British soldiers in rape scandal: an attempt by the British government to play down the rape of Maasai women in rural Kenya by British soldiers for more than 20 years has come a cropper.

Author:Kamau, John
Position:Around Africa: Kenya

In the rocky Kenyan hills of Dol Dol, the picturesque terrain of thorny thickets stands out. This is the land where British soldiers have loved to practise every year for decades now. Dol Dol is remote and out of the way.

While it was common knowledge that the British "disciplined forces" left hundreds of unexploded bombs in this Maasai territory--an issue that saw the British defence ministry recently part with [pounds]4.5 million in an out-of-court settlement to over 200 Maasai victims of unexploded ordnance--little was known about the rape of Maasai girls and women until recently.

When the news was first broken by Impact, a little known Maasai NGO, the British high commission in Nairobi maintained studious silence. Silently, British officials averred that the women wanted to join the compensation bandwagon. But were they?

The discovery of minutes of a three-hour meeting between Maasai leaders, British army officers and a Kenyan district commissioner, Newton Ambuya, now prove that the British Army knew about the rape claims as far back as 1983, two decades before the issue of bomb compensation cases were started; but did nothing -- after all it was in Africa.

"They just wanted the issue to be left alone", says Johnson Kaunga, the coordinator of Impact, which has hired Martin Day, the British solicitor behind the bomb compensation claims, to prosecute the rape cases. In addition, witnesses who reported specific cases to the military officers are also talking -- opening a can of worms for the British defence ministry.

In one of his letters dated 10 May 1983, Ambuya says that two local chiefs had complained of rapes and were trying to persuade the victims to "seek medical treatment rather than shy away".

Although Ambuya's letter makes no threat of criminal proceedings, it requests that the British officer in charge to "kindly advise your men against this behaviour which have [sic] left victims traumatised". Already more than 100 Maasai women have come forward and laid claims of rape by British soldiers who were on training exercises at Dol Dol . "I would like to see a commission of inquiry into the general conduct of the British Army in this region," says Johnston Kaunga of Impact.

Government officials in Nairobi say if the case is proved, it might affect the future of British troops training in Kenya.

One of the victims, Elizabeth, says the British soldiers "smelling of booze", forced their way into her hut some 24 years ago, when she was...

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