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”