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Pastoralists Caught Between Army Drills and Survival

African Church Information Service, 11 June 2001

Don Dol - The experiences of the two pastoral communities, the Maasai and the Samburu of Kenya are horrifying, as the British Army continue to use their land for military training.

Apart of the environmental destruction, abandoned military ordnances in their grazing field have exploded maiming many folks. There is now an outcry from the communities, as they demand compensation up to 10 million pounds, for injuries and misuse of their land.

Christian leaders in the region say that they are frustrated by what they call ignorance from the concerned authorities. In two parts, the writer explores the conflict and the plight of the community.

About 250 km north of Nairobi, Don Dol, a small town centre, spreads below a stretch of rolling mountains. A visitor to this centre is immediately attracted by the natural view, but one does not fail to appreciate the sense of toughness presented by the dry stony ground.

This is the country, where the Maasai, a herding community of Kenya live. Another 350 km in the same direction from the city, lies Archers Post, deep in the arid northern Kenya. The Samburu, another herding community live here.

Archers Post is equally hot dry, stony and tough. These two grounds are now the centre of a battle between the two communities and the British Ministry of Defence. The two communities are suing the British government for injuries caused by military ordinances allegedly left behind by their Army.

More than 200 related accidents have been recorded, with 90 percent of them involving children. The numbers are said could rise to 400 as more victims come forward.

The pastoral communities have filed a suit in London through a civil rights law firm Leigh, Day and Company advocates. In the first of its kind suit the lawyers representing 50 members of the Maasai and Samburu communities, most of them children.

The inquisitive and curious children are the ones who have become most vulnerable to the explosives. On May 13, this writer found Nasintoi Kilesi, an eight-year old girl with a fresh wound. She had been playing with a live bullet next to a fire, which blow up missing her eye narrowly and ploughed through her cheek.

The use of the lands contravenes the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Article 28, which protects such communities as these two against the misuse of their land.

It says that Army activities shall not take place on the land of indigenous peoples without their consent. Hazardous material shall not be stored or disposed of on the land of indigenous peoples.

Governments shall take measures to assist indigenous peoples whose health has been affected by such material.

A whole gamut of issues for this case is being pursued. This is mostly based on missed opportunities by the community ranging from environmental destruction by heavy machinery, the alleged miscarriage of pregnant women due to the blasting of motor and gunfire during training, to the allegation that military operations begin with no warning at all.

At the army training grounds of Archers Post in Samburu District and Don Dol in Laikipia district, lay many unexploded artillery shells and grenades scattered where the herder communities graze their cattle. The tough dry hot mountains regions of Archers Post and Don Dol provide a hardening ground for soldiers. The community feels that this is one reason why the region is so preferred by the armies.

A whole gamut of issues for this case is being pursued. These include environmental destruction by heavy machinery, the alleged miscarriage of pregnant women due to the blasting of motor and gunfire during training, to the allegation that military operations begin with no warning at all.

Martin Day, a senior partner with Leigh, Day and Company Advocates, said in Nairobi last month that these were the places where the Maasai and Samburu live, play and graze their flocks, and had a strong case against the British.

He said the two communities were supposed to get the same compensation, as the British people were entitled for the same level of damages. The use of heavy weapons artillery here constantly, which included firing of bombs, mortar and rockets as well as smaller ordnances such as grenades was evident, he said.

Some of the writings etched on the objects read; (TV148 LX R5 69 ­ TV184 VEC 10/67), C DM37 AI LOS 1M1-7) and (Grenade Hand Smoke Screening Training L8 3AI H&W 10-95 153).

A British television documentary shot in Laikipia and Samburu districts by a UK Channel Four television (shown in December, 2000) quoted an unidentified British Army source as saying that they had evidence implicating the Army on the death of three children in the area.

The children were killed hand grenades they were playing with exploded in Archers Post. The television reporter, Stevens Smith said: "The British Army has taken too many liberties with Kenyan lives and cutting corners in a way that would not be tolerated in the UK and Europe".

A lawyer from the Leigh, Day and Company said the British Army was responsible for the atrocities and used the land in northern Kenya for training of its troops because of restrictions in the UK and other European countries.

Dr Inonda Mwanje, a legal expert, giving his remarks on the Development Costs of the Military Training in the Semi-Arid and Arid Areas in Nanyuki (another Kenyan outpost) last August, said military training should be environmentally friendly.

He also said that some contingency measures needed to be put in place to rehabilitate the environment. There must also be some understanding between the military training and the local communities which appear to be lacking in the areas.

But according to the press officer at the British High Commission in Kenya, Mr. Rufus Drabble, the British Army did not fire these ordnances. "We take these allegations seriously".

"It is only in Archers Post where we have used live ammunition, which is a gazetted as a military training ground by the Kenya government. In Don Dol we have used blanks. We do not believe the bombs at Don Dol are British fired," said Rufus.

The British high Commissioner to Kenya, Jeffery James, admitted in the local media that the Army used live ammunitions, but was categorical that visual sweeps were done after every exercise. More than 3,000 British army units come to Kenya every year for specialized training in the desert and the jungle warfare.

Day said the British Ministry of Defence pays substantial amounts of money to the Kenya Army for the use of the land, but their Kenyan counterparts could not reveal the exact figures. "The responsibility of cleaning up of the area lies with the British army," said Day.

A Kenyan Member of Parliament, Mrs Beth Mugo, speaking on behalf of the Parliamentary, Judicial and Human Rights Committee of the Inter-parliamentary Union, said despite numerous reports in the media, there seemed to be a conspiracy of silence and inactivity between the two governments.

General Adan Abdullahi of the Kenya Army speaking on Effects of Military Training Exercises on pastoral Livelihood in Kenya in August last year said the local people were always informed through the district administration of any impending military operation. Status of Force Agreements (SOFA) is drawn between Attorney General for the Government and the concerned foreign country. Modes of compensation exist where civilians are affected. The government gazettes areas for military training. The army officers are subject to the laws of the land.

Copyright 2001 African Church Information Service. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).