Washington, DC — An investigative history of Britain's counter-insurgency war against the Mau Mau rebellion won a top US book award on Monday.
Harvard University professor Caroline Elkins explains a point to a reader during the launch of her award-winning book Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya. It has won a Pulitzer prize.
Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya by Harvard University professor Caroline Elkins received a Pulitzer prize in the category of general non-fiction.
The prestigious awards are conferred annually in journalism and the arts by Columbia University in New York.
A Pulitzer prize often guarantees a big increase in sales for books that might otherwise have attracted relatively few readers.
The book tells the horrific story of Britain's response to the Mau Mau uprising against the colonial rule. It was serialised in the Sunday Nation and Daily Nation in February last year.
At the time the author, Ms Caroline Elkins, said it was a story that deserved to be told in full because "it involved the incarceration of nearly one and a half million people; many tens of thousands of deaths - perhaps more than 100,000 - from brutality, starvation and systematic torture; and an official cover-up so thorough that, even today, few people have any idea that Britain's gulag ever existed."
Ms Elkins' book indicates that far more Kenyans may have died in British detention camps than than the 11,000 listed in official records.
"The British tried to sweep this under the rug," added Ms Elkins, who interviewed hundreds of survivors of the detention camps.
British officials grossly exaggerated the threat posed by the freedom fighters, Ms Elkins told The Washington Post. The name Mau Mau, she said, came to connote "the most bestial, savage thing that ever happened".
British soldiers used a "metal castrating instrument" to cut off testicles and fingers. The soldiers were told they could shoot anyone they liked "provided they were black".
Thousands more were summarily executed by soldiers, who claimed they had "failed to halt" when challenged.
Only 32 white settlers were killed in the course of the rebellion, according to the book.
Ms Elkins said in the Post's April 18 edition that the Pulitzer award "is not about me, it's about these men and women who had their histories taken from them."