No wireless sets for soldiers heading to Northern Kenya

KDF soldiers firing mortars at suspected Al-Shabab positions in Fafadun township, Somalia. [George Mulala, Standard]

Troops fighting bandits and Kenya's external forces have always been getting the short end of the stick and have to beg for the proper equipment to combat their foes.

This habit of neglecting soldiers can be traced back to the colonial period. Although there were no guerilla outfits in North Eastern Kenya then, even in the 1920s it was still a daunting task for the Kenya African Rifles soldiers deployed to keep that frontier secure and external aggressors, at bay.

But even in absence of war, the soldiers were still experiencing difficulties in communicating with their command posts and other fighting units in a region where roads were non-existent, water was a mirage and fresh food was a rumour. A secure mode of communication was a matter of life and death, literally.

It's against this background that a retired Army Captain, J E Coney, who was at the time serving as a Member of the Legislative Council (LegCo) put the government to task over the poor state of military equipment.

He demanded to know when the government was planning to hand over wireless sets now in their possession to KAR for use in the troubled north.

The government was, however, unfazed and swiftly responded thus: "The wireless in question is of the heavy permanent type which in view of the recent wires development cannot now be economically employed in the Northern Frontier." In a non-committal tone, the acting secretary of state told LEGCO, during a debate in March 1926, that if the government found it fit, it would install a system of wireless communication in that region.

But there was a proviso that such installations would be done after light, semi-mobile stations at a lesser cost than that of the heavy wireless were established. Pressed further to elaborate on what would be done with the outdated wireless equipment, the government said it was trying to dispose of them to generate revenue.

The government was then non-committal with the welfare of its military deployed in hardship areas when a concerned politician petitioned Kenya Railways, which was being run by the State, to provide proper accommodation and sanitation to women. Another concerned lawmaker, AM Desai, had petitioned Kenya Railways to provide separate lavatories for women travelling in third-class coaches but was rebuffed.

The government's justification for this treatment of women was that their current stock of boogies had a provision for one compartment to be set aside as a lavatory but could not afford to create extra space for women.