Flying home across Laikipia’s ranchlands with Martin after a farmers’ meeting, I see the plateau dotted with cattle and elephants. Stretching away towards the north, it is all green after good rains. I think to myself that farming is hard enough without having to deal with toxic politics: will there be a drought, and what about the ticks, or foot-and-mouth disease; will your cattle get rustled, or flocks of quelea and hordes of zebra devour your crops?
After months of politics in Kenya, the news comes in that Uhuru Kenyatta has been declared our president again. This comes as a great relief because most people in Kenya are exhausted by politics after months of crisis. We just want to get back to work. Everybody is broke. At least under Kenyatta we reckon our title deeds will be respected and private businesses have a chance to survive.
None of this is thanks to our western diplomats. A few months ago Boris Johnson visited Kenya and there was a party at the British High Commissioner’s residence. After the wine had flowed a bit, the deputy high commissioner John Murton, who is the size of an Oompa Loompa, came up and started shouting at me. I had been rude about his boss Nic Hailey in this column and he was not happy about it. I suggested we go and discuss matters over a whisky.
Murton produced a decent single malt and we went off and sat down together in a quiet room. I explained that private investors struggling with the turmoil in Laikipia did not feel we had the support of Britain during our troubles. He said the FCO was doing what it could, and so on. After a while Murton said, ‘If you don’t like it, why don’t you just sell up and leave?’ After 130 years in Africa I felt that was pretty unfair but my response was, ‘In the current circumstances, even if I wanted to sell up, I doubt anybody would offer me even 2,000 bob for my farm.’ (This is about £15 in British money.)
At this point, I was surprised to see Murton jump up and march out of the room with his Oompa Loompa walk. I poured myself another whisky and waited. A short while later in came Murton again. He slapped down 2,000 shillings and exclaimed, ‘There! I’m buying your farm!’ For once in my life I was struck dumb. At any other time I might have punched him but I just felt so downcast that I sat quietly and said, ‘Come on, man.’ Murton has since been posted as the UK’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which will no doubt warm the hearts of all British investors in that country.
That day I walked out of the High Commissioner’s residence feeling that we farmers were on our own. In the ensuing months we somehow survived. Laikipia farmers lost about £30 million in the chaos that engulfed us but security has started to improve. From now on I sense our challenges will be all the things that farmers should normally have to tackle, starting with the rains. Green shoots of our crops are emerging in the fields we have planted and our cattle are starting to fatten again. It is an incredible feeling to walk around the farm these days and feel that I can walk without a weapon, that I might not get shot. I still sleep with a pistol under my pillow but I am starting to feel this is no longer necessary. I am starting to feel safe.
What we need now is for western countries like Britain to get behind the status quo and support a stable, elected government. Britain has much to lose if Kenya is not our solid ally. The likes of Murton should care about private businesses in the country, given that Britain is the largest investor in Kenya, and they should consider all the other benefits of keeping good relations with Kenyatta. We are the only stable country in the region, a bulwark against Al-Shabaab and the only sophisticated economy for miles around. Kenya is the home for many British people. Let’s not mess it up.
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