Kenya: White mischief (part two)

A shooting and an arrest in Kenya revive memories of decadent 'Happy Valley' settlers who appear to be above the law
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The Independent Online

The case will again pit élite white settler families, who followed the Delameres out to Kenya at the beginning of the 20th century, against indigenous Kenyans, who still resent the way vast tracts of their most fertile lands were simply taken away from them by the British colonial government. The decadent lifestyle created by these settlers, with their gin-soaked parties and wife-swapping, led to the Rift Valley becoming known as Happy Valley.

And if Mr Cholmondeley comes to trial, it will revive memories of the moment when the Happy Valley set was engulfed in a scandal that fascinated and appalled the world. In January 1941 Lord Erroll, one of its most notorious members, was found dead with a bullet through his head. He had been having an affair with the beautiful young Diana Caldwell - Lady Broughton as she had become - and suspicion immediately fell on her husband, Jock Delves Broughton. His trial and acquittal became the basis for James Fox's book White Mischief and the film of the same name, in which Greta Scacchi played the woman at the centre of the scandal.

Now the Delameres are again involved in a controversy that will reinforce the widely held belief in Kenya that they and their social set live outside the confines of conventional morality, and are treated as if they are above the law. There is a distinct sense of déjà vu about last week's incident, which began when Mr Cholmondeley and his friend Carl Jean Pierre Tundo went walking on the Delamere farm, Soysambu. Among the acacia bushes, they came across a group of men with a pack of dogs and a dead impala.

Poaching is a constant problem across Kenya, particularly this year when a prolonged drought has killed off livestock. Demand for bushmeat has soared and poachers have become increasingly violent. Friends of Mr Cholmondeley say that the men set the dogs on him and Mr Tundo, and that he opened fire with an assault rifle he keeps near him at all times, killing two dogs and hitting Robert Mbugua in the pelvic bone.

Mr Mbugua died on the way to hospital and Mr Cholmondeley was arrested. The police, who insist the case is being treated as murder, will find themselves under the microscope.

Last year, relations between Kenya's white settler families and local communities almost broke down completely after Mr Cholmondeley shot and killed Samson Ole Sisina, a Masai game warden, on his farm. In the landowner's version of the incident, he opened fire after deciding that Mr Ole Sisina and his two colleagues were robbers about to attack his workers. Mr Ole Sisina's family say he was an honourable man, killed while carrying out his job.

Mr Cholmondeley spent one month in a Kenyan jail before the case came to court. When it did, the prosecution declared immediately that it would not proceed with a murder charge because of a lack of evidence. After a few minutes in the dock, the Delamere heir was freed.

The outcome caused an immediate outcry. The Masai community declared that a miscarriage of justice had occurred, and that the Kenyan authorities were simply too scared to prosecute the influential Delameres. Although a threat by Masai to invade white-owned farms was not carried out, most Kenyans supported them, and the director of public prosecutions, Philip Murgor, was sacked.

On Friday, after the second killing, 300 demonstrators marched through the market town of Naivasha near the Delamere farm, carrying placards saying "Hang the murderer". Danson Macharia, one of the organisers, told the crowd: "We condemn the murder of our brother and we are wondering what would have happened if it was a white man killed by a black." Police also dispersed a 500-strong demonstration in Nakuru.

In the meantime, in an apparent effort to show that this time they are taking decisive action, the authorities have cancelled all firearms licences issued to Mr Cholmondeley and his father, and seized all 17 guns used on the farm.