As King Charles III and his wife, Queen Camilla, kick off their four-day state trip to Kenya, residents of Nanyuki, Laikipia County, are anxious and expectant of positive change in their town.
British Army Training Unit (Batuk) remains the single entity in Nanyuki town and its environs, employing the largest population to facilitate its operations.
Annually, the training injects a Sh3 billion budget for its operations in training the soldiers and paying salaries to 643 permanent and pensionable employees and hundreds of casual workers.
The controversy surrounding the presence of Batuk training around the Lolldaiga Hills in Umande ward comes when the Laikipia County government is relocating its headquarters to Rumuruti, a move that takes away 500 public sector jobs from Nanyuki.
Nanyuki residents have mixed feelings towards the training camp even as they appreciate the employment opportunities, some of them lament the Batuk activities in the area.
A case in point is the residents of Nginyii, Kwa George, Muramati, and Akurinu villages in the Umande ward in Laikipia East Constituency faced severe human-wildlife conflict.
The presence of the training using heavy explosives in the area has scared away the wildlife from their habitats to the human settlements in the villages along the Timau River.
The migration has led to the massive destruction of food crops which the locals claim compensation from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
In the villages, the farmers spend the nights on their farms, scaring away the marauding elephants and buffalos to protect their investments.
Peter Macharia, from Nginyii kwa George village, regrets the presence of the training troops in the nearby hills, saying it has cost the villagers dearly.
“The sounds of bullets and bombs, among other weapons, have scared the animals, forcing them to migrate to the human settlement, thus causing human-wildlife conflict,” said Macharia.
Rose Wairimu recounts how the marauding animals last week caused havoc in her orchard.
“The government should stop the British Army from training in Lolldaiga as sounds of the gun fires scare the wildlife from their habitats,” said Wairimu.
However, the visit by King Charles seems to have spurred the soldiers into engaging in community projects, among them building classrooms, sinking boreholes, and donating sanitary pads.
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The insiders at Nyati Barracks, the headquarters of Batuk, hint that the community engagement projects facilitated are in water education, health, sanitation, and the environment.
Solar-powered boreholes are in Tetu, Murungai, and Kabaga primary schools and Kalalu Mixed Secondary School in Laikipia East Constituency.
Installation of rainwater harvesting gutters and water storage tanks are in the following distribution to five primary and two secondary schools.
The soldiers have also refurbished classrooms in three primary schools.
Laikipia MP Jane Kagiri said she went out of her way to oversee Batuk Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which is a requirement in areas they train.
Ms Kagiri said soldiers have donated a year's supply of sanitary towels to her office for use by the girls in schools.
“I ensured the rule of the law is followed, and Batuk leadership agreed to give out sanitary towels for use by the young and food to the needy families followed by transportation,” said Kagiri.
However, the ghost of Lolldaiga fires that destroyed more than 8000 acres of the natural habitat and killed lions and aged elephants still linger in the village.
The fire rocked headlines after thousands of the residents protested over the destruction, citing a negative impact on their health, leading to hospitalization and deaths of some.
It is said soldiers who were training within the hills caused the fire.
It took efforts of the KWS, KDF, and conservation partners to prevent the fire from spreading through the Loldaiga ranch.
A human rights activist, James Mwangi, mobilized a legal team to represent the interests of the Daiga residents, who were affected by the fire.
“We demand justice for our people as there is silence from the Kenyan and British governments on the issue of the Loldaiga fire tragedy, the death of Agnes Wanjiru,” said Mwangi.
Laikipia’s KNCCI chairman, Duncan Ndegwa Gitonga, said the traders support the presence of the soldiers in the county as they inject millions of shillings into the economy.
“Nanyuki is a commercial hub that depends on tourism and the military for survival and employs thousands of people,” said Ndegwa.
BATUK's presence has stimulated economic growth by enabling visiting soldiers to patronize local curio shops, and taxis, and engage local businesses as subcontractors for their infrastructure projects.
“The death of Agnes Wanjiru in 2012, whose body was dumped in a septic tank, is regrettable, and it should be resolved as the rule of the law demands,” said Ndegwa.