Release of colonial files sparks interest

The release of the first batch of secret archives from Britain’s colonial rule – once thought lost – has been greeted with interest by the diplomatic community.

The colonial files will be made public between April 2012 and November 2013 and will be released in alphabetical order.

The first tranche includes 1200 records from colonial administrations in Aden, Anguilla, Bahamas, Basutoland (Lesotho), Bechuanaland (Botswana), British Indian Ocean Territories (including the Chagos Islands), Brunei, Cyprus, Kenya, Malaya and Sarawak (Malaysia) and the Seychelles.

Some of the papers cover controversial episodes: the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, the evacuation of the Chagos Islands, and the Malayan Emergency.

Only a third of the Kenyan files were released, but include accounts of the policy of seizing livestock from Kenyans suspected of supporting Mau Mau rebels.

Documents from 1959 also show US concerns over the “anti-white” tendency of Kenyan students sent to study in the US – one student on the list is Barack Obama’s Kenyan father.

Documents relating to Britain’s Indian Ocean Territories record efforts to deport Chagos islanders, while the Cyprus archive reveals secret plans to deport a Greek Cypriot dissident leader to the Seychelles.

But references to the destruction of sensitive material in the Malaya archive mean few files document the alleged Batang Kali massacre of 24 unarmed rubber plantation workers by British troops in December 1948.

The Botswana archive reveals a controversial plan to test a virulent type of poison gas in a remote area that was later shelved.

The documents only came to light following a High Court case brought by four Kenyans involved in the Mau Mau rebellion. The FCO was forced to admit that 8,800 “sensitive” files had been secretly sent to Britain from colonies, prior to their independence.