Kenya Killing Stirs Bitter Past ; Anything Less Than a Full Trial of Accused White Land Owner Could Spark Violence

Article excerpt

Serah Waithera Njoya gets up from the fire where she is cooking dinner and welcomes the latest visitors to her mud-brick home set deep in Kenya's Great Rift Valley.

Government ministers, MPs, church officials, and tribal leaders have all stopped by recently.

There, over plates of steaming rice and potatoes, Ms. Njoya tells visitors how her life has changed since her husband was shot dead earlier this month by one of Kenya's most prominent white landowners.

"He is a heartless, merciless man. He is 'mnyama,' " she charges, using the Swahili word for animal. "He has left me with four young children and no breadwinner."

The target of her anger is the Honourable Thomas Cholmondeley (pronounced CHUM-ley), her neighbor and sole heir to the fifth Baron Delamere.

Mr. Cholmondeley, great-grandson of the country's most famous British settler, has admitted to shooting her husband, Robert Njoya Mbugua, whom he believed to be poaching on the 100,000-acre Delamere estate near Lake Naivasha in central Kenya.

Cholmondeley pleaded not guilty to murder last week. His attorney, Fred Ojiambo, said that Cholmondeley shot the victim inadvertently in self defense while aiming for dogs that the victim unleashed on Cholmondeley after the man was caught poaching an impala.

Mr. Ojiambo has expressed concerns about the ability for Cholmondeley to get a fair trial due to the publicity the case has received and to the fact that it revives simmering and bitter memories of colonialism. "In this case the lies are being orchestrated to make him look like the guy who shoots Africans for sport," Ojiambo said.

The trial is set for late September, and he could face the death penalty if convicted.

It is the second time in little more than a year that the bespectacled aristocrat has admitted killing a suspected black trespasser.

Last time he was charged with the murder of an undercover wildlife ranger. Cholmondeley said he fired in self-defense and was released after a month on the orders of the attorney general, who said there was no case to answer. This sparked angry demonstrations against the government.

The second killing has reawakened feelings of resentment towards the descendants of white settlers who still own swaths of Kenya four decades after independence from Britain.

"It is like we are living in neocolonial times," says Njoroge Weidener, a field monitor for the Kenya Human Rights Commission, as he listens to Njoya's story. "People like Cholmondeley think they can do what they want because it is their land and they make rules."

Anything less than a fair trial could spark violence, says Mr. Weidener.

Njoya's funeral, held on May 18 at the family home near Gilgil, beside the Delamere estate, attracted about 1,500 mourners and a handful of politicians.

"It is time for these white settlers who are killing our sons to be kicked out the country as they are of no assistance," Stephen Tarus, deputy local government minister, told the crowd. …