Why is Kenya investigating alleged abuse by UK soldiers?

Multiple offences, including a murder, have hounded British soldiers in Kenya for years.

Boris Johnson with UK troops in Kenya
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, left, awards a Long Service and Good Conduct medal to an officer at the British Army Training Unit Kenya [BATUK] in Nanyuki, Kenya, on March 17, 2017 [Thomas Mukoya/AP Photo]

By Shola Lawal

Source: Explainer, Published On 1 Jun 20241 Jun 2024

Kenya this week kick-started public hearings into widespread allegations that United Kingdom soldiers stationed in the East African country have committed multiple human rights violations.

For over a decade, locals on different occasions accused British soldiers training in towns in central Kenya of misconduct, environmental degradation, murder, and a host of other serious offences.


list of 3 itemslist 1 of 3

‘Major non-NATO ally’: What does Biden’s new Kenya pledge mean?

list 2 of 3

Kenya braces for 3 days of anti-gov’t protests: All the details

list 3 of 3

‘I blame the government’: Poor Kenyans say no support amid record flooding

end of list

The hearings mark the culmination of long-winded legal proceedings to try British soldiers under Kenyan law following years of lobbying by civil society groups and after initial pushback from the British government.

Here’s what we know about the abuse allegations and what’s expected to happen after the hearings:

What is BATUK and what are members accused of?

The British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK) is a permanent training support force based in Nanyuki, central Kenya – and it has existed since Kenyan independence from the UK in 1963.

BATUK has about 100 permanent staff and some 280 rotating short-term regiments from the UK. The unit trains British troops and provides antiterrorism training for Kenyan troops facing the al-Shabab armed group. 

Although the unit has become essential for the economy in Nanyuki and surrounding counties close to training sites, with hundreds of locals employed and with many shops catering to the soldiers, residents have long listed grievances against the troops. Unexploded bombs left from training have claimed people’s limbs in multiple incidents.

Lethal chemicals, such as white phosphorus used in the training exercises, have also raised concerns. The chemical is believed to have contributed to a massive blaze that ripped through the privately owned Lolldaiga Conservancy in March 2021, burning swaths of forest. Locals said the smoke pressed in on them for days and caused eye and inhalation problems. Others said it pushed wildlife onto their farms, leading to crop loss. Some 5,000 people have sued BATUK over that incident.


Who is Agnes Wanjiru?

Sexual abuse claims are also key among the allegations, with several accusations of assault by troops against local women. One soldier in 2021 was dismissed and fined for lifting the skirts of a local woman in public.

In the highest profile case to date, UK soldiers are accused of the March 2012 murder of 21-year-old Agnes Wanjiru in a hotel in Nanyuki. The woman’s body was found in a septic tank two months later close to the room the soldiers used.