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Victims claim that shame - and blond Kenyans - are the legacy of soldiers' reign of terror, now revealed after 20 years
by Mary Braid, The Observer
Sitting in her shack in the Masai village of Dol Dol, near Mount Kenya, Elizabeth Naeki remembers how the British soldiers smelled of booze as they forced their way into her house. 'There were six of them,' she says. 'It was about 7pm and they had been drinking in a nearby pub. They were big men and, once in, they offered me and my friend money for sex. When we refused, three raped my friend. The other three raped me.
'They were in uniform but had no weapons. Still, we did not scream, because we were certain they would kill us. They just waited their turn, did what they wanted and left. I had never seen them before; I never saw them again. I was injured, but I never went to hospital or told anyone. It was a terrible shame to be raped and, back then, who would have listened to our story?'
Now 48, Elizabeth says the rape took place 24 years ago when British troops training on Masai land were building Dol Dol primary school. Erecting the building was an exercise in community relations. But according to Elizabeth and nine other Masai women, who also allege gang rape by British soldiers, no amount of new buildings made up for the terrifying reality of the military presence.
The women claim to have been raped between the mid- Seventies and mid-Eighties. They say they have been silent until now because of shame and fear that their claims would bring punishment to the Masai, then marginalised and despised by their own government.
Simon Ole Kaparo, a Masai community leader, believes the women's allegations are just the tip of the iceberg in a part of Kenya where the British Army has trained for 50 years. His organisation, Impact, is checking medical and other records for evidence to support the women's allegations. It wants to launch a legal case against the Ministry of Defence similar to that which recently led to a £4.5 million out-of-court settlement to over 200 Masai injured and maimed by unexploded British ordnance.
The difficulty for most women is pinpointing the time of attack. Most do not know their exact age. No one possesses a calendar or clock. The women time the rapes by reference to 'the moon eclipse', the 'time of the great rains' or 'after the birth of my fifth child'. But Elizabeth, the first woman in Dol Dol to go to school, has a better education, and sense of time, than the others.
She also claims a lasting reminder of her assault. His name is Maxwell and he was born in June 1979, his light skin and tight blond hair a permanent reminder of his biological father.
Elizabeth says time is a healer, but Maxwell's arrival sparked a period of ostracism for her. Relations between the Masai and British Army were tense and, after she had Maxwell, Elizabeth was hated for bringing the enemy into her people's midst and was abandoned to poverty by her husband.
'She was so beautiful when she was young, but she started drinking after the rape,' whispers Elizabeth's nephew. Maxwell is more open about his miserable life. 'In primary school no one wanted to sit with me,' he says. 'Teachers would tell the others that I was a human being like them and that I would not eat them, but they taunted me with "Johnny British". I didn't have a friend until I was 15. My mother did not tell me she had been raped, but the community said the British man who built my school was my father.'
Maxwell would stand for hours in the sun hoping to grow darker. 'Even now people still discriminate against me when I go for jobs,' he says. 'I have done the Masai initiations because I think I am a Masai, but the community doesn't agree.' Maxwell has found solace in the church and more recently in marriage. 'My wife says love is blind,' he says.
But skin colour matters. It even adds to the shame of rape. 'To be raped at all is shameful,' says Tition Pere, who is aged around 40. 'To be raped by an outsider is worse and to be raped by a Mazungu [white person] is worst of all.' Her neck ringed with traditional beads and shells, Tition says she was attacked in the mid-Eighties by four soldiers while tending her goats.
'I saw the soldiers and I started to run because I knew British soldiers raped. They chased me for almost a kilometre. They were loaded with bags and guns but they still caught me. The two who reached me first were fighting with each other to rape first. I think the two who caught up were ashamed because they started to pull the other two men off. The sheet I was wearing had come undone and they could see I was pregnant.'
Masai women of child-bearing age were more or less constantly pregnant then. Tition says she was seven months pregnant with her first child when the soldiers hunted her down. 'I miscarried the next day,' she says. 'I didn't tell anyone but my husband. We split up a few years later. We had many problems, but I think they all started with the rape.
'I had a lot of psychological difficulties afterwards. I don't know if I could have identified the soldiers then and now I don't know if they are even alive.'
Inside her home of cow dung and sticks, Nkaramat Puiunoi, 45, holds her head in her hands as she describes an attack while she was herding goats at Soitoudo, 30kms from Dol Dol.
'I was in my late twenties and had five children,' she says. 'I knew the British Army was around and was trying to avoid them. When I saw the large group of soldiers I started to run. I don't know exactly how many raped me because I blacked out. They were like so many dogs at a bone.
'The worst thing is that everyone knew what had happened because I was found by other Masai and taken to hospital. Even now when I walk out, it is what I am known for. I still find it painful to talk about. I did not bear another child for more than 10 years. I lost some of my hearing that day and I still cannot hear properly.'
A large group attack is also reported by Esther Sukuko, 40. She says she was gathering firewood with three other women and a 10-year-old girl when they were ambushed by soldiers in 1985. 'They left the girl alone but they raped the women,' she says. She thinks 20 soldiers were present, although half refused to take part. 'When one soldier finished, he called another. I remember one man coming over, shaking his head and walking away. I was vomiting and I lost consciousness. I was found by the roadside by Bwana [boss] Carr, the American who owned the ranch my father worked on. He must have known I had been raped. I was naked and bleeding. He took me to hospital and contacted my father.
'I was in hospital for months. I think I lost my mind for a while. My father left his job because everyone on the ranch knew what had happened. I never saw the other women again. They were Turkanas, not Masai. I think they moved on. It was a long time ago, when people were only aware of things in their own world, but I hope these men can still be found and that they are beaten by our warriors until they too end up in hospital."
Martin Day, the British lawyer who handled the ordnance claim against the MoD, is willing to examine the rape allegations, though he warns that the lapse of time and lack of evidence could present difficulties.
He also thinks MoD responsibility for rape by a soldier may be harder to establish than responsibility for unexploded bombs. However, Impact's director, Johnston Ole Kaunga, is promising to champion the women's cause.'I would like to see a commission of inquiry into the general conduct of the British Army,' he says.
An MoD spokesman said last night there was no record of rape allegations by Masai women. 'But if anyone wants to make a formal complaint, it is something we would look into,' she says.
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