- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

ARCHERS POST, Kenya Sitting next to his new wife inside their small hut, Ljapayon Lesamana proudly displays a shiny black radio that hangs by a strap from the stump of his left arm.
His shy, teenage wife, Mantinia, the fake Sony radio and a few dozen cows and goats are the first fruits of a $128,500 windfall that turned Mr. Lesamana from a misfit into a prize catch.
He was awarded the money by the British Ministry of Defense after he and other Samburu and Masai people sued, claiming they were victims of unexploded ordnance left behind by British troops who trained near Archers Post and Dol Dol to the southwest.
Last July, Britain agreed to pay $7.4 million on a "limited-liability basis" to 233 victims. The highest amount $411,675 went to 9-year-old Ilmolion Lekoriani, who was blinded by an explosion in 2000.
The claims were settled in November, with most of the money deposited in fixed-term bank accounts in hopes the mostly poor, uneducated recipients would not spend it all at once. About 130 of them, including Mr. Lesamana, became instant millionaires in Kenyan shillings.
What's become known as "boom boom money" is the talk of Archers Post, a hot, dusty town of a few sandy streets lined with ramshackle wooden stalls, 150 miles northeast of the capital, Nairobi.
The price of goat meat has doubled, and a handful of new shops some opened by victims, others by businessmen attracted by the new wealth have sprung up to sell small radios, tape recorders and other goods.
Most of the claimants are nomadic herdsmen who live in huts made of cowhide and woven plastic bags. They measure their wealth by the number of wives, cattle and goats.
Mr. Lesamana, illiterate and in his late 40s, recalls that as a young herder he played with a metal object that exploded, ripping off his left hand. It was likely a mortar or artillery shell left behind by British troops who had trained on an unfenced military range in the area since World War II.
Before receiving his payment, Mr. Lesamana was a beggar, moving from village to village. He wanted to marry but didn't have the cows and goats for a bride price.
Hearing about the lawsuit, he registered with Leigh, Day and Co., the London law firm handling the case. More than a year later, his share was deposited in a bank in Nanyuki, a town he'd never been to, 60 miles southwest of Archers Post.
"I didn't have a wife before, not even a goat … not even a chicken," Mr. Lesamana said bitterly. But then his face brightened with a wide smile: "Now, there are so many women fighting for me. Everybody loves me."
Helped by a relative with a primary-school education, Mr. Lesamana withdrew $15,000 from his new bank account.
He married in January after Mantinia's family agreed to accept $195 and nine cows. He also bought his own livestock, the radio and a pair of safari boots that he doesn't wear.
After paying for what he called the biggest wedding he'd ever seen, Mr. Lesamana still has $3,856 of the withdrawn money, hidden in a box. His only plan for the rest of his wealth is to acquire more wives. Samburu men can have as many as they can afford.
"I'm so happy because I'm going to have children, and I'm going to have money," he said. In the fanciful style of Samburu men, he was dressed in a bright pink flowered sarong, a Puma sport shirt and plastic sandals.
Mantinia has never been to school. Her marriage was arranged by her family, and she said shyly out of Mr. Lesamana's hearing that she doesn't love her husband, but won't run away, because "I would be cursed."
Lawyer Martyn Day said the victims who got compensation were given advice on how to handle their new fortunes, and the British High Court is keeping control of payments to children until they reach age 18.
"It's largely been an extremely positive process. Clearly, there are exceptions, people who may have spent their money getting drunk," Mr. Day said from London. "But there's nothing we can do about it. It's up to the individual."
About 3,300 people have registered in a second set of claims, for which proceedings began Jan. 31. Mr. Day expects about 900 people's claims will be accepted after answering questionnaires and being examined by doctors and munitions experts.
Most claimants were children when injured. Curious about alien metal objects, or wanting to use the metal for decoration or toys, they would hit the unexploded ordnance with sticks or stones.
British soldiers have conducted three cleanup operations at Archers Post in the last three years and have found 250 to 300 unexploded mortar and artillery shells each time, Mr. Day said. The range covers 580 square miles.
Feelings toward the British are mixed.
Some, like Leston Lekoriani, father of the blinded boy, complain bitterly that the money is not enough. They say they were chased off their properties by the British soldiers, who then failed to clean up the land.
"There are bombs everywhere … and everybody is scared to look after animals," said Mr. Lekoriani, who adds that he won't believe his son was awarded $411,000 until he sees the cash.
But others, particularly widows, view things differently.
"The British have brought good things, because now people are rich. … It was not intentional that the children were hurt," said Ntepesian Lesare, who controls $4,500 awarded to her son who is over 18, but still lives at home for a hand injury. She bought 50 goats and 20 head of cattle with the money.
Samburus are used to sudden death from disease, bandits or the elephants and lions that roam their grazing land so the money is simply regarded as a windfall by some.
"If it's your day to die, you just die. So it was the day the child was to die, and I've got money," said Wanjiko Lengaina, whose son Christopher was killed by an explosion in the 1980s. Mrs. Lengaina, whose husband was killed by bandits in the 1970s, was awarded $10,925. She has set up three small stalls in Archers Post that sell sugar, salt, cigarettes, batteries and pens.

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