OTIENO: Prince William as the star in ‘White Mischief’ - Daily Nation

Prince William as the star in ‘White Mischief’

Saturday November 20 2010

By OTIENO OTIENO, [email protected]

For a country that had its international image battered by the 2008 post-election violence, a piece of the British royal nuptials and the generous publicity that came with it was just what the doctor ordered.

After all, news that Prince William, the future tribal king of the British, had proposed to his college sweetheart Kate Middleton on a remote ranch overshadowed the scare mongering that sought to portray the rioting in Guinea over a disputed election in the same light as the “Kenyan madness”.

I thought we particularly looked good out there on CNN where the local correspondent ably re-enacted a Jesus-born-in-a-manger scene complete with a muddy footpath and a humble cottage where the royal romance miraculously blossomed.

How I wish Prince William and Ms Middleton found Kenya’s hospitality in the wild so attractive that they will consider returning for honeymoon or another getaway from their invasive tabloid press and the paparazzi photographers.

Yet, however hard I try I can’t resist the instinct to look at the dark side of acres and acres of land still reserved in the Kenyan countryside for the occasional pleasures of visiting monarchs and aristocrats, and the local privileged class.

The big ranches of today might not be the exact version of the Happy Valley described in James Fox’s book, White Mischief, where gun-slinging men made merry and swopped wives.

But they can still be dangerous for “stray poachers” with moody heirs to British lords aware they can get away with shooting and killing human beings for sport.

The other important bit of history missing from the brochures in Prince William and Ms Middleton’s cottage was that in addition to being colonial relics, these places symbolise the kind of inequality and ostentation despised by a large section of the Kenyan society.

Where some see commercial enterprise, others see the greed of the landed few who have excluded many from the mainstream economy by holding onto an important factor of production.

A small piece of a ranch in semi-arid Kenya means considerable shrinking of grazing land for a community of herders or hundreds of landless people, popularly known as squatters.

Hopefully, the new Constitution will in the fullness of time redress such inequalities.

It bars foreigners from freehold land, limits all leases to 99 years and puts a ceiling on the size of land one can hold.