British Army's Kenya training threatened by land row

Adrian Blomfield
A soldier from 2nd Bn The Royal Regiment of Scotland watches as camels pass during Exercise Askari Storm in 2015 - PA

The British Army could be forced to abandon training troops in Kenya after the government of President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered soldiers to stop conducting vital exercises on private ranches.

The decision threatens to upend a decades-long military relationship that pumps £58 million a year into the Kenyan economy and comes after the two countries appeared to resolve long-running tensions by signing a new defence cooperation pact barely 12 months ago.

New restrictions mean that the thousands of British soldiers who pass through Kenya every year are no longer able to train on as many as 11 privately-owned ranches in the Laikipia region north of Mt Kenya.

Instead, British troops will be restricted to public land used by the Kenyan armed forces further north, in the Archer's Post area of Samburu.

The new restrictions severely restrict the scope of what training is possible and would rule out a repeat of large scale wargames such as the regular Askari Storm exercises.

British soldiers of 1st Bn The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment training in Kenya in 2013 Credit: MOD

Samburu is arid and flat, while Laikipia has more varied terrain including hills and cliffs.

A British Army spokesman said troops “continue to train alongside the Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF) at their training areas”.

But it is understood Britain is considering pulling training out of the country, though a final decision has yet to be made.

British efforts to clarify the issue of access to training have so far proved fruitless, although it is unclear whether this is because of Kenyan government obstruction or because of continuing political turmoil in the country.

Over the past three months, Kenya has witnessed two presidential elections, after the supreme court overturned Mr Kenyatta's victory in the first, and widespread opposition protests that have killed scores of people. The supreme court is hearing a petition to overturn the most recent election, held on Oct 26, but instability is feared whatever the judges rule.

Local government chiefs are thought to have raised objections to the British Army using private ranches, several of which are white-owned or run, because rents are paid to the ranch owners rather than to county administrations.

Although Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, praised military ties between the two countries when he visited British soldiers in Kenya in March, relations between the two countries have often been fraught in recent years. British Army training in Kenya, which has been conducted since 1945, has often fallen foul of the tensions.

Mr Kenyatta was furious before he was first elected in 2013 with Britain for giving its support to the International Criminal Court, which had charged both the president and his deputy with serious crimes related to violence that erupted after an earlier election in 2007. At least 1,300 people were killed and 500,000 more forced to flee.

The Kenyatta administration appeared to retaliate by raising a series of objections during tortuous negotiations to renew the defence agreement that allows British soldiers to train in Kenya.

Relations appeared to ease when the case against Mr Kenyatta at the ICC was dropped after many prosecution witnesses recanted their testimony amid bribery and intimidation allegations.

But there has been an uptick in tensions as Britain and the United States seek to mediate a political deal to end the tensions in Kenya.

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