Is Britain about to review military training contract with Kenya?

Recent media reports have suggested that Britain’s military training agreement with Kenya, a crucial ally in monitoring terrorist activities in East Africa region, is under review and could hit a snag after a British soldier attached to the British Army Training Unit in Kenya (Batuk) is said to have shot dead a Kenyan pastoralist under unclear circumstances. Under Batuk, Britain has been training its soldiers in Kenya for high intensity operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The current contract is due to expire in 2015.

The reports largely, and erroneously, suggest that the contract is under threat especially due to the fact that the Kenyan government continues to hold the British soldier since June 2012. Could this be reason enough for Britain to review the contract thought to inject some £24.3 in terms of running costs into Kenyan economy? My answer would be NO. British interests in Kenya extend beyond military training. Certainly, the training environment Kenya offers cannot be found anywhere. Perhaps, Middle East region could offer the same yet the possibility remains as remote as it sounds.

Relationship between Nairobi and London has been frosty in the recent past for a number of reasons and this could be a case of pushing Nairobi to give in to the demands of the former colonial masters. Notably, London has to contend with the 2012 High Court landmark ruling that allowed three elderly Kenyans to claim damages for torture under the British colonial government. If this were to happen, it would set a precedent and would open up so many litigations against the British government. In fact, the possibility of the family of the slain pastoralist and many other compensation claims against the British government appear very real.

The above incident is not the first time that the local community is involved in controversy with Batuk. The local pastoralist Samburu community has also complained that the British army conducts training on their grazing land instead of its designated area, leaving unexplored military ordinances that have maimed and killed the local inhabitants. If this is let to go unaddressed, the possibility of the same happening does not appear remote, either through unattended ordinances or shooting under unclear circumstances.

Perhaps, the dismissal of these cases instils fears amongst the locals that the current case, if delivered under British jurisdiction might as well be dismissed. Batuk on its part accuses the local Samburu pastoralist community of stealing its ammunition which eventually is used against neighbouring Turkana community. Meanwhile, in Liakipia, the main base for Batuk, the locals complain they do not fully benefit from the presence of Batuk as most services are procured from elsewhere at their expense. These and a host of other challenges not only pose challenges to foreign-local military and civil-military relations that must be addressed by the two governments. Arguably, the biggest threat to the MoU is not Kenya’s failure to release the British soldier but, the frosty civil-military relationship between the soldiers and the local communities.

Secondly, that Kenya faces the possibility of a president and his deputy facing charges against humanity at The Hague should Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto win the forthcoming general elections continues to rub London the wrong way. The Kenyan government has reportedly been unwilling to block the two accused candidates from running in the forthcoming general elections and while Fatou Bensouda, the ICC prosecutor, has accused Nairobi of reluctance in cooperating with the ICC in bringing the perpetrators of the 2007 postelection violence to justice, a claim the Kenyan government has consistently denied.

Whilst the above examples suggest existing tensions between London and Nairobi over a couple of issues, the current stalemate offers Nairobi an opportunity to claim its stake in the MoU. The Kenyan government has a duty and responsibility to protect its citizens. The British government too has the moral obligation to ensure the safety of the local communities. Pursuing the case to its logical conclusion by the government of Kenya will be good for both Batuk and the Kenyan government in winning the confidence of the community, which in my opinion is the greatest threat to the cooperation. Failure of the government of Kenya to demonstrate that justice is seen to be done amongst the pastoralist communities will further lead to strained relationships with the British soldiers.

I argue that Britain is not just about to terminate this cooperation but rather pushing for ‘better terms of engagement’ with Nairobi, alongside setting the stage for defining future relations with Kenya in the event of ICC indicted leadership-in the event Uhuru and Ruto win the 2013 elections. As the British digs dip on the issue, the Kenya government needs tighten its position-of course with the hindsight that London is unlikely to get any better option for training their soldiers while at the same time monitoring terrorist activities in East Africa, which is acknowledged by the British National Security Strategy as a threat to her interests.

Note: These views do not in any way represent or reflect the views of the British or the Kenyan government.


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