Residents of Lolldaiga in Laikipia County want the British Army to take responsibility and pay hundreds of millions in compensation for health complications and increased human-wildlife conflict caused by a wildfire at Lolldaiga Conservancy last year.
About 5,000 locals have filled out claim forms seeking compensation from the British government for damages from the fire that was sparked by British soldiers during a love fire exercise on Lolldaiga Hills. This move follows a decision by an intergovernmental liaison committee, comprising senior Kenyan and British military officers, giving the locals a go-ahead to register official claims for compensation.
A court sitting earlier this year before Justice Antonina Kossy Bor heard that the liaison committee had resolved to collect the complaints as the first step in resolving the dispute involving some 1,496 community members. The community was given 60 days from October 15 to present its grievances to the committee.
Lawyer Kelvin Kubai, who is representing the locals, says close to 5,000 locals have come forward demanding compensation, with most of them citing health complications and losses due to increased human-wildlife conflict. The claim forms are to be sent to the committee by December 15.
“The complaints mainly range from damage to crop, property, environment and health-related issues arising from toxic chemicals used during the military exercises,” he says.
Saturday Nation sampled the complaints. The locals claim that the fumes from the fire caused respiratory complications. Most of those who listed down health complications said the fumes caused chest pains and breathing difficulties.
The British Army has in the recent past admitted to using white phosphorus-based ammunition during their training. Some of the effects of the hazardous chemical are chest pains and irritable respiratory tract. In the villages of Muramati, Mwireri, and Mugumo within Daiga Division, locals narrated to Saturday Nation how their lives changed for the worse following the fire incident.
“We have never seen such heavy smoke before. It was coloured and choking and the nearby villages witnessed darkness during daytimes,” said Mr Nahashon Kana, a resident of Muramati village and one of the petitioners in the compensation suit.
The heavy smoke permeated the villages for days, blown by strong howling winds. It has been termed the cause of adverse health effects like serious eyesight problems and miscarriages in humans and livestock. Documents from government medics and veterinary officers are part of the evidence presented before court.
Lawyer Kelvin Kubai told court during the latest hearing that some 30 petitioners had already died, majority of them from hazardous effects of the smoke, and called for quick resolution of the matter, which is now before the Inter-Governmental Liaison Committee. The committee comprises representatives from British and Kenya governments.
Ms Teresiah Wajiru from Muramati village says her husband, Leonard Kihato, died on August 8 after a short illness, though he had no history of life-threatening ailment. “My husband complained of chest pains and we took him to Nanyuki Teaching and Referral Hospital. Medics said he was suffering from pneumonia and he passed on two days later,” the widow says, pointing at the grave.
In another homestead, Ms Theresa Gathoni is attending to her sickly brother, Mr Peter Waweru, who has been complaining of chest pains. “My brother was a healthy man, who could work and earn money for himself. But for the better part of this year, he has been in and out of hospital and currently spends most of the day sleeping because of deteriorating health,” says Ms Gathoni.
Ms Agnes Kariuki, whose homestead borders Lolldaiga Conservancy, told Saturday Nation that her family was hard hit by the effects of the smoke due to their close proximity.
“I was hospitalised for a week with my two-year-old son. He suffered breathing difficulties while my eyes were affected and I am due to undergo surgery. Our dairy cow worth Sh200,000 contracted a strange disease and died,” narrates Ms Kariuki.
Notably, the locals have accused the British Army of exacerbating the human-wildlife conflict in the area.
They claim wildlife escaping from the March 2021 fire invaded their farms and homes and damaged crops and property.
In Laikipia North, a women’s self-help group dealing with permaculture is seeking compensation after a herd of elephants from the conservancy destroyed its aloe vera plantation.
In its request to the committee, the Nabulu Women Group, which has 25 members, says the continuous military live-fire exercises by the British Army at the conservancy are forcing an invasion by wildlife on the 10-acre-farm. This has seen the women, who make aloe products such as soap, cream, shower jelly, shampoo and body lotion, repeatedly register a loss in business.
The problem has seen the group repair their fence repeatedly after invasions by the animals. As part of its mitigation measures to revive the business, pending the committee’s decision on how much it should be paid, the group has resorted to giving up part of its farm produce as compensation to a Permaculture Centre, which, in return, will construct an electric fence around the farm.
The agreement seen by Saturday Nation dated August 22 shows that the construction project will cost Sh59,600 and the group will pay in instalments.
In the first two instalments of Sh28,000, the centre will deduct 80 kilogrammes from the total 160kg made from two harvests at different times of the year.
The third shows that the members will give out Sh15,800 from the sale of soap and cream.
Besides demanding the costs incurred in the electric fence project, the group is seeking compensation for the damage to its aloe vera plants.
By Nicholas Komu, Mwangi Ndirangu and Mercy Mwende