NAIVASHA, Kenya—A fatal shooting involving the scion of East Africa's most prominent family of British settlers is renewing uncomfortable questions for Kenya about the legacies of its colonial past.
Thomas Cholmondeley, great-grandson of the third Baron Delamere, who came to Kenya from Britain in 1903, shot and killed a trespasser this month on his expansive ranch near central Kenya's Lake Naivasha. Cholmondeley (pronounced CHUM-ly) has told police that he mistook the black stonemason for a poacher.
It's the second time in 13 months that Cholmondeley—the heir to one of the largest white-owned estates in Kenya—has admitted shooting a black trespasser. Last year, he was jailed for killing an undercover game warden from the Masai tribe, but he was spared a murder trial when prosecutors dropped the charges.
Many Kenyans think that the Delamere name influenced the outcome of that case, and after the latest incident hundreds of protesters barricaded a busy highway near Cholmondeley's ranch, carrying banners with messages such as "Hang the murderer."
The shooting has again exposed the social fault lines below the Lake Naivasha area, a stunning expanse of lush farmland ringed by azure mountain peaks, where native Kenyans coexist with white landowners who still control much of the land their families seized beginning a century ago.
"This is bringing out a lot of tensions in this country, racial tensions which we haven't had in many years," said Mikewa Ogada, a researcher with the nonprofit Kenya Human Rights Commission in Nairobi, the capital.
In the 43 years since gaining independence, Kenyans have preferred not to look too hard at their colonial past. A few token gestures, such as replacing the British names on street signs with those of Kenyan freedom fighters, have sufficed.
Elected officials generally have allied with white landowners such as the Delameres—who own a major dairy and livestock business—rather than making them pariahs, as in Zimbabwe.
As a result, many black Kenyans think that whites live above the law. They wonder how Cholmondeley, whose gun permit was revoked after last year's shooting, was allowed to possess the 17 hunting rifles and other firearms that police seized from his ranch this month.
The case comes as historians begin to reconsider Britain's colonial legacy in Kenya. Last year, Caroline Elkins of Harvard University published a book detailing how British soldiers brutally abused fighters from the Mau Mau independence movement in a 1950s colonial prison.
The book, "Imperial Reckoning," won a Pulitzer Prize last month and added new fuel to a campaign by the Kenya Human Rights Commission to seek reparations from Britain for alleged war crimes against the Mau Mau. The commission has said it plans to sue in British court in October.
Earlier this year, Lotte Hughes, a British historian, revealed how illiterate Masai tribesman were duped into signing over their land around Lake Naivasha, 60 miles north of Nairobi, to make way for white settlement starting in 1904.
In the heyday of colonial Kenya, the area became known as "Happy Valley" for the gin-soaked, sex-crazed lifestyle of the band of British playboys and pioneers who settled there. Tales of wife-swapping and all-night bacchanals spawned a popular joke of the era: "Are you married—or do you live in Kenya?"
Although those giddy days are long gone and Lake Naivasha has grown more integrated, it remains a redoubt of the colonial era. Whites still control large farms, several private wildlife reserves and the $300 million local flower industry. They employ blacks in low-level jobs while generally keeping to themselves.
"We have races in Kenya, yes, but they are tightly compartmentalized," the commentator Gitau Warigi wrote in the Nation newspaper. "And rather than mingling happily together, they coexist uneasily and often with a great deal of mutual loathing."
In the booming market town of Naivasha, tensions sometimes have bubbled over. In January, the daughter of a British settler was shot to death in her bed in an apparent robbery, and whites are occasionally the targets of violent muggings.
In Naivasha, the bespectacled, rail-thin Cholmondeley, known universally as "Tom," frequently rides into town on an expensive motorbike. Lately, however, some residents say he's harassed neighbors whose livestock have grazed too close to his long property line.
"We are very angry at what he did," said Paul Kiarie, a tailor. "He killed two of our people for no reason. The courts have to show that the wazungu (whites) aren't above the law because they are rich."
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): KENYA-SHOOTING
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