Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Legalities in Kenya

The Berlin Conference of 1885 imposed formality on Europe's Scramble for Africa, designating the 250,000 sq miles chunk from the Indian Ocean to beyond Lake Victoria as British East Africa. Today, it forms Kenya and Uganda. The Scottish ship-owner William Mackinnon set up the Imperial British East Africa Company and established trading activities. High taxes, low wages and hardship after the First World War politicised a generation of would-be Kenyans. By the Second World War, Kenya was of strategic importance for campaigns against Italian forces. Nearly 100,000 black soldiers, askaris, fought for Britain in the King's African Rifles. At the end of the war they wanted to keep their improved status, and became a vanguard for African nationalism. Jomo Kenyatta demanded a political voice for Africans. He would go to prison for leading the Mau Mau uprising which began in 1952 and in 1963 Kenyatta's Kenyan African National Union formed the first government.

Trade between the Kenya and the UK grew to £1bn last year and the UK is the largest single foreign investor with projects totalling £2bn and around 70 companies involved. Britain's strategic alliance with Kenya extends not only to trade but also to ever-closer military and security links. Kenya is the centre for security operations by the UK against the Islamist al-Shabaab group in neighbouring Somalia. The British military teams sent to train Somali forces (as part of the strategy to build up security in countries facing insurgencies) will have their logistical support base in the country. One of the British Army's main exercise areas overseas used by 10000 personnel a year is also in Kenya and is used by brigades in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan.

The coming elections in Kenya are causing major consternation in London. Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Jomo, is running neck and neck with Raila Odinga, his main opponent, in the polls. Kenyatta has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity being accused of orchestrating the violence which left 1,300 people dead during the last elections in 2007. The UK's position is that it will have nothing but the most "essential" contact with someone in that position. The British Government, itself, is embroiled in a legal case for gross violations of Kenyan human rights before Kenyan independence in 1963 which it does not reject but a case they tried to evade on legal technicalities.

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