The golfer and the caddy: a tale of two Kenyas

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The Independent Online

By mid-morning Andrew Chelogoi had read the newspaper from cover to cover, drunk a cup of tea and watched a bit of television. The Eldoret businessman rents office and retail space in the centre of town, but since the end of December several of his tenants have been forced to flee and times are tough. He had no meetings lined up for the afternoon. So he went to play golf.

Mr Chelogoi, 35, reckons he has spent more time on the course than in his office since Kenya's disputed election result was announced just over a month ago. He is not the only one. The smooth greens of the Eldoret Club, on the outskirts of the Rift Valley town that has seen some of the worst violence, have been unusually busy this past month.

Even when the streets erupted into violence again on Thursday, following the killing of a local MP, the fairways were filled with businessmen who had decided to shut up shop for a while. "It makes you relax," said Mr Chelogoi as he chipped on to the 18th green. "When you are on the course you can just escape from all this stress and panic."

Established in 1924 by the British, the Eldoret Club has remained a place where the town's elite gather to drink tea, discuss politics and play golf. British newspapers are laid out in the lounge where signs warn members that they will be fined if they use their mobile phone.

Membership was once limited to whites. Black and Asian Kenyans were only allowed to join in 1969. Two wooden boards hanging in reception list the club's chairmen, and it is not until 1987 that a Kenyan name appears. But now, the majority of the club's members are middle and upper-class Kenyans. Senior political figures in the region are members, including the opposition politician William Ruto and Nicholas Biwott, a long-time business associate of the former president, Daniel arap Moi.

President Mwai Kibaki, whose controversial re-election in December triggered a wave of ethnic violence, has hosted meetings with regional heads of state in the club's gardens in the past. Some of Kenya's greatest athletes, including Kip Keino, can also be seen here at weekends. But while Eldoret's wealthy businessmen can escape the unrest with a round, it is not so easy for their caddies.

A couple of miles down the road, Newton Maina sits and waits. Until the election he was a caddy and a decent player himself, with a nine handicap. Now he is one of more than 15,000 people living at a camp set up by the Kenya Red Cross.

Eldoret Showground, with rows of white tarpaulin tents stretching into the distance and people queuing for food, looks Darfur, not Kenya, which until recently had enjoyed a reputation as a haven of stability and economic success.

Returning to work is impossible, said Mr Maina. His family – mother, father, sister, nieces, nephews, wife and children, all Kikuyus– fled their home, leaving everything behind them a month ago after a group of young Kalenjins began to burn their houses.

"You could see this was death coming," Mr Maina recalled. It is still too unsafe, he thinks, to try to return to work. The route he would have to take passes through areas where Kalenjin militias have been operating.

Every morning he washes his clothes, takes a shower and cleans his tent and the patch of grass in front of it. Then he wanders outside the gates of the showground and hangs around listening to people's conversations. "It is important to know what is happening outside," he said.

He has also been composing a song in his head, although he doesn't have any paper on which to write the lyrics. Before the election he had been planning to save enough money to record a few songs. For now just finding enough food to feed his family is a struggle. "I wish I could be on the course now," he said. "It was a very good job."

Back at the club, Mr Chelogoi was heading home. "I will probably be back again tomorrow," he said. "This is the safest place in Eldoret."

* Kenya's feuding parties agreed on Friday to a four-point framework for talks they expected would resolve a violent political crisis within 15 days, chief mediator and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said.

"We believe ... we should be able to tackle the first three agenda items," Annan told reporters. "The first is to take immediate action to stop the violence."