Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Strolling through 'History' on Soysambu

Destination - May 2010 issue
I have been buying the new local travel magazine Destination since its launch issue in March 2010. Why? I don't know. I guess because Twende is dead, and because I just have too much money (it retails at Ksh 350/- per issue) and time (you can flip through it in about 15 minutes, and read through it in about 2 hours) to spend.

Well, I was shocked when I read the article announced on the front page as Strolling through History in Soysambu and entitled On the Shores of Elementaita inside the magazine (pages 12 to 16). The article left me perplexed and insulted.

Why am I vomiting over this particular article? Because it is focusing too much on Tom Cholmondeley, and I feel the time is just not ripe for that. As you may know, Tom Cholmondeley is a Kenyan farmer of British ancestry. He is the great-grandson of the famous Lord Delamere, one of the first and most influential British settlers in Kenya. While Kenya's political elite families are now the largest property holders in the country – partly through corrupt deals – land ownership by white families remains a source of discontent among many of the landless poor.

In April 2005, Tom Cholmondeley shot Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) game ranger Samson ole Sisina on his ranch under the claim of self-defence. The murder case against Cholmondeley was dropped before going to trial. In May 2006, he was taken into custody and held at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison for shooting stonemason Robert Njoya Mbugua on his Soysambu estate. Cholmondeley's murder trial began on 25 September 2006. His trial gripped Kenya, it was one of the most sensational trials in Kenya's post-independence history. On 7 May 2009, he was acquitted of murder, but found guilty of manslaughter. He was sentenced to serve 8 months in prison and was released on 23 October 2009.

Now, let's be clear, I have nothing against Tom Cholmondeley, and I don't want to get into any discussion about whether he was guilty or not. He's a nice chap, and I actually love the work he has been doing on his Soysambu Conservancy and I agree with most of his ideas. I only have a problem with the author of the article, Brennen Matthews, who is also the Managing Editor of Destination. The way he writes about the place and mentions Tom about ten times without interviewing or quoting others is quite insulting to me. I hope the families of the victims never need the article. I am not related to any of the victims, but I still felt very bad about it. Here are some quotes:
"...a very special place that is blessed to be home to not merely a wide variety of wonderful wildlife and awesome scenery but fascinating history as well."
Then tell us about the fascinating history of this special place, dude!
"...envision how this small slice of Africa must have looked 100 years earlier when first visited by Lord Delamere."
Me, I would like to envision how it must have looked even before his first visit!
"...I was fascinated by the history that blankets this land known as Soysambu, history that belongs not merely to this land or the family who own it but history that belongs to Kenya as a whole."
The author then starts to describe this so-called history starting with the arrival of Lord Delamere, just like there was no history to this land before that... Sickening really. 'History that belongs to Kenya as a whole'? I don't feel part of that history for sure.
"History hangs from the walls in the form of pictures and paintings, books and old keep sakes, perfectly designed to jog the memory back to yesteryears."
"Chatting over a cup of tea, Tom's zeal for the local people and the 48,000 acres under his care is immediately evident."
Tom's zeal for the local people? Well, the article mentions potentially interesting people such as Mama Jane, a local business lady who started with a single small shop and now operates four. And another entrepreneur who began with a single table and now operates a thriving nyama choma joint. Well, the author should have gone out and interviewed them as well! I am sure Mama Jane also has a last name, and the entrepreneur also has a name... These people also have families, and these families also form part of the history of Kenya!

Sarah, the hot committed education
officer at Soysambu Conservancy
The Saturday Nation did a much better job when they featured Soysambu last month. The Nation article is letting Tom rest for a while, and I find that prudent and sensitive indeed. Rupi Mangat, the writer of the article, quotes interesting people like Narinder Heyer, a nature enthusiast with the Kenya Museum Society, and Sarah Omusula, the young education officer at Soysambu Conservancy. Destination could also have talked to one of the other guest bloggers of the excellent Soysambu Conservancy blog, they have excellent stories to tell, and they are also Kenyans.

Let me end this post with some good news as well. Serena Hotels is currently establishing the new Lake Elementaita Serena Camp, which will be located along the shores of Lake Elementaita within the Soysambu Conservancy. The new camp will comprise 25 luxury tents, a dining and lounge area, spa and swimming pool enjoying magnificent views of the lake. The Lake Elementaita Serena Camp is scheduled for opening on 15th December 2010. Maybe a nice place to spend a few nights during the end-of-year holidays then, to discover a more balanced view of our common history. Any takers?


coldtusker said...

It's a travel mag not a history lesson...

To the best of my knowledge (& please correct me if I am wrong) there was no written (language) history of the area before the White Settlers/Colonialists came to Soysambu. So at best you have an oral description which would either change over time (the 'telephone' effect) or would be 'general' rather than specific.

So who would you ask what it was like BEFORE Delamare came? All the chaps who lived then are probably dead or very close to it...

There is always history but unless recorded or dug up... usually remains hidden... Even when written, the views may be biased... You cant blame the Brits for not recording the 'local' views...

TheBigBoss said...

Nice article Rafiki ! Love the Tom's zeal part :)

Never bought Destination, but if editors are the same than that old safari magazine (forgot the name - Travel and Newstyle) made-in-Karen then to do not expect more than that !

Serena in Elementaita ?? Another luxurious place I can't afford !!

Anonymous said...

I have been reading Destination since it was released. The writer of this piece use to write for Twende also and I liked his stuff back then also.

Frankly, I enjoyed the Soysambu piece and was not insulted. I have driven past the conservancy a million times on my way home to Naks and now I better know what is in there. It seems like a lovely place.

From my perspective, the writer is offering HIS experience and feelings on a place and expressing respect for Tom and his committment to Soysambu. What is wrong with that?

Anyhow, if you feel strongly about the piece, write to the magazine and open up a dialogue. I am sure that they will welcome it.

For me, I really am enjoying the publication and urge others to check it out.

Muttai said...

Hey all, I agree with Cold Tusker, this is a travel and lifestyle magazine and not a history class.

I just seen the mag last month (April issue) - great balloon picture on the cover - and am now a loyal reader.

Rafiki said...

@ coldtusker: True, it's a travel magazine, so they should leave out history, or the Managing Editor's interpretation of history.

@ TheBigBoss: Oh yes, the old Travel News and Lifestyle was really targeting the KC's of Karen. I found Twende to be much better though. Destination still has to benefit of doubt.
You may be able to afford Serena in Elementeita if they decide to go for a soft launch. They should actually!

@ Anonymous: Soysambu is a lovely place indeed, and generally well managed. Again, I have nothing against the place or the owners, but some people currently have mixed feelings about that land, so the writer could have focused a lot more on the birds and bees of Soysambu, rather than its history, at least at this moment in time. Just my feeling, I don't even feel the need to enter into a dialogue with the magazine about it. Am sure they have reasons to have written it in that way as well, and I respect that. Am just saying it left me quite shocked.
What is your favorite piece in the current issue (or the previous issues)?

@ Muttai: Let them focus on travel then, not history. Are you going to go for the balloon ride? Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

I hear what you are saying Rafiki. But I think that the history - being the Delamere family and what they went through at such an interesting period in time makes the place even more interesting. But I am a history buff so for me it is a fascinating story. I liked the fact that history was brought in.

Also, I guess that the writer is writing (as most writers in Destination seem to) focusing on his personal experiences and feelings. The story seems to be focused on a single day's events and to me, and it is just my opinion, focuses mostly on the conservancy,to which TC is of course connected. It has peaked my interest for sure.

You asked what stories I liked the most. I love the going wild section and love the Discover pieces. I also really enjoyed the story on deep sea fishing (very funny)and in this month's issue, I love the Meru game ranger piece. Really, I find the magazine interesting and insightful and an easy read. I read a lot and it is rare to find something that is captivating while being fun.

@muttai - Yeah even me. That balloon pic was nice but I hate heights!

otieno said...

Hey all, just stumbled upon this discussion and to want to throw my two cents in quickly. I just recently subscribed to Destination. I read it at a friend's place and decided to get it also.

I went and reread the story after reading Rafiki's posting, to see if I missed anything or would see the story from a diff angle. But nadda.

It is a good piece, well written and fair. It does not go into land disputes of colonial debates. It just shares the writer's perceptions. Anyhow ..... I liked it and my only complaint about the magazine is that it is sometimes hard to find. It seems to sell out really fast. ;(

I have emailed the ME to ask about this. So maybe they can ensure that it stays available.

Okay ciao people.

N. Kamau said...

Rafiki, I felt exactly the same as you did. I just teared out those pages from the magazine and burnt them. Seriously. My copy of Destination is now fine.

peter gitau said...

Wow Kamau, that is indeed excessive. Shame on such a response to a simple story.

Me, I loved the piece and am hopeful of similar pieces in future issues.

george oloo said...

Nice English Kamua! Try spell check brother.

I am not sure what all of the hype is about. Strolling was just a nicely written simple story that should not have caused anyone to get upset.

After all, why not write about Soysambu and include Tom? The writer experienced the conservancy with him on the day(s) in question. Makes sense to me.

Koronya Mwambia said...

Admit it. Kenyans love people who opress them. Settlers, Kenyattas, Mois etc. I bet you could find at least 1000 random straight guys in Nairobi willing to pay 1000 to give this Cholmondely a blow job. {And you too if you look vaguely kaburu- which I suspect you do)

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