Masai told us to invent rape allegations, say prostitutes

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The Independent Online

The Masai visited Muthoni, a prostitute, last May. She had a child by a white man, they understood. Would she use the infant to pretend that a British soldier had raped her? "They said 'You will be paid a lot of money by the British Government. But they will not take away your baby'," the 26-year-old said at her home in Nanyuki, near the British army base in northern Kenya.

The bogus rape claim would earn Muthoni 3m shillings (£24,000) in compensation, the Masai told her. They would take one third, the rest was hers. But while her little boy had been fathered by a British soldier named Ronnie, he was not the result of rape.

Three other women with mixed-race children had similar stories. "The Masai told us, 'If you are going to tell the truth, we don't want you'," said Angela, 24.

A cloud hangs over the £20m rape lawsuit against the British army in Kenya. About 650 women allege they were raped by British soldiers over the past 30 years. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, back their claims.

But there is evidence suggesting that several claims are bogus. Last week, British army investigators said forensic science tests showed that police records had been forged.

Others faked medical records, or "borrowed" mixed-race children. Impact, the local group helping to organise the lawsuit, said that up to half the claimants might be false. "About 70 per cent don't have documentary evidence. So it is extremely difficult to know how many are genuine," Simon Ole Kaparo of Impact said.

But he added that hundreds of genuine claimants had been wronged. "Money aside, it will bring dignity back to our community," he said.

Jennifer Koinante said that British soldiers raped her as she walked down a remote bush track 18 years ago. "They forced me to lie down, and held my hands. There was three of them," she said.

Now she fears the flood of false claimants will endanger her bid for compensation. "It's very wrong. It's making the whole thing look like it's not true," she said.

Elizabeth Naeku was raped in 1980 by British soldiers building a school in her village. She said that they walked into her house and assaulted her. The attack resulted in the birth of her son Maxwell, 23, who has light skin, orange hair and features that suggest white blood.

As a "half-caste" Maxwell suffered bad discrimination. At school, other children shunned him; Masai warriors refused to attend his circumcision ceremony. His mother was drinking too much, he said, "to forget those problems".

He said: "The British have done a very bad thing. They caused the divorce of my mother and father. They must be punished."

The case's uncertainties might be cleared up in a British court - if it ever reaches one. Last year Martyn Day, the British lawyer behind the lawsuit, won £4.5m for 233 herders from the same area who had been injured by British bombs left behind on nearby training ranges. The case was settled out of court. This pay-off - which transformed some Masai communities into "villages of millionaires" - sparked a compensation mania in the area. Many families live in mud dwellings on as little as £20 a month and the lure of compensation was hard to resist.

John Ole Tingoi of Osiligi, the group behind the bomb litigation, said: "People around here are very poor. So when they see others getting a lot of money, you expect them to come forward."

But Masai men have apparently attempted to cash in on the rape claims. Rose, a 26-year-old prostitute, lives in the coastal resort of Malindi.

Last April her mother asked her to return to the family home near Nanyuki because, she said, "English people had arrived offering sponsorship for education".

After a 13-hour bus journey, Rose was asked to make a rape claim in exchange for an £80 "registration fee". When interviewed by Mr Day, she told him the truth - that different Italian tourists in Malindi had fathered her two children. She said: "When you start to do something that's not true, it's not good." Like the other prostitutes, she asked to change her name. "The Masai, they kill you very fast," she said.

But Rose's mother pressed ahead with the claim. Last July, she donned a Masai shawl and coloured beads and demonstrated outside the British high commission in Nairobi. The two mixed-race children were with her, and were shown on national television.

The lawsuit has damaged the economy of Nanyuki, a large trading town once dominated by white settlers. British soldiers are confined to barracks, so business has slumped in hotels, bars, shops and taxi ranks. A palpable anti-Masai feeling has swelled, culminating in a pro-British demonstration last month.

The owner of an empty curio shop, also a Kiyuku, said: "I believe the whole thing is not true. It has just become a business."

A 90-minute drive away from Nanyuki lies Dol Dol, one of the Masai towns at the centre of the claims. Situated on a spectacular rolling plain studded with acacia trees, it is a place of great beauty and poverty.

The main street is a dirt track with a handful of rickety shops. Masai elders in red shawls drink tea in the shade, younger men in jeans play pool on a dilapidated table. The British army training grounds are a few miles away.

Mr Kaparo was in the Impact office where the women arrived to make their claims. He said his organisation never encouraged prostitutes from Nanyuki to come forward. When Masai women arrived with medical records that were "clearly bullshit", he said that the organisation "told them to go to hell".

He had strong evidence to back the claims of other women, most notably the minutes of a 1983 meeting between Kenyan officials and British officers. In response to the rape complaints an army captain is quoted as saying that he was "very much sympathetic" to the victims.

Mr Kaparo said: "It is crucial because it shows awareness of what was happening." Amnesty International has called for a commission of inquiry to investigate why the complaints were never pursued.