Lakipia residents want British army trainings stopped after fire

Batuk training

Soldiers climb into a military truck during a simulated military exercise of the British Army Training Unit in Kenya (Batuk), together with the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), at the ol-Daiga ranch in Laikipia County.

Photo credit: Tony Karumba | AFP

The Lolldaiga community in Laikipia County wants the British military stopped from conducting trainings at Lolldaiga Hills, terming continued exercises as contemptuous to the community living next to the 49,000-acre ranch.

Through their lawyer Kelvin Kubai, the residents told the Environment and Lands Court in Nyeri on Wednesday that despite the UK military allegedly causing a fire four months ago, trainings are still ongoing.

During a virtual court session held today, Justice Yuvinalis Angima heard that the military's actions were contemptuous to the community.

Mr Kubai also said that 1,496 locals have applied to be enjoined in the suit as co-petitioners of the African Centre for Corrective and Preventive Action, a non-governmental organisation which filed the case against Batuk. This was after Justice Angima issued orders on June 4 asking six residents enjoined in the suit to invite the rest of the community.

Justice Angima heard that an advert published in a local daily by the six attracted 1,496 locals.

In the suit filed by the NGO, Lolldaiga Hills Limited is listed as the first respondent while the Commanding Officer of the British Army Training Unit in Kenya (Batuk) and Batuk itself are listed as the second and third respondents.

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Kenya Forest Service (KFS) are also enjoined in the case as interested parties.

But ever since proceedings of the suit began, KWS and KFS are yet to appear in court.

An amended petition by the NGO and the Lolldaiga community, presented before Justice Angima during today's session, has brought in new evidence concerning the suit.

In the new petition, the community alleges that the respondents have admitted their culpability in causing the fire.

According to the petitioners, British High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Marriott, in a recent media interview, admitted that she would not be surprised if no wildlife was killed in the fire.

“A tweeter identifying himself as a British Army also appeared to brag on social media that an elephant had been killed in the fire started by the officers,” reads the petition.

According to the petition, toxic and poisonous fumes produced by the fire have been absorbed into the atmosphere and will be emitted to the environment through rains.

“Considering that Lolldaiga Hills is a water catchment area of several rivers, this poses great danger to the community, wild animals and water,” they argue.

An affidavit by Brigadier Lucinda Caryl Westerman, the Head of the British Defence Staff in East Africa, shows that the petition arose from a military training that was pursuant to a Defence Cooperation Agreement between Kenya and the UK.

According to Ms Westerman, since the military training is a government matter, the UK government is entitled to claim immunity from the jurisdiction of a Kenyan court.

However, Lolldaiga Hills Limited has told the court that Batuk’s absence will render the suit useless because it arose from its alleged actions.

During the session, Batuk’s lawyer Lawson Ondieki asked Justice Angima to grant him more time to respond to the fresh allegations made by the petitioners.

At the same time, lawyer Gibran Darr, who is representing Lolldaiga Hills Limited, had requested the court to reject a strike-out application by the British millitary.

In the application, Batuk had argued that it should be removed from the suit because it lacks legal person rights to sue or be sued as it is only a unit of the British Army. It further argues that the UK government is a foreign sovereign state which cannot submit to the jurisdiction of a Kenyan court.

But Justice Angima has since directed that the matter be heard before the new Environment and Land Court in Nanyuki.

According to the judge, since the ranch is located in Laikipia County, it is appropriate that it be heard in its own jurisdiction.

“It will also be easier for locals to travel to court proceedings,” the judge said in his orders on Wednesday.

The fire in question ravaged more than 10,000 acres of land, causing damage to plants, animals and the community living nearby.

Lolldaiga Hills is a conservancy located northwest of Mt Kenya in Laikipia County.

It is home to more than 400 species of birds, the rare Grevy’s zebra, leopards, wild dogs and elephants.

The case will continue on September 27.