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How colonial military tried to control soldiers' sex drive

NATIONAL
By Amos Kareithi | May 21st 2022 | 2 min read
By Amos Kareithi | May 21st 2022
NATIONAL

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth inspects a guard of honour mounted by the King's African Rifles at Buckingham Palace Gardens in England, Britain on June 11, 1957. [File, Standard]

For ages, military commanders have agonised on how to cool romantic fires raging in the hearts of their soldiers.

Battles have been lost due to romantic soldiers who got compromised and gave away crucial information to the enemy.

The rivalry between compatriots over lovers has also led to disaster after soldiers turned guns on each other motivated by passion and jealousy.

At the height of political instability in Kenya in the 1950s, the colonial government was concerned by a large number of guns and ammunition in the hands of the ragtag Mau Mau freedom fighters.

Upon investigations, the government discovered that most guns being used by the enemy had been stolen from soldiers and policemen lured by women who promised them love but stole their weapons.

This was an indictment for an establishment that unsuccessfully tried on various occasions to ensure soldiers never lacked love and even at times made provisions for the soldiers’ wives to live in the barracks.

Historian Timothy Parsons in his book; All Askaris are Family Men, writes how the British government in East Africa tried various methods to ensure soldiers' sexual needs were catered for.

The King's African Rifles march in Nairobi in January 1958. [File, Standard]

An official investigation traced much of the ammunition captured from the Mau Mau to King's African Rifles (KAR).

An army circular blamed the policy of separating askaris from their women and even suggested camouflaged military brothels.

In some instances, the author writes, the commanders of KAR established unofficial brothels for soldiers so that the military could have some level of control over the women the soldiers interacted with.

At the time, there were unofficial brothels in schools, Public Works Department staff quarters, European hotels and a cemetery.

But whenever the matter arose, the government would deny the existence of such brothels. In 1945, Geoffrey Northcorte, the Principal Information Officer denied any existence of military-sanctioned brothels or prostitution.

Apparently, KAR had learnt lessons from some soldiers in Somaliland from the Camel Corps who had hatched a plot to eliminate their British commander and his wife to retaliate against what they perceived as inhumane treatment.

The two young soldiers were aggrieved for being denied access to Somali women by their commander, who was comfortably living with his wife.

The two Africans had lost their wives during childbirth but had been prohibited from remarrying.

The military at the time was concerned that African soldiers were at risk of contracting venereal diseases if they were allowed to fraternise with women whose medical background was unverified.

At some point, the commanders were so concerned about some romantic Africans breaching the racial divide when they went to fight in parts of Asia during World War II that they were prohibited from accessing explicit pictures of white women.

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