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Kenyans who won compensation from Britain for colonial-era torture urged to spend responsibly

As some 5,200 Kenyans wait to get paid by Britain for colonial-era acts of torture, herdsmen from Kenya's Samburu and Maasai tribes who once benefited from similar payments have some advice: Don't squander the money like we did.

Some of the herdsmen embraced polygamy, others bought new cars they did not know how to drive. Eleven years later, the Kenyan tribesmen compensated by Britain — as the victims of explosives left behind by British soldiers in training — say they regret their failure to spend the cash responsibly.

"I cannot calculate the amount of money I spent on alcohol," said Kipise Lourolkeek, 53, a Maasai elder who as a young herdsman in the 1970s was injured by an exploding object that he picked up in the plains.

In August 2002 Lourolkeek was one of more than 220 victims of British ordnance, including mines, who won an out-of-court settlement from the British government of £4.5 million (about $6.9 million). Lourolkeek, who was blinded in the left eye and had an arm shattered in the blast, got more than $211,000, a huge sum of money in a country where most live on less that $2 a day.

Lourolkeek says he made regrettable decisions based on advice from friends he respected. He married a third wife, bought three new cars, 210 cattle, 60 acres of land and 300 goats. Now almost all that wealth is gone, squandered in part through his frequent trips to the bar. In the two-bedroom shack he shares with some of his 13 children, said he believed at the time that the money would "never get finished" and is now urging the next beneficiaries to "live humbly."

More than 70 percent of the people compensated for their injuries squandered the money, said Peter Kilesi, a Kenyan legal officer who helped build the case against the British army.

But the victims of British abuses who won compensation last month will not get nearly as much as Lourolkeek was awarded 11 years ago. The settlement will pay about $21.5 million to the 5,200 Kenyans who were found to have been tortured, or about $4,100 per Kenyan victim. The sum is low in Western terms, but it can still have an impact in Kenya, where per capita income is about $1,800.

Britain announced last month that it "sincerely regrets" the torture carried out by the colonial government as it tried to suppress the "Mau Mau" rebellion, during which groups of Kenyans attacked British officials and white farmers who had settled in some of Kenya's most fertile lands. Many of the now-elderly Mau Mau victims say they were beaten badly and sexually abused by British colonial officers in the 1950s and 1960s. Britain's expression of regret was hailed here as a triumph for thousands of men and women who had waited years for some kind of justice. In a hotel in downtown Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, some of the beneficiaries beamed with relief and after the announcement was made.

George Morara, an official with the Kenya Human Rights Commission, which assisted the Mau Mau victims in their case, said he expects them to spend their money more responsibly than the traditional Maasai and Samburu. He said his organization would help them get advice from financial consultants.

But some of the beneficiaries, such as Nthengi wa Kathyaka, 82, have other plans. The Mau Mau veteran whose face was mauled by a guard dog while in detention is thinking about marrying another wife despite already having 11 children and 20 grandchildren. He said: "My wife is old and cannot give birth but I am still strong."