Laikipia woman

A woman in a pensive mood during the interview.

| Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

The love-hate relationship of Nanyuki and British soldiers

“Yes, I have been abused by British soldiers. But I don’t think you should write about that. If you expose the bad things they do, they will leave.”

These are the words of a Nanyuki woman when she learnt that the Nation was looking into her recent case of physical and sexual abuse by soldiers’ stationed in Laikipia County under the British Army Training Unit (Batuk).

It is a perfect exemplification of what can be best described as a love-hate relationship between British soldiers and residents of Nanyuki.

Coming against the backdrop of a long-standing murder investigation of 21-year-old hairdresser Agnes Wanjiru 11 years ago, the Nation was on a fact-finding mission into what happens in the streets of Nanyuki, especially when the sun sets.

Part of our investigation entailed tracking down and interviewing women who claim to have been victims of sexual and physical abuse by British soldiers.

That is how we met with Alice – Not her real name – a businesswoman and part-time sex worker.

She was at one of the nightclubs frequented by British soldiers stationed at Nyati barracks on the outskirts of Nanyuki.

Transactional sex

The Nation journalists had been informed that Alice was assaulted by British soldiers a year ago.

That was reportedly after they failed to agree on the fee for transactional sex.

It is said that after being beaten up, a soldier inserted a bottle in her private parts.

The incident, though well-known among locals in her neighbourhood, was never reported to relevant authorities.

Alice reportedly went silent about it after she was paid off and even refused to file a police report.

We also learnt that it was not the first time she had experienced brutality from the soldiers.

She has previously been beaten with beer bottles at clubs and sexually harassed in lodges and “Airbnbs” that  have become popular hideouts for British soldiers engaging in transactional sex.

Nevertheless, Alice is coy on speaking up about her abuse or the misconduct of the soldiers. She thinks it will destroy her “business”.

“Tuambiane tu ukweli. Tuko kazi, tunatafuta. Mkiexpose hii mambo, si mtaharibu kazi. Majohnnie wataenda ama wafungiwe. (Let us be honest with one another. We are trying to earn a living. If you expose this, you will ruin our business. The soldiers (referred to as Johnnies here) will leave or be restricted from coming to clubs),” Alice told the Nation journalists

Many sex workers face abuse while “on duty” but opt to remain silent.

According to residents, sex workers are often abused by the soldiers but rarely go to police.

Ironically, recent efforts by Kenyan and British authorities to compel victims of abuse to expose the cases appear to have hit a brick wall.

Last year, Batuk funded the construction of a Sh9 million report desk, specifically for gender-based violence cases at Nanyuki police station.

The centre, under the Policare programme of the National Police Service, is meant to create a friendly environment for victims and encourage them to come forward, even if their abusers are British.

In a rather ironic twist, the affiliation with Batuk has created a perception that police may be biased or complacent with cases involving British soldiers.

Coming against the backdrop of the unresolved 2011 Wanjiru murder and protests against abuse of local women, the displeasure towards British soldiers is evident.

Monetary gains

However, a relatively large amount of complacency lies with some of the local women who feel the abuse is a small price to pay compared to the supposed monetary gains from the soldiers.

“It is addictive. There are times I have sworn that I will not go back but find myself here looking for money a few days later,” Alice said, adding that her day job is not enough to sustain her family.

High levels of unemployment have forced some women to overlook personal safety and engage in the forbidden trade.

It should be noted that under revised British law, soldiers are prohibited from engaging in prostitution or any form of transactional sex while deployed.

At the same time, prostitution is illegal in Kenya.

However, British soldiers, local women and sex workers have devised ways of breaking the rules, cultivating a toxic love-hate relationship based on prostitution and transactional sex.

Regulations introduced by the British military aimed at curbing misconduct and conflict with the community include restricted movement of soldiers and curfews.

Over the last two years, soldiers have been restricted from going to town on most nights. When they do, they have strict curfews and oversight.

Usually, soldiers are allowed to go to town on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. They are expected at the base by 2am.

During these days, the soldiers prefer partying at clubs and are allowed to interact with Nanyuki residents.

Even then, British military police officers constantly patrol around the clubs, monitoring the soldiers’ activities.

During such outings, the soldiers drink and make merry. They also  look out for women to flirt with. Many are usually interested in casual sex, even if it is transactional.

A huge number of local women and girls are open to these approaches, with some going to the extent of literally throwing themselves towards the soldiers.

The Nation went undercover more than five times in these clubs and witnessed soldiers and local women engage in the forbidden trade.

As night falls, a group of British soldiers streams into a local club in Nanyuki.

Within an hour of their arrival – around 8pm – a group of uniformed and armed British military police officers do a round of patrol inside the club, jurisdictional laws notwithstanding.

As soon as the soldiers settle in and order their first round of drinks, scantily-dressed women and girls start trooping in and take strategic positions.

Short skirts

Most are dressed in short skirts, dresses and shorts, revealing as much skin as they can.

They brave the brutally chilly weather, which forces most revellers to sit next to a bonfire.

The multiple layers of makeup and manicured nails are the finishing details that will probably make them stand out in the hoard of women who are out to capture the attention of the soldiers and hopefully get them to fork out a few hundred or thousand shillings.

But the men, who look like recruits hardly in their mid-20s, at first act disinterested in the girls who have hit the floor with suggestive dances.

Most of the girls hardly order any drinks.

Those who do only order one, supposedly hoping that the young British soldiers will offer to buy the next round – and more.

Eventually, a group of girls on the dance floor, some who are definitely teenagers, capture the attention of the soldiers.

A seemingly cold war of sneers and foul look emerges between the girls and a group of sex workers with whom the Nation reporters and associates had embedded with for the purpose of this investigation.

But not even the thick layers of make-up or the skimpy outfits worn by the “elderly” commercial sex workers are a match for the younger petite girls.

As it turns out, this has become the norm over the past years.

Women and girls compete for the attention of British soldiers who have become the highlight of Nanyuki’s nightlife.

Alice, who is in her mid-30s, lingers around the group of military men, still hoping to catch the eye of one should he drink himself silly enough to lower his guard.

Her efforts are dealt a big blow when a group of girls surrounds the soldiers, unleashing all manner of suggestive dance moves.

The girls are emerging “victorious” and Alice will have to share the men.

The veteran manages to pull one of them aside.

For the rest of the night, the soldiers are responsible for the bills. In exchange, the girls entertain them with dances.

As the 2am deadline approaches, the soldiers break off from the group and each is seen flirting with a girl.

Our local sources, who are privy to the dealings, tell us that this is when the soldiers solicit for sex.

It is the hidden lodges and bed and breakfasts (bnbs) where transactional sex happens.

While that was happening, the Nation team also learnt that taxi operators are important players in the sex trade.

They are the fixers and transport for the soldiers during their night escapades.

The military officers, especially the seniors, depend on the taxi drivers to get them women and illicit drugs at times.

“An army officer will only go out with a woman or girl if I give him the go-ahead,” one of the local taxi drivers told us, adding that over the years, the military men have become cautious.

He said some of the sex workers steal from their clients.

During our undercover operations, one of the Nation associates was engaged by a British soldier in an apparent attempt to solicit for sex.

Also, the Nation team captured on video a British soldier soliciting for transactional sex from one of our undercover associates.