Nairobi — It is never too late to apologise for wrongs done. Her Majesty's Government should apologise to the people of Kenya for the now well-documented and horrendous atrocities committed by British forces during the 1952-1962 Mau Mau uprising. An apology will speed up the healing and reconciliation.
It will also help the British to confront the ghosts of their dark colonial past in Kenya. And it is a small price to pay.
The British colonialists justified colonialism and their actions on the basis of cultural and racial superiority. Refusal to apologise will cast the British as boorish, uncouth, ungracious, ill-mannered and racist, and will have ramifications for years to come.
Their refusal to apologise will also be contrasted with the willingness of Germans to apologise for the Holocaust and pay compensation to the Jews and to apologise, though belatedly, to the Herero people of Namibia for the 1904-1907 massacre.
If they do not apologise, the British will be put to shame by the Italians who have not only apologised to Libyans for their equally despicable colonial history in Libya but have agreed to pay reparations of $5 billion.
If the British refuse to apologise, they will be doubly shamed. The British settlers, who committed many of the atrocities, either left Kenya with a golden handshake or still remain in the country enjoying the spoils of colonialism.
The British have no moral leg to stand on. The barbarities they committed during the Mau Mau were against all standards of civilised behaviour and international law. Their brutality was unparalleled in colonial Africa.
Apologising is a moral issue. If they refuse to apologise, they will be making a fool of themselves, because that is equivalent to refusing to admit that torture took place under their rule. They should face up to their shameful past.
They rounded up Mau Mau suspects in concentration camps similar to those in Nazi Germany where they tortured and killed. The senseless killings, violence, torture, forced labour and internment far exceeded military requirements.
The British violated international law in force at the time including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Geneva Conventions, Forced Labour Convention and European Convention on Human Rights.
The physical and mental scars of the violence and deprivation visited on Kenyans are unspeakable, their effect on families long-lasting.
Kenyans should not be expected to forget the crimes against humanity committed by the British and the British should not, as they have tried to do during the court case for compensation filed at the High Court of Justice in London, try to hide behind legal technicalities.
The British Foreign Office has argued that the claim by the Mau Mau veterans is invalid because of the time that has passed. Any liability, it says, rested with the Kenyan authorities after independence in 1963, and it would contest the claims to the bitter end. But how does a government inherit the brutalities committed by another?
Britain also holds that Mau Mau "remains a deeply divisive issue" in Kenya which "historians continue to debate". Britain created that divisiveness and debate.
It created "home guards" to fight fellow Kikuyu, and close to two decades it demonised the Mau Mau as savages who slaughtered white people as they slept in their beds and raped white women and children. It gave the world a new English word, "maumauing", which means "to terrorise, to intimidate".
Yet records, including the more than 17,000 pages of reports by British officers implicated in the atrocities shipped from Kenya and until recently hidden by the Foreign Office, show that the most widespread and savage acts were committed by the British.
So do books published in recent years, including Britain's Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya, by Harvard professor Caroline Elkins, which won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction, and Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire, by Oxford academic David Anderson.
The British have no moral choice but to apologise for their dirty war in Kenya. And, of course, that would be a first step to reparations.