Kenyans are outraged at the light sentence given to British aristocrat Tom Cholmondeley for the killing of a stonemason three years ago. However, the 8 month sentence for manslaughter was a result of behind the scenes considerations based on British interests in its former colony.
The case against Tom Cholmondelely has attracted widespread global publicity since his arrest in 2006. Cholmondelely was charged with the murder of Robert Njoya, an incident that took place in Cholmondelely’s family ranch. Njoya was a stonemason who was apparently engaging in illegal hunting inside the Cholmondelely ranch. At the time, Cholmondelely claimed he felt he was in danger from the illegal hunters hence his decision to shoot.
As it happens, Cholmondelely is heir to the Delamere family aristocracy. He is a direct descendant of Lord Delamere, the man who played a key role in establishing the British colony of Kenya early in the 20th Century. The Delamere family still remains wealthy and influential in independent Kenya and own thousands of acres of land in the Great Rift Valley.
Cholmondelely’s father is the current Lord Delamere and Cholmondelely is next in line to inherit the title. The prospect of a noble man inheriting a Lordship while languishing in an African jail drove the British authorities to put pressure on the Kenyan government to go easy on Cholmondelely.
Promises of support for the coalition government, including aid packages, were dangled before President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. However, the Cholmondelely case faced a serious public relations complication.
Cholmondelely had killed a wildlife ranger just a year before the Njoya killing. He claimed self defence, arguing that the ranger trespassed into the family ranch while drunk and armed. Cholmondelely was taken to trial but the government, through the Attorney General, dropped the case under pressure from the British. Instead of Cholmondelely learning a lesson, he went ahead and did it again.
Aware of Cholmondelely’s status as a British nobleman, it has been quite obvious since Njoya’s death in 2006 that the Kenyan government was reluctant to prosecute. However, public outrage was seething against a man who was shooting Africans. There was no choice but to keep Cholmondelely in custody during the course of the trial. Indeed, protestors blocked the Nairobi – Nakuru highway in protest over the government’s lucklustre handling of the case.
Early in May, Justice Muga Apondi reduced the murder charge against Cholmondelely to manslaughter. Cholmondelely’s defence successfully argued that the killing of Njoya was not murder because there was no prior intention to kill. According to Kenyan law, a suspect is guilty of murder if it is proved that there had been a plan to kill, what in legal terms is called “malice aforethought.” Since the prosecution could not prove intent, the judge had no option but to go for manslaughter or accidental death.
After Cholmondelely was convicted hardly a fortnight ago, speculation raged regarding the length of time he would serve in jail. Kenyan criminal law specifies a maximum life sentence for manslaughter but does not specify a minimum. In past cases, suspects have been sentenced for as little as a day in jail for manslaughter.
The initial date for sentencing had been scheduled for May 12 – last Tuesday. On that day, an unprecedented turn of events unfolded in the Kenyan courts: Cholmondelely pleaded for leniency on grounds that he would compensate the family of the late Njoya! Even more curious was a statement by Njoya’s widow that she would not mind Cholmondelely going free as long as he compensated her family for the loss of a breadwinner. She argued that she would not want Cholmondelely’s wife to suffer by being denied a husband because she knew what it was like to lose a loved one. Perhaps it escaped her attention that Cholmondelely is divorced.
From last Tuesday, it was obvious that Cholmondelely was going to get a light sentence. With the public spotlight very much on the courts, the government could not risk letting Cholmondelely walk away from courts. A compromise was reached with the British and that explains why Cholmondelely will walk out of jail 8 months from now.
Last time Cholmondelely got a reprieve for killing someone, he repeated the same crime in less than a year. The Kenyan government had better pray very hard that the future Lord Delamere does not develop a renewed thirst for human blood.
Picture of Kenyan High Court by CokeeOrg