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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Colonialism and it's legacy

Guillaume Bonn for The New York Times

Sarah Njoya, with her four children, was widowed
when her husband, Robert, was shot by the most
important white landowner in the Rift Valley in
Kenya. Murder charges against the white man
have divided Kenya.

Kenya Killings Put Aristocrat in Racial Fire
Published: September 5, 2006

SOYSAMBU, Kenya — Of all the upper-crust British families who came to this country and never left, one is more famous than them all: the Delameres.

They had the most glamorous parties, the most fabled pedigree (going back to William the Conqueror, they said) and, not insignificantly, the most stunning land.

Soysambu Ranch is the jewel in their crown, 50,000 acres teeming with giraffe and zebra in the heart of Africa’s great Rift Valley. The scenery is straight off a postcard — the golden pastures, the sculptured hills, the sense of getting so much of the world in one big gulp.

But Thomas Cholmondeley, the cravat-wearing scion of the family, who until recently was on track to be the sixth Baron of Delamere, is no longer here. He is in Kamiti maximum security prison in Nairobi, the rare white face behind bars in this country, awaiting trial in a murder case that is dividing Kenya.

Because in little more than a year, he has shot and killed two black Kenyans on his ranch.

The first was an undercover wildlife ranger who was arresting some of Mr. Cholmondeley’s workers suspected of poaching. Claiming self-defense, Mr. Cholmondeley was cleared without trial.

The second was a poacher himself, with an antelope slung over his back. Mr. Cholmondeley says that the poacher’s dogs attacked and, again, that he fired in self-defense.

White farmers in Kenya, an increasingly beleaguered and endangered species, are deeply sympathetic. They say that crime is out of control and the police are useless, and that the bush, however beautiful, is awash with guns.

Certainly, there has been an explosion of violence in the Rift Valley, with gangs surging in from Nairobi and tensions peaking between the dirt-poor farm workers and the handful of white Kenyans still living on vast tracts of land. Joan Root, a famed conservationist, was gunned down in her bedroom in January. Other whites have been killed in holdups. One farmer said he now slept with an elephant gun by his side.

During colonial times this area, 50 miles northwest of Nairobi, was famed among whites for its hedonistic lifestyle and called Happy Valley. Now, it seems to be under siege.

But black Kenyans see Mr. Cholmondeley’s situation differently, and worry that the days of white privilege may not be over. His absolution in the first case deepened their cynicism about an already suspect judiciary and ignited large protests. Some people even threatened to invade white farms.

The case seems to be hitting many of Kenya’s sore spots — land, violence, corruption, the illegal game trade and, of course, race.

“It’s very sexy when a white man gets in trouble,” said Maina Kiai, chairman of Kenya’s human rights commission. “We still have this inferiority complex and get a thrill out of seeing a white man in a powerless position.”

posted by Steve @ 1:05:00 AM

1:05:00 AM

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