Secrets of the British Government: The Destruction of Colonial Files

A review of the body of Foreign Office papers soon to be deposited in the National Archive, Kew (England) from the British Government’s secure compound at Hanslope Park, Buckinghamshire has revealed what many already suspected; that the majority of sensitive documents relating to Britain’s former colonies were systematically destroyed in the final days of empire.A number of papers within the collection carry clear instructions for the destruction of documents which might have revealed shameful acts by the colonial authorities. The confirmation of the worst of colonial atrocities in Kenya, Malaya and elsewhere, then, will likely never be found in the hand of the colonial officials themselves.

Nevertheless, the 8,800 files which have so far been kept out of the reach historians in breach of legal obligations for them to be placed in the public domain are promised to Kew by the end of 2013 (around 1,000 files have already been deposited) after pressure grew to release them last year as a group of Kenyan’s detained during Mau Mau won the right to sue the government. This archive, while purged of the most violent colonial activities still carries a weight of shameful evidence and offers insights into British actions within the period. For example, according to The Guardian, the papers contain ‘monthly intelligence reports on the “elimination” of the colonial authority’s enemies in 1950s Malaya; records showing ministers in London were aware of the torture and murder of Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya, including a case of  a man said to have been “roasted alive”; and papers detailing the lengths to which the UK went to forcibly remove islanders from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.’ Barrack Obama’s father is similarly named in one document listing Kenyan students studying in the US. The report reveals US concerns that Kenyan students were suspect as ‘Anti-American’.

The archive will undoubtedly increase our knowledge of this period despite the best efforts of the Foreign Office in the 1960’s. As it is poured over by academics, journalists, legal experts and the general public from around the world it is to be hoped that new information will come to light which may reveal much about Britain and the end of empire, however painful it might be.


About perspectivesonafrica

Research and news about Africa
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