British soldiers under the British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK), in the field as they showcase a UK Battle Group training during Exercise Askari Storm, in Lolldaiga training area, Laikipia, Kenya, 14 November 2022. EFE/EPA/DANIEL IRUNGU

Kenyans seek compensation for fire caused by the British Army in 2021

Nairobi, Oct 20 (EFE).- On the eve of a visit to Kenya by the British monarch, a Kenyan community that was affected by a fire caused by British soldiers in 2021 demanded compensation on Friday.

“The British Army destroyed the environment in Kenya, where they are guests, and they don’t want to pay us for it,” residents of the affected community said during a press conference in central Kenya near the town of Nanyuki, Laikipia County, where the events occurred, then marched peacefully to voice their demands.

Lawyer Kelvin Kubai, who represents some 7,000 residents, read an “Open letter to the British government” in which he lamented that “two and a half years later, no compensation has been paid to those affected and the British Army is using every trick in the colonial handbook to try and avoid paying.”

The fire broke out in March 2021 during a training exercise by the British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK). After burning for several days, it eventually engulfed more than 4,800 hectares of the Lolldaiga private reserve.

After the community denounced BATUK and filed a lawsuit, a court ordered that the community members be compensated, a process that is being handled by the so-called Intergovernmental Liaison Committee (IGLC), made up of Kenyan and British representatives.

But the claimants complained on Friday that they have encountered many difficulties in submitting their compensation forms, and that the IGLC has recently not only asked for new evidence of the effects of the fire, but has also delayed the process several times.

The community claims that their health has been severely affected, with “respiratory problems” and “permanent eyesight problems due to the smoke,” and that “many, many farmers have not been able to recover the crops and livestock” they lost.

The message was released by the community days before King Charles III and Queen Camilla begin a state visit to Kenya from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3, during which they are expected to acknowledge “the most painful aspects of the shared history” between the two countries, Buckingham Palace said.

Oct. 20, known as Mashujaa Day (“heroes” in Swahili), is a public holiday in Kenya and commemorates the declaration of a state of emergency (1952-1960) by British colonial authorities in the face of the struggle waged by the Mau Mau guerrilla organization before independence in 1963.

“We will not be silent until BATUK, IGLC and of course the British government and its King Charles III stop treating Kenya as a colonial outpost where they can get away with anything and start treating us with respect,” the lawyer added.

This is not the first controversy surrounding the presence of the British military on Kenyan territory (governed by a 1964 agreement).

The most serious recent case occurred in 2012, when a 21-year-old Kenyan woman, Agnes Wanjiru, was found dead in the septic tank of a hotel where she had been witnessed arriving in the company of British soldiers, in a case that has yet to be resolved. EFE