Who is responsible for the 2012 murder of Nanyuki-based sex worker, Agnes Wanjiru?
The relationship between Kenya and the United Kingdom is ‘complicated’ at the best of times, as any relationship between the former colonial power and a post-independence nation is, especially when the transition to independence was brutal and repressive. It does not help, then, when British soldiers run amok while on time off from arduous military training exercises in and around Nanyuki, where they practice for fighting in arid climates, in jungle and at altitude. The UK’s tabloid press, and now the Kenyan news media too, are currently concerning themselves with the accusation that a British soldier murdered a 21 year old sex worker and mother, Agnes Wanjiru, in Nanyuki in 2012.
Bad Behaviour by British Soldiers
British soldiers have been less than saintly in their behaviour in Kenya. It is one of the few ‘jolly’ postings for a down-sizing UK military in the aftermath of long, bloody counter-terrorism campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some years back one British soldier killed a poacher while on exercise in unclear circumstances; the commander of British troops there shot an intruder in his residence with a non-issue firearm and was the subject of dismissal ‘with Her Majesty’s displeasure’.
Then there was the ‘Battle of Sporties’, also in 2012, when a post-exercise weekend off coincided with a religiously charged Celtic v Rangers football game, at a time when the two units on exercise were drawn from the opposite sides of the Catholic and Protestant religious divide in Ireland and Scotland. The Sportsman’s Arms (‘Sporties’) was the scene of a running battle that saw military police flung from balconies when they tried to intervene and the injured attacked as they waited in ambulances to be ferried to the local hospital. None of this type of behaviour is likely to enamour foreign soldiers to their hosts.
But Does Nanyuki Want the British?
But when you go beyond the UK tabloids, there is another story: yes, the British soldiers are wild on their weekends off, but they also bring significant amounts of money and jobs with them to a town that would otherwise be little more than a roadside stop-off. The Kenyans who work with the British soldiers also tell a different story: cultural boundaries dismantled and genuine friendships are built. Some British soldiers marry Kenyans and choose to stay on in the town.
What Really Happened to Agnes Wanjiru?
After the series of incidents in Nanyuki that culminated in the murder of Agnes Wanjiru, the British took a different approach and sent troops elsewhere on their weekends off, rather than flooding a small town with charged up young men, many of whom were already showing the signs of trauma from their multiple tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. Ironically, in the aftermath of this decision local sex-workers protested at the gates of the British camp, saying the British paid them more and treated them better as well.
At the time of the tragic death of Agnes Wanjiru there was a very different narrative as well: locals wondered how a British soldier would have known where to find the septic tank in which the poor girl’s body was dumped: and how would he have had the key to the padlock which secured it?
There is a phrase amongst British soldiers about someone ‘who says more than their prayers’: a person who gilds the lily, adds sauce to the story, however you wish to phrase it. Most Nanyuki locals at the time felt the killer must have been a local, possibly an ex-partner of Agnes. Sadly the UK tabloid press often chooses to listen to salacious rumours and tempts people who should know better with ‘chequebook journalism’, which can only fuel the exaggerations.