By Waweru Mugo
Kenya: “They not only tore off my (school) uniform and my pants… They ripped me apart. I was a virgin and they broke my virginity. Oh… I bled profusely and when I tried to scream, one held my mouth. After they were through, they abandoned me by the roadside, perhaps to die in the forest,” Tabitha Asli* remembers of the painful episode that would forever dim her future.
Luckily, though she passed out, she never died. Asli, a bright and jolly Standard 7 pupil was in the company of three girls returning home from school. None suspected anything untoward from the two British soldiers lazily resting under a tree in the Laresoro area in the desolate plains of Archers’ Post, Isiolo County.
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“They (had) offered us biscuits and innocently I reached out for them. But instead of handing me a biscuit, the hefty man held me by the hand and pushed me to the ground,” she recalls.
That despicable act in 1988 is deeply etched in her memory, refusing to fade away. However hard she tries to erase it, the beastly British soldier attack that robbed her of her innocence left behind traumatic evidence too hard to simply wish away.
A month later, Asli realised she was pregnant. She quit school, was rejected and dejected by a very conservative traditional community for becoming a mother out of wedlock.
Hers is not a plight in isolation. The bullies are accused of having committed gross human rights violations, by brutalising young pastoralist girls and women, old and young and in rare cases preyed on hapless boys. “Incidences and even death out of such gang rapes by the British Army are replicated across Laikipia, Samburu and Isiolo counties- evidence of widespread madness perpetrated over years by an undisciplined lot of British soldiers,” Indigenous Movement for Peace Advancement and Conflict Transformation (IMPACT) Director Johnson ole Kaunga says.
In 2003, Amnesty International (AI) and IMPACT blew the lid off the conspiracy of silence by the UK and Kenyan authorities. They estimated that at least 650 women had been raped by British soldiers over 35 years (1965 to 2001) in Dol Dol and Archers Post areas alone. Majority cases involved allegations of gang rape, with some victims being minors at the time of attack.
Kaunga regrets that the men flying the Union Jack flag travelled from distant lands on training missions that sadly turned into gang rape odysseys in the villages of Dol Dol and Wamba in Laikipia and Archers Post (Isiolo County) targeting hundreds among the Maasai and Samburu.
In Decades of Impunity: Serious Allegations of Rape of Kenyan Women by UK Army Personnel, AI reported that “Women who allege that they had been raped reportedly suffered serious physical injuries and long-lasting psychological trauma. Some pregnant at the time reportedly miscarried immediately after being attacked.
Others allege that they became pregnant as a consequence of being raped. It has been reported that approximately 35 to 40 women gave birth, others miscarried or suffered still births.”
Mixed race children
Victims felt shame and humiliation following their ordeal, AI went on, with some choosing not to report it to anybody then for fear of being stigmatised or ostracised and consequently being left and/or subjected to further violence by their husbands. Mixed race children born of the said rapes are easily identifiable and have been stigmatised and ostracised as are their mothers.
Despite the many complaints, Kenya and the UK “failed to take effective measures: to investigate such claims, bring the alleged perpetrators to justice, ensure adequate reparation for the victims and prevent further attacks,” says AI.
AI says three infantry battalions carry out 6-week training exercises in Kenya annually, together with a Royal Engineer Squadron, a civil engineering project under a UK-Kenya agreement. About 3,000 UK soldiers train in Kenya each year, spending time in each of the five training camps.
Targeted victims were out grazing goats, playing, walking the rocky and remote plains or drawing water from the rivers. Some women were attacked right at home at night while they slept or in broad daylight.
Most recently, the Gurkha regiments stationed in Mpala (training) range are alleged to have raped 27 women in Lekiji village in Dol Dol area between November 1999 and March 2000. AI says many of the brutal attacks were by gangs, with up to six mixed children born out of pregnancies from the rapes in Lekiji alone.
The “Jonnies” (British soldiers) are alleged to also have sodomised women and boys. Too ashamed to discuss the violations, majority never reported such to the police.
Women variably described the rapes as terrible, devastating, terrifying, shameful and shocking. They were stigmatised, some beaten by their husbands and accused of prostituting with the whites or derogatory touted “left-overs” of the Jonnies. Men felt angry, frustrated by police and senior British Army personnel’s inaction.
The inaction by Kenya and the UK, AI concluded, went on to foster “a climate of impunity for such violations, which contributed to their widespread repetition and may amount to institutional acquiescence”.
As early as 1972, chiefs, and district officers reported the rapes to their seniors and British Army. No action seems to have been taken validating observations by AI and IMPACT.
On August 10, 1977, Mukogondo DO, Ng’ethe Mbugua wrote to the Commanding Officer in-charge of the British Army complaining of several allegations made against its soldiers said to “have raped many women from different locations.” The chiefs in Ilngwesi, Mumonyot, Ildigiri and Mukogodo locations had indeed complained to him about widespread rape, he said in the letter.
Mbugua further wrote, “Your army soldiers should seriously be warned on this abusive behaviour because the chiefs have said that some women have been injured while being raped.”
Mumonyot Location chief Kishole King’au had in 1972 sounded the alarm on rape by the troops in his backyard. IMPACT has retrieved documentary evidence incriminating the British soldiers on the abuse of women in Laikipia and Isiolo.
They include 1980-81 police entries at Archers’ Post detailing six children raped in July 1980 reported by an elder Lepirian Lekolai, four child rapes in January 1981 reported by elders from Lososia and five girls defiled in the same month by a Mr Kimeria Lesoutia.
Later in 1983, a meeting was held between Mukogodo DO Mutuku Kikwai, chiefs from Ilngwesi, Ildigiri and Mukogodo locations and British Army representatives to discuss alarming gang rapes and serious injuries of among others - two women as they fetched firewood in Ildigiri on June 18th, a woman in Lower Makurian area while she grazed cattle and an attack on a chief’s wife by soldiers engaged in the construction of Doldol Primary School.
Minutes quote Captain D P Thomas as “being very sympathetic to the women who were raped and pledged to take serious steps on the issues brought forward”. Major N W Stacy suggested that although the (British) military “are involved in such immoral behaviours, locals must avoid visits to restricted training areas or talking to the soldiers. Corporal R. Sinis “said that he will be very tough with the soldiers who will be caught up with these issues”, the minutes state.
Despite knowledge of the serious allegations as early as 1977, the UK Defence ministry only sent the Royal Military Police (RMP) Special Investigation Branch to Laikipia and Isiolo in April 2003 - after the outcry.
Following a rape victim demonstration in Nairobi and their petition to the British government on August 14, 2003, High Commissioner Edward Clay replied, “The British government takes an extremely serious view of these allegations and is determined to act upon them. We are anxious to do all we can to discover the truth behind them.”
IMPACT hired London-based Martyn Day of Leigh, Day and Co. Solicitors to represent the rape victims seeking justice and reparations. Last year in June, Day wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko requesting “that an investigation be undertaken regarding the documents obtained by the Royal Military Police in investigating the claims…”
Day blasted RMP for carrying out “a very poor investigation”. He was disturbed that RMP took over 500 witness statements and claimed some 1,778 allegations made at 30 police stations were forged. He regrets original documents have allegedly gone missing and wants them tracked down.
He says, “I do not believe there is the slightest chance they were forged… I very firmly believe that a core of the rape allegations were true”
This intricate web of silence, inaction and alleged conspiracy between governments to deny Asli and hundreds others of justice is causing concern across the rape fields of the Kenyan north. Kaunga laments, “There is no glory in claiming one was raped. We demand justice so that such criminal and humiliating acts do not recur. The “untouchables” in the British Army must be stopped from terrorising people in difficult circumstances.”