Time to review military co-operation with Britain

COMMENTARY |

By Murigi Macharia

Kenya: There are genuine reasons why Kenya should deny the British the annual permit for its troops to train in Kenya.

Although Kenya has for the last 50 years traditionally renewed the permit for the British soldiers to train in Laikipia — save for a few years after President Mwai Kibaki came to power in 2003 — time has come for Nairobi to put its foot down and firmly tell its former colonial master that “choices have consequences” and that the foreign troops are no longer welcome to train in Kenya.

Under the British Army Training Unit in Kenya (Batuk) agreement, Kenya has, since independence in 1963, waved through the permit allowing British troops to train in Kenya in the frontier towns of Archer’s Post and Doldol.

The headquarters is, however, in Nanyuki town, 200km north of capital city, Nairobi. Batuk gives an opportunity to British soldiers to experience similar conditions they would encounter in other hostile countries like Afghanistan where they are currently deployed.

The 50-year military co-operation between Nairobi and London has allowed British soldiers to train in Kenya’s rugged escarpments, scorching heat and semi-desert conditions, which are ideal for making the soldiers battle-ready.

However, the British Army activities have brought horror and agony to the residents, especially women and children. 

Continued use of live ammunition drills on artillery ranges spread across hundreds of acres in Laikipia has in the past left tens of innocent people injured by unexploded ordinances left behind by the soldiers.

And since Britain started treating Kenya as a junior partner in that military co-operation, and a bad boy whose top leadership should be hauled to the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) on fraudulent charges from procured and coached witnesses, time has now come for Nairobi to hit back.

Those schooled in diplomacy and international relations know that war is a result of failed diplomacy. However, sometimes war is necessary for diplomacy to begin. If this is the language the British government understands, Nairobi has every reason to go in that direction.

Ignoring its past historical and long-standing diplomatic relations with Kenya, Britain has over the past 10 years gone against the mutual respect that must be the basis of diplomatic ties.

When President Kibaki was first elected in 2003, his administration started to right what was wrong with the Anglo-Kenya relations, namely special status that was only a boon to the British, not Kenyans. One, the police Land Rover procurement was too expensive and this deal went to the Japanese at half the price.

Two, the currency printing deal at De La Rue was exclusive to the British. It was cancelled and opened to competitive bidding. The British, the French and the Germans bid, and the former won but at a reduced price.

Three, the British were the sole suppliers of naval ships since 1966, but this was given to the Spaniards. When these things happened, the British unleashed a war through the so-called civil society and the opposition in the guise of fighting corruption. The British High Commissioner at the time, Edward Clay, even had the temerity to accuse Kenyan leaders of vomiting on Britain’s shoes.

For 10 years, the British have fought Kenyan interests at every turn. As the elections approached early this year, they were at it again, publicising the ignominious ‘essential contact’ mantra if Jubilee candidates, now President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, were elected.

This is unprofessional, for a foreign envoy has no business telling nationals in the country of his posting how to determine their political destiny or who their leaders should be. In 2011, they gave the ICC £700,000 (more than Sh90 million) for the witness programme in the Kenyan cases. Now the same witnesses are crumbling under cross-examination in The Hague!

But we are a forgiving people, which is why our forefathers accepted founding President Jomo Kenyatta’s call at independence to forgive. Unfortunately, 50 years later, it is clear Britain’s colonial mentality has never changed.

Kenya deserves mutual respect from its friends so that each can benefit in trade, diplomacy and whatever other venture they engage in. Anything else is colonialism unblemished and the British must know it won’t be allowed.

The time has come for Kenya to tell the British Army to look for other training grounds.

The writer is a freelance journalist who comments on topical issues.

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