King and Queen honour Kenyan independence heroes once designated terrorists by UK

King and Queen honour Kenyan independence heroes once designated terrorists by UK

The King and Queen honoured Kenyan independence heroes once designated terrorists by Britain during a visit to the national museum in Nairobi on Tuesday.

Charles and Camilla paid tribute to Mau Mau fighters and others who took part in the long struggle for Kenyan statehood under British colonial rule.

The royal couple were given a sneak preview tour of the Mashujaa Museum, which is due to open to the public early next year, shortly after Kenya celebrates its 60th anniversary of independence on December 12.

It tells the national story and contains a Tunnel of Martyrs, which the royal couple walked down, stopping at each panel to view descriptions of the independence struggle and those who fell fighting for it.

The tunnel also has panels dedicated to those killed in Islamist violence since independence, including the 67 people killed when an Al Shabaab gunmen ran amok in the Westgate Mall shopping centre in Nairobi in 2013.

King Charles III gets a guided tour during a visit to the museum at Uhuru Gardens (via REUTERS)
King Charles III gets a guided tour during a visit to the museum at Uhuru Gardens (via REUTERS)

The King and Queen stopped to look at panels about the Mau Mau Uprising between 1952 and 1960.

On their way into the museum they also  acknowledged, with brief but respectful glances, statues of two independence fighters.

They paid their respects to the statues of Mekatilili wa Menza - a feminist who led the Giriama people in a revolt against the colonial administration between 1912 and 1915 - and Dedan Kimathi, who led the Mau Mau armed military struggle against the British in the 1950s until his capture in 1956 and execution a year later.

The King was asking questions about the uprising as he was shown around. “And this happened in 1954?" he asked at one point as the man responsible for creating the museum, Airforce Brigadier General Oswald Opiyo, led him around.

Schoolchildren explained each demonstration board inside the museum. Camilla inspected one panel describing the different ethnic make-up of Kenya’s people and one boy began to teach her a few words in Swahili.

Brigadier Opiyo explained the importance of showing the couple the Tunnel of Martyrs afterwards. “We want to pay homage to the heroes who lost their lives in this struggle. We would not be having this facility if those heroes did not fight and pay the ultimate price.

“So the design of it on the angle of incline and making a tunnel is a metaphor: that once you come out of the darkness  there is some light.”

He said the King had been keen to learn about the Mau Mau Uprising.

“I find it very very gracious that there is a kind of catharsis. It is not an accusation, neither it is casting an aspersion but the King’s interest is in understanding the thing - that the history that the British colonial system did bring to bear on Africans.  And then for him to be dignified, to hear it from our voice is very happy.”

He said the British authorities had supported the creation of the museum. “Part of this archiving has been supported by British archives. A lot of our files are still held in Britain.

"So getting access to those files, getting access to some of those facts, gives meaning, and fills the gap," he said.

"It fills the gaps of knowledge and information that can only be available if there is mutual respect and mutual understanding of country to country, government to government.”