The late president Daniel Moi when he met Queen Elizabeth II. [File]

It was a big story when news reached Kenya that King George VI had died and the 25-year-old Princess visiting Kenya was now the Queen, the head of the British Monarchy.

That fortuitous accession to the throne on February 6, 1952 while at the Treetops Hotel in Kenya's highlands marked the first State visit of the new Queen Elizabeth II.

Although in Kenya's records 1952 was a bad year - the State of Emergency, the jailing and killing of hundreds of freedom fighters - it marks the year that the country hosted the most prominent member of the British Government, actually the Head of State.

The Queen was to return to the country in 1972, when she met President Jomo Kenyatta and in November 1983, when she was hosted by then President Daniel arap Moi.

Some records say there were over 500,000 people who lined the road from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to the city centre during her latter visit. That was simply a way for the Queen to keep a promise she had made to President Moi when he became the first Kenyan President to visit Britain on June of 1979.

Delicate dance

It was the beginning of the delicate dance between the British Empire and her former colony, Kenya. Moi dined with Queen Elizabeth II on that visit, and later with the iron lady of British politics, Margaret Thatcher.

There's a Margaret Thatcher Library at Moi University in Eldoret, as a symbol of Moi's liaison with the British.

In Moi's biography, the British author who has covered the royal family extensively, Andrew Morton, notes that Moi fell in love with Britain when Kenya was still struggling with pre-independence nation-building, and that love persisted to the independence period when key players in Kenyan politics were in Lancaster writing the Independence Constitution.

"Moi was so impressed by the mother country that he named his twins, who were born that year (1962), Philip and Doris Elizabeth in honour of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh," Morton writes in the 1998 book 'Moi: The Making of an African statesman'.

It is interesting to note that in the 15 years that Jomo Kenyatta, the father of outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta, ruled the country, he never had an invitation to dine at Buckingham Palace.

Moi's dalliance with the Brits opened the gates for the British military to set up a training camp in the harsh terrain in Isiolo, Marsabit and Nanyuki. That agreement lasted uninterrupted for the past 40 years, but faced challenges as Uhuru, whose dislike for imperialist bonds is well recorded, placed strict measures on the British troops training in Kenya - they have to operate under Kenyan laws.

The Uhuru was also not happy with the travel advisories that the UK had been issuing to alert its citizens about the dangers of terrorism lurking within Kenya from the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab militants. He was not happy that the British government was a little jittery with his election at a time when there was a crimes-against-humanity charge at the International Criminal Court.

Hot and cold relationship

The relationship between Britain and Kenya has blown hot and cold since independence. But in the twilight of the Moi regime, it exploded as the British demanded constitutional change and political reform.

In the end, Moi succumbed to international pressure, made Kenya a multiparty state, and held an election. It took a full decade for him to actually leave. Moi's successor Mwai Kibaki had a run-in with British ambassador Edward Clay, who in an address to British businessmen and the cream of Kenyan entrepreneurs castigated the Government for impunity and corruption.

"But they (ruling elite) can hardly expect us not to care when their gluttony causes them to vomit all over our shoes; do they really expect us to ignore the lurid and mostly accurate details conveyed in the commendably free media and pursued by a properly-curious Parliament?," Clay posed.

Clay warned that if corruption was not tamed, Kenya would end up being a land of "lost opportunity".

After the 2007 elections and as the post-election violence raged, Clay kept up the diplomatic pressure, and the then Justice Minister Martha Karua declared him persona non-grata.

In the past few years, Clay's successors have worked flat out to restore the glory of Kenya-UK relations. Businesswise, Kenya and Britain have had tense ties.

The money-printing firm De La Rue initially braved political pressure before prevailing. The automobile-market terrain has changed as Britain carmaker Land Rover was kicked out as the sole supplier of police vehicles to Kenya; British firm Booker Tate had to leave its sterling management job at Mumias Sugar Company, which collapsed years ago.

There has also been a tiff over the ban on the sale of miraa in Britain. The economy of Meru County, where miraa is the cash-crop was rocked by the ban.

Meru leaders fought diplomatically, legally and through Parliament to have the ban lifted, to an extent that the leaders through Igembe South MP Mithika Linturi, threatened to seek a parliamentary resolution to kick out British nationals from the fertile lands of Laikipia and Timau, and take over the land used by the British Army in Isiolo, Marsabit and Laikipia counties. He wanted the land, which would have cost the government Sh40 billion, to be given to miraa farmers, to plant other cash crops.

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