Socialist Worker

British troops murder, burn and kidnap in Kenya

The British Army claims to be in Kenya to avert the threat of terror. But their presence has resulted in a series of brutal crimes with no justice, argues Isabel Ringrose.

Issue No. 2780

Thousands of British troops complete training exercises in the Nanyuki military base in Kenya.

Thousands of British troops complete training exercises in the Nanyuki military base in Kenya. (Pic: Jamie Hart/Wikimedia)


Agnes Wanjiru was ­discovered beaten and stabbed to death in a septic tank at the Lion’s Court Hotel in the Kenyan town of Nanyuki in June 2012 two months after she disappeared.

Wanjiru, a 21 year old mother of a newborn baby, was last seen with British soldiers. An inquest later ­concluded that one or more soldiers must have killed her.

According to The Sunday Times, a man known as Soldier X has been separately named by at least four members of the Duke of Lancaster Regiment as the culprit.

One of them says he reported the identity of the killer to senior officers but was brushed off.

The appalling details were so ­well-known that soldiers wrote about them on Facebook, with disgusting references to septic tanks and “ghosts”.

The case has highlighted the way British soldiers act in Kenya and—nine years on—was reopened last week.

The British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK)—a permanent ­training unit—is based in Nanyuki.

Britain still sends six infantry ­battalions a year—around 10,000 soldiers—for eight-week exercises to BATUK.

An abusive police officer is allowed to keep name secret
An abusive police officer is allowed to keep name secret
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The climate “presents an opportunity for British soldiers to improve their skills through training,” says the army. Britain says its forces can support African states responding to terrorism.

In reality it suits Britain to be involved in Kenya to bully and bribe governments.

“Our Armed Forces help make the world a more stable place,” the army claims. The reality is the opposite. The story of Wanjiru—a bloody murder and a cover-up—isn’t an ­isolated case.

A group of 1,400 Kenyans went to court in October to put in a compensation claim against the British government.

Vehicle

They blame British troops for burning down nearly 50 square kilometres of land. One man, Linus Murangiri, was crushed to death by a vehicle during the incident.

Local people rushed to help put out the fire in Lolldaiga Conservancy on 23 March.

A British soldier in Kenya posted on Snapchat during the incident, “Caused a fire, killed an elephant and feel terrible about it but hey-ho, when in Rome.”

BATUK has also been the centre of several disputes. In 2013, an Army sergeant fatally shot an armed Kenyan.

He believed they were intruding and committing theft. This dispute was over whether British personnel should be tried for violations of Kenyan law.

In September 2015, an agreement between then prime minister David Cameron and Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta clarified that British soldiers would be tried in Kenya—but not ­necessarily according to Kenyan law.

Up to 50 Kenyans are also ­suspected to have been killed by unexploded British artillery since 1945.

A ten-year-old Kenyan boy was alleged to have been abducted by British troops after he had been injured by British weapons.


The brutal history of British colonialism in Kenya

British interference in Kenya began in 1888 with the arrival of the Imperial British East Africa Company. In 1895 Britain set up the East Africa Protectorate to rule the area.

By 1920 the East Africa Protectorate was turned into a colony and renamed Kenya. British and European colonists made use of the fertile land and became rich off coffee and tea farming.

The government seized around 7,000,000 acres of land in the fertile hilly regions. By 1948, 1,250,000 Kikuyu tribe members had ownership of 2,000 square miles, while 30,000 British settlers owned 12,000 square miles.

Settlers introduced harsh land ownership and agricultural restrictions on the displaced Kikuyu.

Workers were badly treated—settlers argued natives “were as children and should be treated as such”.

After the First World War new taxes and reduced wages as well as new settlers led to new anti-colonial and trade union movements.

In the late 1930s, the government began to introduce marketing restrictions, stricter educational supervision and excluded local people from political participation.

As a result of growing anger, the first attempt at a native political party came in 1944, becoming the Kenya Africa Union in 1946.

It demanded access to white-owned land.

By 1952 the banned Mau Mau (see column), also known as Kenya Land and Freedom Army, began a campaign of attacks against settlers.

Following the Mau Mau conflict in 1956, a programme of reform gave land to the Kikuyu, with a relaxation of crop bans on Kenyans.

It was not until 1960 that native Kenyan majority rule was established, with the Kenyan Africa National Union taking control.

The Colony of Kenya and Protectorate of Kenya came to a welcome end on 12 December 1963, as independence was won.


Armed ­resistance and struggle

Mau Mau was the militant wing of a growing movement for political representation.

The British declared a state of emergency in 1952. The colonial regime imposed fines and other punishments to break Mau Mau support.

By 1954 the capital Nairobi was the centre of Mau Mau operations. British soldiers sealed off the city.

After two weeks 20,000 Mau Mau suspects were taken to Langata camp, and 30,000 were deported to reserves.

Within the overcrowded reserves the British built a system of detention camps. Disease swept through the camps. They ignored medical reports were ignored and lied about conditions.

Within 18 months, over a million Kikuyu in reserves lived in huts surrounded by trenches and barbed wire.

Mau Mau suspects faced capital punishment. Prisoners were flogged until death, set alight, and had their ears cut.

Castration and electric shocks were widespread. Women had bottles and knives thrust into their vaginas. Men were dragged behind cars, whipped and bayoneted.


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