are the massively imposing prison doors, relocated to serve an aesthetic function in the colonialist’s house after they’d served a more sinister purpose in the camp he partially ran. He and the other colonialists destroyed the camp, yes, but those doors, those handsome and sturdy doors, couldn’t go to waste, not when they could beautify a colonial bungalow.

The atrocities were many. The ‘Mau Mau Case’ in the UK of about a decade ago, featured crimes — yes, crimes — committed by the British against the prisoners who broke the rocks on Lukenya Hill. Illegitimate detention, rape, torture, serious sexual violence, and castrations. Crimes against humanity. And remember this was initially a ‘mild’ camp for supposedly ‘low-level prisoners’ — some Kikuyu, and a few Kambas who supported the Kenya Land and Freedom Army’s (KLFA) fight for independence by providing that heavily outnumbered and outgunned revolutionary army with food. Just that, really: food.

The KLFA is, incidentally, what you might know more popularly as ‘the Mau Mau’. It always strikes more fear, doesn’t it, when perfectly sensible people fighting for their land rights are given, by whitey Brits, a more ‘savage’ name, a name that Others, that differentiates, that allows extermination?

Let’s not beat about the bush. There was extermination. Lukenya became a particularly nasty camp after the KLFA’s General China attempted a not-very-successful raid on it to free suffering prisoners. The British clamped down.

The camp was sufficiently away from Nairobi and atrocities continued in relative secrecy for a prolonged period, even as Queen Elizabeth II rode past in lovely cars to Treetops Hotel in Central Kenya, for a romantic adventure and delightful service from supposedly happy natives.

The extermination lasted deep into the 1950s, even after good old Winston Churchill, the Queen’s first and favourite Prime Minister of Britain, had, according to British Pathe News, liberated the Nazi concentration camps in Europe. Lovely man. Lovely.

Of course, Churchill was also a deep racist — but I know you’ll forgive him ‘because that was his time, wasn’t it?’ Well, to an extent, but there were also anti-racists in Britain at that time. Labour’s incomparable Barbara Castle, in the 1950s, drew the British Parliament’s and population’s attention to Kenyan extermination camps. But we don’t hear much about that, do we? Because apparently Churchill won the war. Come to think of it. We don’t hear much of Labour’s Clement Attlee’s importance in WW2, do we?

Back to Churchill: if you can forgive and excuse his racism, maybe you’ll not excuse his hypocrisy, and the hypocrisy of the British Right of that period, both in Britain and abroad in the colonies. The same Churchill who apparently rid Europe of concentration camps was the same man who, just a few years later, in Kenya, decided to permit the construction of concentration camps. Concentration camps that disproportionately saw a profiled Kikuyu ethnic group, incarcerated hundreds of thousands, and killed thousands.

And when a few whiteys were killed during the so-called Kenyan ‘Emergency’ of the 1950s — whiteys actively participating in extreme forms of settler colonialism, a few whiteys you could count them on your hands, about 30, admittedly more important human beings nevertheless — the Queen and her Prime Minister, through their colonial agents in Kenya, notably the Kenyan Regiment, in which Dunman was a member, constituted kangaroo courts and executed thousands of people.

Just like the Nazis killed Jews for their perceived ‘treacherous genetic Judaism’, so were the Kikuyus killed because it was assumed their ethnicity itself suggested treachery. Years of white Western antisemitism and chromatic racism didn’t end in Auschwitz; rather, it continued in Kenya under the same Churchill who had, as the myth goes, destroyed Nazi ideology. Nonsense. It’s probably no coincidence that Israel was very nearly placed in Kenya by Churchill, who presumably thought: ‘We’ll put ‘em near the next worst’.

From the quiet hill in Lukenya to the larger Kenya, and further afield to other former colonies, to other ‘Happy Members of the Commonwealth’, criminality of colonialism was the norm. After half-a-century of complicit neocolonial elite leadership, a new reflective and intellectual generation has risen, a new generation that does not romanticize the Queen — either as an individual or as an institution, the monarchy.

This scepticism on the goodness of the Queen is borne from profound anger, which stems from a recent history that was scarred by an invader-imperialism, just as Lukenya Hill was scarred by white colonial dynamite. A British invader-imperialism. An invader-imperialism that toasted the Queen in posh white clubs while natives were being raped, castrated, murdered, and exterminated.

I’d also be bit sore. And I am: but not as sore as many Kenyans have a right to be — those who are still alive from that time, and their descendants. That’s of course what reflection can do: it can make us aware of our privilege and our complicity and, sometimes, make us want to act differently, better, as allies.

Some of those queuing to view the queen’s body and singing ‘God save the king’ are undoubtedly doing it for seemingly genuine, heartfelt reasons, and I’ll not doubt that. The theorist Gramsci taught us that we can do the opposite of what’s good for us and others, especially when the soft and hard power of the State and its media is gently coercing us and getting our voluntary complicity. But there is reason to suggest that every well-intentioned British tear that’s shed causes a re-greening of the graves of once-colonized people across the globe. And just as we can’t excuse Churchill’s ideology of racism that created concentration camps in Kenya and other colonies, we also can’t say “but the 1950s were a different age.” They were not a different age. They are still part of the same Elizabethan age, the same continuing history of the monarchy which, from medieval times to today and, undoubtedly into the future, has a hell of a lot to answer for.

I think at the very least I’d ask my British Friends to reflect on how our correct contemporary concerns about, say, Roman Catholic Priest child abuse in certain countries might not just be about individual clerics, but rather about the structures of the institution, and that our concern regarding colonial history can validly be about the individual politicians and Queen and the structures of monarchy that we perpetuate when singing ‘God save the King’.

I’m not necessarily suggesting that everyone who sings this is being consciously complicit in past and continuing atrocities; I’m saying that the British media spectacle of the past few days — the pomp and liturgy — is designed to get us to say ‘God save the King’, but while it claims to be innocent and ‘just part of a sparkling tradition’ and ‘Charles’s loss of his mother’, it is rather about reinforcing structures of inequality, of racism, of abuse’. Or, to be less conspiratorial, we can say that it has this effect and consequence.

I, for one, have no intention of participating. Just as there were white-Brit Barbara Castles in the 1950s in the UK — people who saw the awfulness of colonialism — so too we could perhaps choose to be a little different from those who only feel sorrow and nationalism in response to the death of the queen. Try it. You might just find that reflection, righteous indignation, and the epiphany you’ll have is liberating, is good – you might even be happy. More importantly, we’ll not be laughing in the faces of a world we treated with utter contempt. Because, well, it’s not about you; it’s not about US as white Brits.

Now go and read some history books of the sort your school denied you, and talk to some people who really lived under the British Empire abroad. Even as white Brits we can very much hope — without being traitors, and while certainly being loyal to humanity — that the old saying that ‘The sun never sets on the British Empire’ might come to a proper end with the death of Elizabeth II.

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