Push for justice for Wanjiru may cloud King Charles' Kenya visit

Agnes Wanjiru. Her body was found in a septic tank behind the Lions Court Hotel in Nanyuki. [Courtesy]

Agnes Wanjiru’s body was found in a septic tank behind the Lions Court Hotel in Nanyuki near the British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK) camp.  

Eleven long years later, Kenya and the UK’s justice systems have scarcely trembled in the quest for justice for Wanjiru’s murder.

Her alleged killer, whose identity is well known to British authorities, is not only a free man but has reportedly callously, on Facebook, remorselessly made jokes about the incident, to soldiers he served with. The British soldier served in the Duke of Lancaster Regiment in 2012.  

Meanwhile, the past decade has condemned Wanjiru’s family to a perpetual state of anxious limbo. They continue to grapple with the enduring pain of their loss while steadfastly demanding justice.

When The Sunday Standard inquired about the message they would convey to King Charles III if given the chance to speak to him directly, Wanjiru’s elder sister and the guardian of her 11-year-old daughter, Rose Wanyua,  expressed an unwavering plea:  “Justice is all we want.”

Wanyua lamented the apparent disregard for the murder case by authorities, attributing it to their modest, economically disadvantaged background.

Esther Njoki, Wanjiru’s 19-year-old niece, conveyed the pain and trauma that her family has endured 11 years since her aunt’s passing. She passionately emphasised their need for answers concerning Wanjiru’s murder not only for themselves but also for Wanjiru’s daughter, who is growing up without a mother. 

Njoki, who was a preteen when her aunt disappeared, stressed the importance of compensation and expressed deep frustration that the person responsible for the heinous crime is reportedly at large in the UK. 

“The killers, who are known in London, are walking free,” Njoki stated from Majengo, Nanyuki. She called for the arrest and extradition of the suspect to Kenya, believing that only then would justice be truly served and the memory of her aunt’s tragic fate become a powerful lesson to other rogue foreign soldiers in Kenya. 

A 2019 inquest conducted by a Nanyuki magistrate yielded the distressing conclusion that Wanjiru likely remained alive when she was thrown into the septic tank, her body bearing signs of physical abuse and stab wounds.

In a further revelation, a 2021 investigation by The Sunday Times, a British newspaper, unveiled shocking details. It disclosed that a British soldier had been shamelessly boasting to his comrades about being responsible for her death.

Moreover, another soldier had reportedly disclosed to local police that the implicated soldier had even exhibited Wanjiru’s lifeless body to him back in 2012, further compounding the gravity of the matter. Despite this, even the name of the alleged culprit is yet to be made public. The Times, apparently fearful of a lawsuit, has only published a blurred-up photo of the main suspect. 

Wanjiru’s family places the blame for the sluggish pace of the inquiry squarely on the Kenyan government, accusing it of conducting shoddy investigations that have only deepened their pain and left them without closure. Njoki revealed that Wanjiru’s daughter constantly asks about her missing mother, a heartbreaking reminder of their ongoing agony.

The Sunday Standard reached out to Mohamed Amin, Director of Criminal Investigations following up on the case but our calls and messages went unanswered. 

Agnes Wanjiru’s brother Joseph Maina Mwangi by her gravesite in Nanyuki Cemetery, November 3, 2021. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

The African Centre for Corrective and Preventive Action (ACCPA), a campaign group seeking compensation for Wanjiru and other victims of atrocities, supports their demands. ACCPA’s Executive Chairman, James Mwangi, expressed the family’s desire for the extradition of the perpetrators to face justice in Kenya. “They’re curtailing us from airing out our frustrations as well as demand for justice,” Mwangi told The Sunday Standard. 

Kenyan authorities had previously vowed to bring the British soldier involved to justice.  However, this case has languished, revealing a disturbing attitude towards a murder investigation that has grabbed the attention of Kenyans and the world. Despite high-ranking officials from Kenya and the UK expressing concern for the plight of Wanjiru’s family, multiple inquiries and legal proceedings have failed to secure justice for her. 

In a bid to voice their concerns and demand justice, victims of atrocities committed by ‘rogue’ UK soldiers have been invited to participate in a peaceful protest at the British High Commission in Nairobi tomorrow, a day before the Monarch arrives.  

However, their formal notification to the Kenyan police was rejected, raising concerns that the impending protest, if it proceeds, may face a harsh response from riot police.

Mwangi additionally reached out to the British envoy in Kenya, Neil Wigan, with a letter seeking a face-to-face meeting between the Monarch and Wanjiru’s family. When asked about this request, the High Commission issued the following statement to The Sunday Standard via an email from Georgina Woodhouse-Hills, the Head of Communications, Kenya and Somalia:  

“The British High Commission has received a request to meet with the family of Agnes Wanjiru. The case is a priority for the UK Government, and we fully appreciate the seriousness and importance of justice for Agnes Wanjiru.” 

Shrouded in secrecy 

In the meantime, despite a mountain of evidence firmly pointing toward a prime suspect and a cadre of witnesses who served in the same regiment as him seemingly eager to testify, the wheels of justice in both Kenya and Britain have scarcely moved an inch. Instead, numerous agencies have either engaged in a blame-shifting exercise or maintained a resolute silence: 

“There’s been a lot of buck-passing between different agencies. The [UK’s] Ministry Of Defense and the Royal Military Police did the initial investigation that got absolutely nowhere. They are saying they don’t have jurisdiction. We gave the MOD the name perpetrator and key witnesses and they haven’t passed that to the Kenyan authorities,” said Hannah Al-Othman, a journalist with the Sunday Times, who together with her colleague David Collins unearthed the horrifying details of the murder.   

The Kenyan branch of the murder investigation, to the extent that it exists, is veiled in a thick shroud of secrecy. So much so that in early October, Wanjiru’s family took the matter to the High Court, seeking orders to compel authorities to provide information about the progress of their inquiry. The request was made by Wanyua who is the administrator of Wanjiru’s estate.

Through her lawyer Mbiyu Kamau, Wanyua accused the government of violating Article 35 of the Constitution:  “The violation of Article 35 by the respondent has hindered the extradition process necessary to return the perpetrators of the crime to Kenya for trial for the offence of murder .”  

Britain's King Charles III and Queen Camilla leave following a Service of Prayer and Reflection for the life of Queen Elizabeth II at Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff, Wales, September 16, 2022. [AP photo]

When pressed about the possibility of King Charles issuing an apology for the extensive historical injustices committed by Britain in Kenya, Wigan took great care to clarify that, for legal reasons, a full-throated apology from the Monarch would not be forthcoming

“We choose the language carefully, we have expressed deep regret, we have said it in [our] parliament in the most public way. We have engaged very closely with the Mau Mau veterans who were affected and have not only paid compensation individually but also helped arrange for the monument that now sits in Uhuru Park,” the envoy explained during an interview on Spice FM. 

“We haven’t made an apology in any context. It’s an extremely difficult thing to do. We want to acknowledge the difficult bits of history and talk about them openly. An apology starts to take you into difficult legal territory. The settlement that we made [with the Mau Mau veterans] is an out-of-court settlement. It showed our sincerity and our openness in recognizing that abuses had been committed. That was the route that we chose and was accepted by Mau Mau Veterans Association,” he said. 

“We think its really important to talk openly about history and not to pretend that the bad things didn’t happen or that they don’t matter to people but in the context of a forward-looking relationship,” emphasised the High Commissioner. 

While Britain has long hinted at its willingness to address the heinous crimes committed in Kenya during the colonial era, it has remained reticent about its officers’ actions during that period. It took the relentless efforts of Harvard historian Caroline Elkins to unearth a hidden colonial archive spanning five decades, ultimately exposing the extent to which the UK had gone to whitewash its historical actions.

In her groundbreaking work, “Britain’s Gulag,” Elkins unveiled the harrowing truth behind the ruthless suppression of the Mau Mau uprising, unearthing a disturbing history of systemic violence and top-level cover-ups. Elkins played a pivotal role as an expert witness in the legal case brought by the Mau Mau veterans.  

In 2013, Britain reached an out-of-court settlement worth nearly £20 million (equivalent to almost $25 million at today’s exchange rates) to provide compensation to over 5,000 Mau Mau veterans who had endured abuse during the revolt.

Contrary to the perspective held by the UK High Commissioner, Mau Mau veterans like Gitu Wa Kahengeri, who suffered incarceration, torture, and deprivation of food in a British-administered labor camp during the emergency period, does not regard the “modest settlement” as adequate reparation in light of the horrifying experiences they endured. 

Given this historical backdrop, ACCPA claims the “carelessness” of BATUK was responsible for a fire in 2021 that devastated 12,000 acres of land in Lolldaiga Hills. One life was lost and many residents have reportedly presented with severe respiratory issues, which they did not experience before while some have endured permanent vision impairments due to the smoke. Meanwhile, more than 7,000 people who lost their land and livelihoods have not received any compensation, according to their lawyer Kelvin Kubai- who called a press conference in Nanyuki last week.