Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life: Aidan Hartley

Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life: Aidan Hartley

Article excerpt


I perused the brochure produced by Tanzania's state corporation for livestock ranching, aimed at attracting foreign investors. Under 'beef production' was a photo of an American bison. Tanzania's state bureaucrats might not know what cows look like -- but they still know how to eat them.

My father Brian Hartley had 3,500 cattle when socialist president Julius Nyerere nationalised our ranch on Kilimanjaro's slopes. In the 1960s, Nyerere seized farms in ways Mugabe never dared emulate. I still have the note Nyerere scrawled in biro, taking my father's business partner's property within seconds of arriving there.

Eating began immediately. Dad stayed on to manage his former farm because it was home -- but Nyerere's men arrived regularly to show Communist bloc comrades the fruits of revolution. 'Bring meat!' they ordered. After a year of butchering steers, Dad left in disgust.

The borehole that had yielded 1,500 gallons an hour broke. Stuff got stolen. Britain and Sweden poured in aid money to fund experts to rehabilitate the ranch. Around 1996, when my family scattered Dad's ashes on the farm where his heart had always been, the cattle herd had declined to 1,665. They were no longer the pedigree animals Dad had selected as a judge of Boran cattle at the breeders' shows.

In 2010 I visited the ranch with my sister Bryony and found there were 229 cattle left. They were inbred, swivel-eyed, low-grade things with horns but no hindquarters. On the film Bryony took of the derelict house our parents built, you can hear her sobbing. Workers with fluorine-blackened teeth were living in the stables. Charcoal burners were hacking down the forest. The grazing was gone and dust swirled beneath snowless Kilimanjaro's dome. Where rhino and lion had once been common, now only spring hares hopped. The farm vehicle had no wheels.

In Dar es Salaam, the state corporation's manager expressed consternation. He had never visited the farm but had understood there to be thousands of cattle. A government auditor's investigation later failed to decide why so many animals had been 'lost'.

The government was advertising for partners to revive the farm. 'We are making a quantum leap,' the manager said. 'We need only serious investors.' My brother Richard and I applied and won the tender covering an area of 25,000 acres. This was after lawyers advised against suing for compensation or the return of Dad's farm. …

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