It is a sign that Britain and Kenya have a strong relationship
I am a historian and have researched and written on the political relationship between Britain and Kenya after independence. The relationship between Britain and Kenya has improved since independence. The first independent Kenyan president’s choices, the alignments of diplomatic, economic, and ideologic interests, and the military ties are all factors.
Kenya’s and Britain’s History
Kenya became a British Colony at the end of the 19th century. A small group of white British colonists dominated the political power. The British government wanted to turn Kenya into a multi-racial state. The British government planned to make Kenya a “multi-racial” state. The British government accepted majority rule in Kenya and its independence only in 1960.
The 1963 celebrations of independence were preceded by an intense period of violence and negotiation. In 1952, a state of emergency was imposed in response to the Mau Mau Uprising. The Kikuyu tribe, one of Kenya’s largest tribes, fought for freedom and land in this armed revolt.
The emergency lasted from 1960. During this time, thousands of Kenyans died, and tens of thousands were held in camps without trial. The camps were places of abuse and violence.
A close relationship between Kenyans and Brits can seem surprising, given this history. Kenya was expected to turn away from Britain in favor of other international partners such as the Soviet Union or the US.
The relationship is largely friendly and close, with a lot of trade, agreement on important issues, and strong military ties.
As a leader of Mau Mau, Britain had imprisoned Kenya’s first President, Jomo Kenyatta. Once he became president, Kenyatta chose to work with Britain.
Kenyatta understood the potential benefits of this relationship. This included military and financial support during the Cold War and personal backing. In 1965, Britain developed plans to defend Kenyatta in the event of a coup attempt.
Kenyatta’s position surprised and pleased British officials. From trade to diplomacy, they had many interests in Kenya. Kenyans with British passports who were white Europeans and Asians were a key concern. The British government funded the purchase of the land to ensure their safety. Kenyans could then buy the land. Kenyans had hoped that land would be redistributed before independence. Instead, European settlers received financial benefits.
Kenya was Britain’s main economic partner for decades following independence. Britain is currently the biggest European investor in Kenya and Kenya’s number two export destination. There is a broad alignment on international issues, such as the Cold War and the “war against terror.” Kenyan officials did criticize British policy towards Rhodesia’s white rule and apartheid policies in South Africa. In private, the relationship was still cordial.
The military ties are particularly close. Britain is still a partner in training. The visit will include a meeting with Kenyan Marines trained by British Marines.
Britain also sold arms to Kenya and provided support for the establishment of a navy after independence.
Many African countries have replaced their British military officers with Africans after gaining independence. Kenya, under Jomo Kenyatta, chose to keep British commanders. Kenyan officers led the Kenyan army until 1966, the navy until 1972, and the air force until 1973.
The most important thing for Britain is to allow its military to train in Kenya. It will enable them to practice in difficult terrains.
Closeness despite challenges
However, the relationship between the two countries has not always been easy.
Policies discriminated against Kenyan Asians in 1967 and 1968. In 1967, the Immigration Act was passed, and in 1968, the Trade Licensing Act was passed. This meant that non-citizens, including many Asians, needed to obtain work permits. In 1967, 13,600 East African Asians immigrated to Britain.
The British government then passed legislation that limited their right to enter Britain despite holding British passports.
In 1972, after Idi Amin had expelled the Asian Ugandans from Uganda – 40,000 Asian Ugandans fled to the UK — Britain offered to help Kenya so that it wouldn’t adopt a similar policy.
After the Kenya Air Force tried to stage a coup in 1982, Kenya’s elite began to be suspicious of Britain’s intentions in the country.
Since Kenya’s independence, some have asked why British soldiers still train there. These grumblings were exacerbated by the killing of Agnes Wanjiru in 2012. It was believed to have been committed by British soldiers.
The Mau Mau issue has also caused recent tensions.
Kenya has asked the British government for archives related to the Mau Mau. The British government has denied that they have any. These files were not released until 2011.