Museum of British Colonialism releases 3D models of Mau Mau concentration camps
Geraldine Kendall Adams, 29.08.2019
Recording a long-suppressed chapter in colonial history
The Museum of British Colonialism, a grassroots digital museum that spans the UK and Kenya, has published a series of 3D reconstructions of the notorious concentration camps where Kenyans were detained and tortured during the Mau Mau Rebellion, the country’s fight for independence from British colonial rule.
Pieced together from fieldwork to the camps, witness testimony and visual archives, the 3D visualisations, which were created in partnership with the African Digital Heritage group, add to the evidence record of a dark chapter in history that was largely suppressed until Mau Mau veterans took a landmark court case against the UK government in 2009. However, much of the detail about the camps remains undocumented at present.
The 3D models show individual structures from two different camps, Mweru Detention Camp and Aguthi Works Camp, both of which operate as high schools today. One of the models from Aguthi shows a building that held two solitary confinement cells with no windows or natural light; the roof was lined with barbed wire to prevent detainees from escaping.
Another shows a solitary torture chamber in Mweru where witnesses have described being held for long periods of time and beaten, tortured and starved. A further reconstruction depicts cramped windowless mass cells measuring 17ft by 28ft, where up to 60 detainees were held at a time.
Around 100 such camps were created during Kenya’s State of Emergency, which was imposed by British colonists between 1952 and 1960 to suppress the Mau Mau Rebellion. Around 20,000 Mau Mau rebels were detained and up to 450,000 civilians were forcibly relocated to works camps and specially constructed villages during that period.
The 3D visualisations are presented as unfinished to invite further collaboration. “They are the first in a series that aims to fully restore information, knowledge and awareness of British counterinsurgency techniques in Kenya during the 1950s,” says the museum.
“We present these digital reconstructions not as final outputs but as initial visuals that can help us generate and continue conversations on the presence of detention centres, works camps and Emergency villages in Kenya during the colonial period.”
The volunteer-run museum was co-founded by representatives from the UK and Kenya in 2018 with the aim of “creatively communicating a more truthful account of British colonial history in Kenya”.
The museum has a "no-object policy"; its digital approach means that its teams can collaborate across borders, gathering and producing testimonies and downloadable materials that can be disseminated easily and quickly.
The museum has already produced a documentary and a series of digital maps of the camps. It is planning to stage physical exhibitions of its work in Nairobi and at the Africa Centre in London in the coming months.