London, Dec 3: US President-elect Barack Obama's relatives have told how his grandfather was imprisoned and brutally tortured by the British during the violent Mau Mau revolt in Kenya. According to The Times, Hussein Onyango Obama, Obama's paternal grandfather, became involved in the Kenyan independence movement while working as a cook for a British army officer after the war.
He was arrested in 1949 and jailed for two years in a high-security prison where, according to his family, he was subjected to horrific torture to extract information about the growing insurgency. "The African warders were instructed by the white soldiers to whip him every morning and evening till he confessed," said Sarah Onyango, Hussein Onyango's third wife, the woman Obama refers to as "Granny Sarah".
Sarah Onyango, 87, described how "white soldiers" visited the prison every two or three days to carry out "disciplinary action" on the inmates suspected of subversive activities.
"He said they would sometimes squeeze his testicles with parallel metallic rods. They also pierced his nails and buttocks with a sharp pin, with his hands and legs tied together with his head facing down," she said
The alleged torture was said to have left Onyango permanently scarred, and bitterly anti-British.
"That was the time we realized that the British were actually not friends but, instead, enemies," Mrs Onyango said.
"My husband had worked so diligently for them, only to be arrested and detained," she added. Obama refers briefly to his grandfather's imprisonment in his best-selling memoir, Dreams from My Father, but states that his grandfather was "found innocent" and held only for "more than six months".
Onyango served with the British Army in Burma during the Second World War and, like many army veterans, he returned to Africa hoping to win greater freedoms from colonial rule. Although a member of the Luo tribe from western Kenya, he sympathised with the Kikuyu Central Association, the organisation leading an independence movement that would evolve into the bloody uprising known as the Mau Mau rebellion. "He did not like the way British soldiers and colonialists were treating Africans, especially members of the Kikuyu Central Association, who at the time were believed to be secretly taking oaths which included promises to kill the white settlers and colonialists," Mrs Onyango said.
The British responded to the Mau Mau uprising with draconian violence: at least 12,000 rebels were killed, most of them Kikuyu, but some historians believe that the overall death toll may have been more than 50,000. In total, just 32 European settlers were killed.
Barack Obama Senior, the President-elect's father, seems to have inherited his father's attitudes towards the colonial power. He was also arrested, for attending a meeting in Nairobi of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), the organisation spearheading the independence movement.