Articles with tag: archives

07/11/2022 _Perspective

Decolonization and In_Visibilities in Colonial Archives: The FCO 141 Series and the (Redemptive?) Power of Placement

April 2018. The National Archive’s Reading Room, Kew, England (TNA). Sitting in a Bentham-perfect panopticon, where visibility avails surveillance, I silently leaf through ‘FCO 141’ (Foreign and Commonwealth Office). Released to THE National Archives in 2012, this is a stolen series. Pinched by British colonial officers and their accomplices starting in the early 1960s, FCO 141 is comprised of records which “may embarrass Her Majesty’s Government” and were thus semi-covertly removed from over thirty-seven “former dependencies” as anticolonial struggle brought about constitutional independence from Britain’s empire. [1] The UK government ordered these records, in the thousands, to be locked away in steel cages in cooperation with the Public Record Office (TNA’s predecessor) outside the regular requirements of access laid out by the UK Public Records Act. To delay moral judgement of empire, these documents formed an archival limbo, wherein they were neither destroyed nor made available.   “It is assumed that, in order to claim specific needs, rights, and interests, subjects (or collectives) suffering from the experience of discrimination and marginalization need to ‘become visible.’” [2] I am at TNA to look at files that describe the processes of record removal in the land now known as Kenya. [3] Survivors of a brutal war, 1952–1960, took the UK government to court in a lawsuit against the use of torture in wartime. [4] Their efforts resulted in the release of FCO 141 starting in 2011, ending the fifty-year period of illegal archival concealment. Access to the removed documents corroborated individual testimonies of torture, which clarified the British design of structural violence in Kenya. FCO 141 made visible not only the plaintiff’s suffering but the official participation of the UK Colonial Office in creating the conditions for that suffering. In other words, plaintiffs made not only themselves visible to the court and reporting media through sharing their experience of abuse, corroborated by administrative documentation held by FCO 141, but in doing so also the actions of those who had carried out and condoned it. While those who had survived, participated in, and bore witness to the brutality of Britain’s war in Kenya were well aware of their own experiences, FCO 141 lent credibility to the assertation that this brutality was neither incidental nor ad-hoc, but the result of systematic authorization from the metropolitan government down to the colonial Governor’s office. FCO 141 transformed testimony of individual experience into evidence of structural violence…