King Charles III to visit Kenya in a first for Commonwealth country

Britain's King Charles III and Queen Camilla leave following a Service of Prayer and Reflection for the life of Queen Elizabeth II, at Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff, Wales, September 16, 2022. [AP photo]

King Charles III is set to embark on an emotionally charged visit to Kenya later this month.

Notably, this marks his first official trip to a Commonwealth country since ascending to the English throne following the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth II late last year.

The significance of this visit is not lost on observers, as it evokes memories of the Queen, who ascended to the throne while in Kenya following the death of her father, King George VI, in February 1952.

This royal visit underscores the importance King Charles places on the Commonwealth, especially given Kenya's historical role in his family's ascension to the throne. When Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip were on an official visit to Kenya, they received the news of King George VI's passing. Princess Elizabeth's life was forever changed as she became Queen from that time.

Memories of that era still linger in the Kenyan landscape, from Sagana Lodge, a wedding gift to the royal couple, to the iconic Treetops Hotel in Aberdare National Park, where Princess Elizabeth ascended the throne. King Charles himself has visited Kenya multiple times, creating personal connections with this country.

Bitter reactions

However, amid the nostalgia and anticipation of this visit, a cloud of controversy and scandal looms large. The King's visit coincides with the launch of a parliamentary inquiry into alleged atrocities committed by British soldiers on Kenyan soil, including grave human rights violations, such as sexual abuse and murder, particularly in Laikipia County.

One unresolved case that casts a long shadow is the brutal murder of Agnes Wanjiru, a 21-year-old hairdresser in Laikipia in 2012. Her tragic death, with her body found in a hotel septic tank, remains unsolved, and no one has been held accountable.

An inquest in 2019 suggested the involvement of one or two British soldiers who paid her for sex, an act banned by London for its soldiers abroad.

Agnes's family has persistently sought answers, alleging diplomatic cover-ups by Kenyan and British authorities.

The African Centre for Corrective and Preventive Action (ACCPA), a campaign group seeking compensation for atrocity victims, supports their demands. The ACCPA's chairman, James Mwangi, expressed the family's desire for the extradition of the perpetrators to face justice in Kenya.

Kenyan authorities had vowed to bring the British soldier(s) involved to justice, but this case has lingered, revealing disturbing aspects of a murder investigation marked by abuse, cover-ups, and incompetence.

No one has ever been convicted of her killing. The closest it came was an inquest in 2019 that found Wanjiru had been murdered by one or two British soldiers, who paid her for sex.

London has placed a ban on its paying for sex in foreign countries.

Agnes' family has been pushing for answers and claims Kenyan and British authorities have staged a cover-up to maintain diplomatic relations.

The African Centre for Corrective and Preventive Action (ACCPA), a campaign group that is part of a lawsuit demanding compensation for atrocities committed continues to voice its concerns.

James Mwangi, the ACCPA's chairman told The Standard that "the family of Agnes Wanjiru want those who killed their kin to be extradited to face charges locally".

Commenting ahead of the official announcement by Foreign PS Sing'oei Korir and the UK High Commissioner Neil Wigan, Mwangi said "The 11-year-old daughter never had an opportunity to know her mother".

"She is asking hard questions. It is the reason we have moved to court to seek information from both Governments to initiate private prosecution. The family is seeking compensation for the killing just like they compensate victims of the British Army in other countries".

He argued that "London needs to do a formal apology to the family for delayed justice".

Kenyan authorities vowed at the time to bring the accused British soldier to justice, in a shocking case of murder, abuse, cover-up, and incompetence.

National Assembly Defense and Foreign Relations Committee led by Belgut Mp Nelson Koech, in late July unanimously approved a proposal to launch an inquiry into alleged crimes committed by the British Army Training Unit in Kenya (BATUK). The army has been in Nanyuki, Laikipia County for many years.

The decision to initiate legal proceedings follows numerous complaints lodged by locals and key stakeholders regarding the conduct of British soldiers in the country.

The visiting troops have been accused of conducting activities responsible for the destructive fire that swept through a section of the Lolldaiga Hills Ranch in 2021, allegedly killing elephants and other wild animals.

Linus Murangiri was crushed to death by a vehicle as local people rushed to help put out the fire in Lolldaiga Conservancy in March 2021. The fire burnt for at least four days.

A British soldier in Kenya at that time posted on Snapchat during the incident: "Caused a fire, killed an elephant and feel terrible about it but hey-ho, when in Rome". The Kenya Wildlife Service claimed no elephants, which are known to roam in the area, died.

BATUK however, headed by Brigadier Lucinda Caryl Westerman, head of British Defense staff, East Africa, denied last year that his soldiers caused the fire.

A freedom of information request from Declassified UK to the British Ministry of Defense in 2021 revealed that in the four weeks leading up to the Lolldaiga disaster British soldiers sparked five other blazes while training on grassland near Mount Kenya. The fires took places at separate times between February 24 and March 1

None of these fires were investigated by Kenyan or UK authorities. The British Army also admitted to causing another two fires in Kenya in 2019, but when asked for further details Declassified UK said "no documents are held" as they "did not meet the threshold for investigation".

The Standard has learned that the public has already concluded submitting their views to the powerful Defense committee, submission of memoranda ended last Friday and all will be made public after parliamentary staff have finished work on it.

The committee had previously recommended that foreign soldiers, should they be found guilty of offenses such as murder, be subject to trial in Kenya, and this inquiry is causing a diplomatic crisis for the UK government.

However, critics argue the British government wants to evade compensating for the environmental impact of the bushfires by claiming 'sovereign immunity' for its military exercises in the former UK colony.

If it succeeds, not only will the UK not provide compensation, but it will also continue ignoring the trauma, restlessness, health issues, and displacement caused to local communities.

Moreover, the issue of corporate social responsibility, especially about environmental matters, was underscored as an essential aspect of the inquiry.

According to Article 8 of a confidential military agreement signed between Kenya and the UK in July 2021; Kenya and the visiting UK forces agreed to ensure thorough protection, preservation, and restoration of the environment comprising the training areas, service establishments, and installations.

The defense pact emphasizes that the troops "shall avoid acts that negatively impact on the human health and safety".

It further adds that visiting troops "shall at all times comply with the host nation's directions, regulations and laws preserving the environment".

This agreement is a public document in the United Kingdom and yet in Kenya it is labeled confidential.

The British Army has access to 155,000 hectares of land across nine sites in Kenya for training purposes. Many of the sites are in Laikipia County, an area that was known as White Highlands during colonial times because European settlers occupied so much of its land.

Britain granted independence in 1963 after brutally suppressing an uprising by the Mau Mau which in recent times has begun to be referred to as Kenya Land Freedom Army.

African Centre for Corrective and Preventive Action (ACCPA) chairman David Mwangi told The Standard that "We want the British Government to immediately take responsibility for the compensation of 7,000 victims".

He said the community is meeting soon to issue further instructions to lawyers following a three-year delay to compensate the victims.

The UK sends six infantry battalions a year for a eight-week exercises to the nearby Nanyuki army base.

The Standard reached out to the British High Commission in Kenya for comments on compensation and possible extradition of Agnes Wanjiru's killers, however, by the time of going to press we had not gotten a response.

The Feb-March Laikipia fires caused by British soldiers;

24 February: Fire at Ole Maisor ranch burnt a 200 by 500 metre area.

27 February: Fire at Mpala ranch burnt "less than 200m by 200m".

March 1: Fire at Ol Doinyo Lemboro burnt "less than 200m by 200m".

March 1: Fire at Ole Maisor ranch burnt "approximately 200m by 800m".