The British Army Training Unit in Kenya (Batuk) has begun a mass mop-up of unexploded ordinance in their training grounds in Laikipia and Samburu counties in a bid to ensure the areas are safe for humans, livestock, and wild animals.
Batuk Deputy Commander in Kenya Lieutenant Colonel Finlay Bibby speaking at Archers Post Training land in Samburu County said that the range sweep of all the military hardware in the areas where the exercise was being conducted is a joint partnership with the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) since both the country militaries train together.
“We have embarked on sweeping our training grounds of all unexploded ordinance and all other dangerous military hardware used in our training exercise so that the grounds we use are left safe for the community to use to graze their livestock and also for wildlife to thrive,” Lieutenant Bibby said.
He added that the range sweep of the ordinance was an annual exercise and would be sustained for as long as Batuk was in Kenya to ensure a safe environment in the training areas even when the military was not present.
“Apart from cleaning up the area we are also educating the people who live in these areas on the dangers of picking up the unexploded ordinance, we don’t want them to pick them up and start playing with it or try to modify the same after smelting to other items like clubs and walking sticks, “the Batuk Deputy Commander said while briefing the media.
During the weekend exercise, Lieutenant Bibby disclosed that the military had collected over 50 unexploded devices that would have wreaked havoc on the local populace and wildlife.
“We have exploded some of the ordinances and there are some such as fragments of mortars and other light explosives that we picked up for safe destruction as per the military procedures dictate,” Lt Col Bibby said.
The British military commander further said that it was their obligation in ensuring that training grounds are left safe even after the training exercises are concluded.
“We do a lot of work during the military exercises and among that is that all the ordinance we fire we have to locate it, find out whether it exploded or not, and then we have to carry out a sweep of the entire area to ensure that we leave it as safe as it was before, “Lt Col Bibby added.
KDF liaison officer with the Batuk Major Felix Okoyo said that the joint sweeping exercise had played a big role in the Kenyan military in ensuring that there is know-how on clearing any military hardware in any training site.
“The Kenyan military is now fully sensitised and well trained on ordinance sweeping by the British Army, on the same note our British counterparts have learned from Kenya Army, especially on desert endurance and survival tactics in extremely hot and severe environments. It has been a learning experience for both militaries, Maj Okoyo said.
Gladwell Ejaso, senior range warden working with Batuk and in charge of local community sensitisation has not only been actively engaged in educating fellow members of the Samburu community in keeping off the military training grounds while grazing but also to avoid picking any metallic fragments from the grounds to modify for other items.
“Our herders often come across much of the explosives, whether exploded or not and they unknowingly pick them up thinking they’re just scrap metals which they use to make clubs or spearheads or for sale, but in most instances they explode killing them. We’re now warning them of the dangers of such,” Ejaso said.
The range warden added that locals have been sensitised to inform local administration officers like chiefs should anyone come across any metallic objects in their grazing grounds.
Lucas Kantai a resident of Dusura village that utilises the military training grounds as areas of grazing noted that many of his fellow grazers had been maimed and others killed after handling the ordinance unknowingly that they could be fatal.
“We used to get the metallic parts from the objects we collect from the fields to make spears and clubs, but many of my colleagues have died after the exploded, Kantai told the media.
The move comes in the background of the year 2002 legal case filed in a London court by a British lawyer assisted by local activists in which a British court awarded over seven million US dollars to members of the Maasai community in the then Laikipia and Samburu districts for injuries suffered after the encounter with munitions left behind following British armies training in their grazing lands for decades.
Currently, another case is pending before a Nanyuki court after a section of community members from Loldaiga in Laikipia County filed a suit seeking compensation for fires in March 2021believed to have been caused by explosions during British military training in the area that decimated hundreds of thousands of acres of community land as well as wildlife areas. Also, one community member is alleged to have died in the fires that lasted for over a week The verdict is yet to be delivered.