Family portraits, including one of President Barack Obama's father, hang in his family house on January 12, 2008 in Kogelo, western Kenya.
Credit: Peter Macdiarmid

Britain has released thousands of classified files from the days of British colonial rule, including one that names President Barack Obama's father at the top of a list of "anti-white" Kenyans studying in the US.

The secret files — once thought lost — have been released by the government a year a High Court challenge was begun to disclose them, with the BBC citing the Foreign Office as saying it is now releasing "every paper" it can.

The papers cover such controversial episodes as the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, the evacuation of the Chagos Islands, and the Malayan Emergency in the 1950s.

The papers were secretly sent back to the UK when the relevant countries achieved independence, and they even reveal plans by the authorities to burn sensitive files to stop them falling into the hands of post-independence governments.

The Guardian wrote that thousands of documents detailing some of the most shameful acts and crimes committed during the final years of the British empire were, indeed, destroyed. 

That they were kept hidden for 50 years in a secret Foreign Office archive was in breach of legal obligations for them to be made public domain, the paper wrote.

The BBC cited academics as saying the "failure" to expose the archive had created a "legacy of suspicion".

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According to reports, the files reveal that:

  • Barack Obama, the father of the US president, was on the top of a list of names of "anti-American and anti-white" Kenyans studying in the US;
  • The government feared that Nazis — pretending to catch butterflies — were plotting to invade East Africa in 1938;
  • Britain continued a practice of "elimination of ranking terrorists" in British-controlled Malaya during the 1950s;
  • Britain planned to test a very virulent type of poison gas in what is now Botswana;
  • There were plans to deport a Greek Cypriot leader to the Seychelles despite launching talks with him to end a violent rebellion in Cyprus in 1955; and
  • Successive British governments did, in fact, dupe parliament and the public over the decision to give the US a military base in Diego Garcia and force out the islanders.

Obama's father appears on a list drawn up by British officials of Kenyan students in the US as "OBAMA, Barrack H," according to Agence France-Presse, citing British media reports.

A memo from a British diplomat in Washington to London in 1959 sets out concerns about Kenyan students in the US.

Obama senior enrolled at the University of Hawaii in 1959. He married Anne Durham in 1961 and Barack was born later that year.

Caroline Elkins of Harvard University, wrote in the Guardian that Foreign Office transparency on the subject of the files was a carefully-cultivated myth.

She wrote that the 1,200 or so records from 12 former colonial territories released by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) were "but a portion of the some 10,000 files that Britain removed from 37 of its colonies on the eve of desalinization."

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