Justice. Outrage. Reality Check

From the first time Mr. Cholmondeley appeared on Kenyans’ radar (after he shot and killed a KWS ranger), the public anger unleashed against him has always seemed interesting to me. In no way do I think that outrage at the death of any human being is unjustified. I found disingenuous the reaction to Mr. Cholmondeley’s acquittal in the Samson Ole Sisina murder trial and his subsequent 8 month sentence for manslaughter in the Robert Njoya case.

Almost every comment I have read on different Kenyan news sites has centred on his race, his wealth, his ‘untouchability’ and not on the legal merits of the cases filed against him. In both instances, to me, the conclusions of the trials seem to fit what evidence has been provided.

When Mr. Ole Sisina was killed, I remarked to someone that Kenyans all live in houses reinforced and burglar-proofed beyond belief because we are all afraid of gangsters breaking into our homes and robbing us or harming us. If anyone broke into your house or appeared on your property unannounced, armed, you would probably not even think that they might be undercover police officers, you would defend yourself…and you might kill someone. So why would we expect Mr. Cholmondeley to do anything different? Based on what the news reports say, he was told that there were armed men on the property…in the heat of the moment, what else would he have thought? Anti-poaching KWS officers? I doubt it. What would you have assumed?

The reason you would not assume that the guy waving a gun around is a police officer is because we live in a country where the police could pass for (and behave like) criminals some of the time, where they collude with criminals some of the time and where each takes care of their own when it comes to personal security. We don’t trust the police or anyone in authority for that matter (just look at our MPs). It is sad that KWS had not considered this angle when planning an undercover operation on a ranch where firearms were known to be kept. It is sad that Mr. Ole Sisina is dead, but it would be a stretch to say in any court of law that he was murdered.

That being said, I do wonder why a charge of manslaughter did not apply in this case.

When news came that Mr. Cholmondeley had shot another person, Robert Njoya, I thought to myself, “this will not be easy to get out of”. The defence in this case is that he was shooting at the dogs that Mr. Njoya had brought onto the farm as they hunted (?). I thought it would be a stretch to call it murder but a manslaughter charge would probably get the prosecution a conviction. I’m sure the prosecutor whose job was to handle this case was under pressure to ‘make a statement’- we see it all the time, around the world- a case comes along that polarizes the public, and the government has to ‘react’ or be accused of favouring one group of people over another or being ‘soft on crime’, or something along those lines. I thought that the assessors got it right- there was no evidence of premeditation, therefore Mr. Cholmondeley was not guilty of murder. The judge, Justice Apondi was right to reduce the charge to manslaughter.

I am unfamiliar with what the general range of sentences for those found guilty of manslaughter in Kenya, but it appears that judges get a lot of leeway when it comes to sentencing. I am glad that the judge pointed out that his decision had nothing to do with Cholmondeley’s family offering support to Mr. Njoya’s family (rightly so, Justice Apondi stated that this matter is best left to civil court). I felt that the judge didn’t reduce the ruling into one of those where the rich guy offers blood money to the poor guy so ‘justice’ is seen to have been served.

Digression: I am no fan of the ‘white settler’ image that gets perpetuated by some of the large land owners and other white people in Kenya- the so called Kenya Cowboy thing they do drives me nuts. I am not a fan of how quiet many of these holders of large tracts of land remain about the injustices in our country (saving animals is not, in my opinion, enough to assuage your guilty conscience. How about giving back some of that which your ancestors grabbed from your neighbours). And yes, I know, there are equally many black Kenyans hoarding/grabbing/illegally allocating our land, but there’s something ugly about the fact that Tom Cholmondeley’s charmed lifestyle only came about because of the fluke of the colonial tendencies of his ancestors 100 years ago. To me, Cholmondeley and all those other descendants of colonial land grabbers are just the same as the people who have grabbed Karura and Mau Forest. But that’s another story.

I don’t think that you can say Mr. Cholmondeley has got off easy. I imagine that the 3 years already served and the next 8 months at Kamiti Prison must be rather ‘uncomfortable’ to Tom Cholmondeley (and yes, I’m sure he’s bought enough privileges from our underpaid prison warders)…after all, having your freedom curtailed, being in a cell with other criminals when you are accustomed to roaming your 50,000 acres even for 3 years and 8 months, must suck. It must put a serious cramp in your style. I am also a firm believer in Karma. The guy may be an ass, he may be a saint, who knows? But you cannot just take two people’s lives and not pay in some way. As they say, malipo ni hapa hapa dunia- and he will pay. One word Tom: Karma.

I find the Kenyan outrage disingenuous because there are other terrible crimes that have gone unpunished, but the white kaburu is a better target because, after all, he is living on our land that was taken from our forefathers.

I would ask all those commenting on the Kenyan news sites, “how is Cholmondeley’s crime worse than say, Dr. Margaret Gachara’s- falsely obtaining close to Ksh 26 million ($330,000) from the Kenya Aids Council, probably contributing the deaths of AIDS patients (think of how many treatments that money could have bought)? Was the outcry then even half of what we’re seeing now? Did anyone outside of civil society bother baying for her blood? What about Paul Kamlesh Pattni whose theft via the Goldenberg billions probably contributed to the deaths of enough children from preventable diseases, women from childbirth complications, men, women, children from Malaria? Huh? What about him?” Was justice served then?

A crime is a crime.

The idea that Mr. Cholmondeley is a worse criminal than Margaret Gachara or Kamlesh Pattni is disingenuous. If anything, you could say that his crime came about because of our (all Kenyans, himself included) consistent lack of collective will to demand that the government work harder to fight corruption, crime, to develop a trustworthy police system (if crime hadn’t become so commonplace, maybe Mr. Cholmondeley might have paused when he saw the gun and thought this might be a law enforcement officer), and to build our economy (Mr. Njoya was a stone mason, but I imagine he wasn’t hunting for pleasure rather, for survival).

It could be any of us in Mr. Cholmondeley’s shoes (less the 50,000 acres of course), but if we don’t have a country where everyone can live in dignity, then we will continue on the path we are currently on, where those who have something will live just to protect what they have from those who have nothing and just want a little piece of the pie for themselves. Eventually, all the land and money in the world won’t count for jack when you can’t enjoy it in peace. If I were Mr. Cholmondeley (and other wealthy people in Kenya), I would pause and think about that.

Back to regular programming shortly with “How I Spent My Holiday”

9 Comments

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9 responses to “Justice. Outrage. Reality Check

  1. prousette

    Interesting take on this. This case has been all over our faces because it brings out the goat in us there is a dead man who happens to be black and the suspected killer is white. I say suspected because none of us knows what really happened that day and all we have heard has been filtered and watered down with quotes of “white mischief” and “kaburu” bringing out sore memories and powerful emotions.
    I think the judge did the best he could because the prosecutor had to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Tom killed Njoya. Ah, the law is an ass in this case though I am reliably informed that large amounts of cash has been changing hands on the
    case.

    The other crimes have no human faces to them Goldenberg, Angloleasing etc so they seem less serious.

    • I guess for me this case made me pause to think about the selective approach we take when expressing outrage at the things that happen in Kenya. It would have been useful too if the media went out of their way to give the legal definitions of Murder vs. Manslaughter for their readers- sometimes the comments to news stories and the talk around town display how their authors are ignorant of the facts. Is it a wonder that Goldenberg and Anglo Leasing seem so abstract? Not enough information is disseminated to and/or explained clearly to the public and from that ignorance comes an appearance of acceptance. And we wonder that Kenyans are such conspiracy theorists or so skeptical of everything we read? We’ve grown too accustomed to filling in the blanks ourselves.
      As an aside, outside Kenya, I found that the foreign press was really having a field day with the whole “Kenyan Aristocrat” angle of this story. Words like “The Happy Valley”, “racial tensions” etc littered almost every article I read that. I blame Out of Africa for that- people seem to find there’s something evocative and beautiful about the Colonials and white settlers trying to hack an existence in Kenya so they lap up all those clichés.

  2. nomorecolonialism

    I like you, Wambui. And I love your blog, and all your opinions. But you’ve taken a cheap stance on this. Kenya’s problem is that we have such short memories that outrageous acts of post-colonial mischief go unremarked upon and unpunished because money and passivity erase the pain and outrage we should own. I’m not saying that we should walk around hating white or chinese or Indian people, but excusing poor behavior or criminal behavior just because some lucky sod has had the happy accident of born the right color with the right spoon in his mouth is what is going to be the downfall of our country. Cholmondeley has killed 2 africans (that we know of). I have had the unfortunate privilege of having been educated with these wabeberu and have lived amongst them. They truly believe that they are superior to Blacks, and their patronizing bullshit when they meet an accomplished Black African is so sickening…words fail me…

    Be outraged. The man is a killer, and his victim’s family will continue to suffer for the rest of their lives, while he gets to enjoy his life in relative comfort in prison, comfort bought by his ill-gotten gains, and in 8months will be back on his massive ranch as though he’d been away on a long, unplanned vacation – in the grand scheme of things, prison is merely an inconvenience for him and his ilk.

    It’s cheap of you to compare MURDER with corruption and thievery. We (as a people) have the power to change the course of this country and make those thieves (angloleasing and stealing from AIDS charities – yuck) accountable for what they do. But this man’s victim and his family have essentially been silenced and forced to submit to the fact that the value of their loved one is worth a scant 8 months in prison (please don’t count time-served…it’s not their fault that the wheels of justice are so slow). Put yourself in their shoes for one moment. That we’re quibbling over whether it was murder vs manslaughter is the least of their concern and is ultimately insulting to the memory of this man’s dead victims. I’m glad I don’t live anywhere near this evil and cruel individual. You’d best belive that if he ever saw you (uninvited) on his ranch, you’d likely be his next victim, you “dirty african”, you.

    • You miss the part where I say that the outrage over two people are dead is not what I take issue with. Nobody deserves to die the way these men did.
      Not to re-blog what I said, but I stress the point that the judge made that legally, murder must be accompanied by premeditation of some sort- Cholmondeley did not set out to shoot or kill anyone that day, and yes, he may be a patronizing, racist, overprivileged bastard, but legally, he committed manslaughter. Would you have preferred that all law was thrown out of the window and Cholmondeley hung? That would make us no better than him.
      What is cheap is to appoint ourselves as judges to say that 1 white man killing 2 men is so outrageous and billious compared to 1 black woman taking 26 million shillings that she does not deserve, or a crowd lynching a suspected robber in town…and yes, we, as Kenyan people have the power to change our country so that injustices such as these do not happen BUT when we consistently seem to be OK with Goldenberg, Anglo Leasing, Margaret Gachara, Maize Scandals, I think morally, we lose any place to stand and protest against a ‘Cholmondeley’ taking shots against innocent humans.
      Basically, we have made Kenya into what it is today. You say we have the power to change it? I see few people doing anything about it…Cholmondeley is just an easier target than say the masterminds of Anglo Leasing.

  3. nomorecolonialism

    Just by the mere fact that you discuss such issues, and question our response (or lack thereof) to current affairs, and allowing dialogue (via your blog) is effecting change in Kenya. Believe it. You should be proud of yourself and continue to challenge us from our usual sheeplike thoughts. And i appreciate your well-considered response.

  4. “but if we don’t have a country where everyone can live in dignity, then we will continue on the path we are currently on, where those who have something will live just to protect what they have from those who have nothing and just want a little piece of the pie for themselves.”

    Thats the bottom line Wambui! And I think its about time people realized that Dignity is really a very encompassing term – it is not one-sided, it is not only applicable when it suits one of the parties involved. Like we keep saying, its about time we snapped out of these “vicious cycles” of all these issues we have going on….

    All everyone really needs at the end of the day is a piece of “Kilifi, St Lucia, C. Africa” etc – a.k.a Peace of mind 🙂

  5. Hi Wambui, 🙂

    You hit the nail on the head.

    And I like what Cynthia says about the vicious cycles. But honestly – and maybe I’m a cynic – I wonder whether the vicious cycle is the ‘standard’, and that we’re nuts for imagining it can get better? Because how can it, when in 2009, we’re back at Square One? 2009?

    • Last night I thought to myself- what is wrong with human beings? Why do I bother? Maybe I should just remove myself to an island and cut off all contact ’cause it
      is 2009 and we still can’t seem to get it right. On the other hand, I feel that I owe it to myself to be part of the solution rather than an observer from the sidelines, so who knows, my future may lie back in the madness of it all, making my difference.

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