Why Laikipia is opposed to UK soldiers training in county

Batuk Lolldaiga

The British Army Training Unit Training in Kenya -BATUK train for war at Lolldaiga training area in Laikipia County on November 14, 2022.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi I Nation Media Group

The Laikipia County government has opposed plans to renew the Defence Cooperation Agreement between Kenya and Britain before some “pertinent issues” are ironed out.

The UK military’s five-year pact that allows its troops to train on Kenyan soil under the British Army Training Unit in Kenya (Batuk) expired in October last year but the 12th Parliament did not give its nod for a renewal.

For the second time in a year, the devolved unit has written to the parliamentary Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations, urging MPs to first seek the views of the public and other stakeholders before addressing the issue of renewing the partnership.

“The Previous Defence Corporation Agreement [signed in October 2016] had established the Intergovernmental Liaison Committee to hear disputes arising out of the existence of the Batuk,” says a letter from County Attorney Alex Muchemi that is copied to Governor Joshua Irungu.

“However, the committee has never been operationalised and has no physical address, which makes it impossible for any citizens affected to petition or be heard.”

One of the issues cited in the letter that the county government says have not been resolved is the March 2021 Lolldaiga fire that locals claim had adverse health and environmental effects.

The community living next to the private conservancy where the British soldiers conduct their training sued Batuk, seeking compensation. The matter was referred to the Intergovernmental Liaison Committee and will be mentioned early next month.

Another contentious issue is the March 2012 murder of 21-year-old Agnes Wanjiru, who was allegedly killed by a British soldier at Lions Court Hotel and her body thrown into a septic tank.

Batuk Lolldaiga

The British Army Training Unit Training in Kenya -BATUK train for war at Lolldaiga training area in Laikipia County on November 14, 2022.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi I Nation Media Group

Last week, the UK’s minister of state for the armed forces, James Heappey, travelled to Kenya and held discussions with National Majority Leader Assembly Kimani Ichungw’ah and Majority Whip Silvanus Osoro reportedly to lobby the 13th Parliament to push for the renewal of the defence cooperation agreement.

During the meeting, Mr Heappey promised justice for the family of Wanjiru, who, when she died, had a five-month-old child now under the care of her elder sister in Majengo Estate, Nanyuki town.

It was the second time this year that the UK minister pledged that the soldier implicated in the killing and who has since returned to Britain would be arrested and prosecuted, but he admitted the investigations have been slow.

“I am not satisfied with the progress that is being made. We have nothing to hide. If the evidence shows that the individual was culpable, then he is yours to extradite,” Mr Heappy told Mr Ichungw’ah, who had raised the matter.

The family of the late Wanjiru has urged Mr Heappy to demonstrate by action that the UK government is committed to pursuing justice for her.

“Earlier this year, the UK minister visited the Batuk Nyati Barracks in Nanyuki town and promised to reach out to us [the late Wanjiru’s family]. He or another senior Batuk official never contacted us and have not done so to date; hence we can no longer trust his words,” family spokesperson David Kairu told the Nation by phone.

Urging the parliamentary committee to visit Laikipia for an engagement with stakeholders and the public, Mr Muchemi, in his letter, notes the importance of deliberating on some “unethical” business practices “by associates of the foreign troops”.

The British Army Training Unit Training in Kenya -BATUK at Lolldaiga training area in Laikipia County on November 14, 2022.

“The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) and Batuk have also taken part in several unethical business practices, one of the companies which have fallen victim to this unfortunate practice is Maiyan Holdings Limited,” the letter says. 

The letter adds that 34 custom-built houses put up in 2019 for Sh400 million have not been occupied.

Training for the troops takes place in private ranches in Laikipia and at Archers Post in Samburu County.

During their training, they engage in community projects and employ locals, with at least 500 people under permanent employment and nearly 1,500 working as casuals whenever the soldiers visit the region.

Speaking to the Nation recently, the UK High Commissioner to Kenya, Jane Marriott, said the partnership between the two countries has been critically important and aimed to empower the local community economically.

“Apart from their usual training, partnership with the local community is the heart of what Batuk do. We are keen on giving our children the best education and we will continue building on that community engagement,” Ms Marriott said during her tour of Nanyuki.

She said that since the Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed in 2016, Batuk has contributed over Sh5.8 billion to the local economy.