The British army has a bad reputation in Kenya dating back to colonial times, but until recently it has been beyond the reach of the country’s law. As the charge sheet grows, that may be changing.
In what the Kenyan daily The Nation called a ‘landmark ruling’, Justice Antonina Cossy Bor of the Environmental and Land Court in Nanyuki this March opened the ‘floodgates to lawsuits against British Army’ when she ruled that Kenyan courts ‘have jurisdiction to hear and determine criminal and civil matters involving British soldiers’. This includes personnel from the British Army Training Unit in Kenya (BATUK) whose manoeuvres damaged the land of a thousand small farmers from Lolldaiga.
BATUK, which has been stationed in Kenya since 1964 and trains up to 4,000 British infantry a year, long enjoyed diplomatic immunity, but this ended in 2016 when Nairobi and London renewed their five-year defence agreement. Justice Bor was the first to follow through on the implications of this, meaning BATUK, previously protected from legal action, could now face a ‘flood of lawsuits’.
The Lolldaiga community’s fight in Laikipia County (one of Kenya’s 47 counties) is just the latest in a long series of struggles against the former colonial power’s military. BATUK has left Kenyans with innumerable unresolved issues and unaddressed resentments, ever since its first exercises in the north of the country during the presidency of the father of Kenyan independence, Jomo Kenyatta.
Kenya was a jewel in the British empire’s crown from 1920 to 1963 (it had been part of the East Africa Protectorate since 1895), and is now the UK’s largest trading partner on a continent that includes 21 Commonwealth countries. That makes it a focus for the ‘Global Britain’ project promised post-Brexit by then prime minister Boris Johnson. In December 2020 a bilateral free trade agreement replaced an existing one between the European Union and the East African Community (EAC). It grants duty-free access for all Kenyan products (including tea and other agricultural produce) to the UK market, which buys 43% of total Kenyan fresh produce exports. The City of London, with governmental (…)