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Decades of trickery and tears caused by colonial agreement

By Amos Kareithi | October 26th 2021
Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo (left) and UK High Commissioner Nicolas Hailey when they signed an agreement at the Defence Ministry in Nairobi on December 9, 2015.[Fidelis Kabunyi, Standard]

Long before Independence, some Kenyans quaked as they talked in hushed tones about the horrors they had gone through at the hands of British troops during the struggle for self-rule

Most of these freedom fighters were holed up in chilly forests deep in Mt Kenya, and their expectations were that once they routed their colonisers out of the country, they would easily slip into a new Kenyan military uniform.

These expectations were backed publicly by declarations by the two leading political parties, Kanu and Kadu, that once Kenya became independent, all British military bases would be closed and the soldiers, popularly known as Jonnies, would be kicked out. Predictably, Kanu President Jomo Kenyatta in November 1962 supported calls that British military bases in Kenya and Aden be removed.

But Britain was working behind the scenes to ensure that the White settlers in Kenya and their investments were going to be safeguarded long after the last colonial administrator had left Nairobi. During the Lancaster Conferences in 1961 and 1962 convened to negotiate Kenya’s pathway to independence, Britain insisted that its troops be allowed to remain and train in Kenya.

Britain held the aces. To arm-twist the newly independent country, Britain offered the Northern Frontier District to Somalia and even superintended a referendum where the people overwhelming voted to join Somalia. Now Kenyatta had to deal with an armed rebellion after secessionists backed by Somalia waged war, and he had no army. Britain said it was ready to dispatch its troops to assist Kenya.

Again, when Kenyan African soldiers staged a mutiny on January 12, 1964, Britain offered a helping hand, sending in the 24th Brigade and using the revolt to pressurise the government that was under duress to extract major concessions.

London achieved her post-colonial imperial objectives as demonstrated by British High Commissioner Geoffrey de Freitas who wrote in a telegram on March 10, 1964, quoting Kenyatta: “I shall be grateful if the British Government will agree to retain in Kenya after 12th December 1964 sufficient British Army and Royal Air Force personnel to carry out these duties in Kenya, which are beyond the present capability of Kenya Armed Forces.”

Three months later, after a visit to Nairobi, Duncan Sandy, Britain’s Commonwealth and Colonial Secretary, said he had reached a broad agreement that his country would train the Kenya Army and Air Force and transfer military equipment and accommodation to Kenyan forces. Ultimately Kenyatta signed a contract that allowed British Army Training and Liaison Staff Kenya, to train in the country for 15 years. 

This arrangement remains to date, and while both countries have benefited, it has been a source of tears for local girls impregnated and brutalised by the foreign soldiers, victims of improperly stored munitions, and wildlife killed by reckless fires lit by drunken soldiers.

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