When Thomas Cholmondeley shot and killed Robert Njoya at the Soysambu Farm in Nakuru in 2006, there was a national uproar, almost similar – but not equal – to that of the US killing of George Floyd by a policeman, which has triggered an awakening on racism, inequality and social injustice.
Still, today, the Njoya case remains one of the best illustrations of race relations in the country and is remembered for evoking colonial memories of the treatment of blacks in this country by white settlers.
Cholmondeley was not an ordinary man. He was the great-grandson of the 3rd Baron Delamere, the pioneer white-settler whose experiment with dairy and wheat farming is epic.
He was also notorious, not only for being part of the Happy Valley set; a group of settlers who passed time swapping partners and taking drugs, but also – given the chance – he would occasionally ride his horse into Nairobi’s Norfolk Hotel, and jump over the crockery. Norfolk still has a veranda bar named after him.
Cholmondeley’s grandfather, the 4th Baron, was also the subject of gossip press when he married Diana Broughton, a socialite who had been married to a wealthy racehorse owner and big game hunter Sir Henry JD Broughton.
Let me tell you the story of Diana first. She was in her 30s and was the woman any wealthy settler desired. “She oozed a hormonal magnetism that could turn heads and hearts with equal ease,” one writer later remarked. “Men found her air of icy, blond detachment sexily hypnotic.”
Broughton had pursued Diana for more than five years. When they finally sailed to South Africa and exchanged vows in Durban on November 5, 1940, they made a strange accord that if Diana fell in love with a younger man, Broughton would have no objection to a divorce, and that he would support her (and the new man) to the tune of $20,000 a year. For a man who had squandered most of the family fortunes, this was a big undertaking.
The couple left Durban for honeymoon in Kenya, where Broughton had a coffee farm, and they ended up at Muthaiga Country Club, another seat of vice in colonial Kenya. It was here that Diana came across another well-known Nairobi Casanova, the seemingly irresistible Lord Errol, best known as Josslyn Hay. That was on November 12, 1940.
Compared to Lord Errol, he was ‘better’. Writers say there was a mismatch between Diana and Broughton, whom they described as “dour, uninspiring and unpopular”.
Soon after arrival in Nairobi, Diana told Broughton that he wanted to invoke the divorce clause on their pre-marital agreement. How Broughton took that announcement is not known. What is known, however, is that on the evening of January 23, 1941, some 80 days after they were married, Broughton organised a farewell party at Muthaiga Country Club, which was attended by Joss, Diana, Broughton and another Nairobi socialite, June Carberry.
It was Broughton, perhaps with deep pain of losing a wife, who proposed a toast to Diana and Lord Errol. “I wish them every happiness and may their union be blessed with an heir,” he said.
It was a perfect alibi for any murderer. After the toast, Broughton asked Lord Errol to make sure that Diana was safely home. In the wee hours of the morning, Lord Errol dropped Diana. As he returned home, Lord Errol was shot dead in his car. He was discovered by the milkmen at around 3.30am.
Although Broughton was later arrested and a sensational trial opened in Nairobi, June Carberry testified that Broughton was within Muthaiga Club when Lord Errol was killed. Also missing was Broughton’s gun, a 32-calibre revolver, which he claimed was stolen a few days before the murder. The prosecution had alleged that Broughton had hidden in Lord Errol’s Buick and shot him as he returned from dropping Diana.
To cut a long story short, Diana later left Broughton, accusing him of murdering Lord Errol. In turn, Broughton threw a party at Muthaiga after his acquittal. He then left for London in 1942, where he was arrested for defrauding an insurance firm. With no money and more problems, he finally took his life after taking an overdose inside Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool.
It was later claimed that he paid the killer of Lord Errol, and that the gun was thrown in the pool near Chania Bridge in Thika.
A month after Broughton’s suicide, Diana married another Naivasha tycoon, Gilbert Colvile, who bought her Oserian Farm. She stayed there until 1955, when they divorced and she married the 4th Baron Delamere, who is Tom Cholmondeley’s grandfather.
Interestingly, when Gilbert Colvile died, and despite the divorce, he left the entire Oserian Estate to Diana. Another interesting thing is that Diana, who died of stroke on September 7, 1987, is buried in Ndabibi between her two lovers. Her tombstone reads: “Surrounded by all I love.”
That is the society that Tom Cholmondeley, Robert Njoya’s killer, had grown in. He was part of high society and the locals featured nowhere. Life inside these former colonial farms continued, even after independence, with no noticeable break.
On the day he killed Njoya, Cholmondeley had taken Carl Tundo, the General Manager of Lesiolo Grain Handlers Ltd, to inspect part of the farm where he wanted to put up a bio-diesel project and also run an agro-forestry venture together with Stephen Scott.
They had agreed on a 15-year lease and Delamere Farm Ltd would get 50 per cent profit for the agro-forestry venture while 10 per cent would go to the local community. Mr Tundo would also get 25 per cent from the bio-diesel project.
It was while scouting for the best place to put the project that they came across Njoya, who was hunting antelopes within the Delamere Farm. Cholmondeley had a gun, which he said he had carried because there were buffaloes in the area.
After running into Njoya, Cholmondeley knelt, took aim and fired a shot. Njoya was carrying an antelope carcass. He fell down, dead.
It was the second reported murder within the farm and involving Cholmondeley, who had also killed a Kenya Wildlife Service ranger, Samson ole Sisina, a year earlier.
Sisina was investigating a game-meat racket within the 48,000-acre Soysambu Ranch in Naivasha when he was shot dead. In his statement to the police, Cholmondeley said: “I shot the man in the firm belief he was a robber, intent to cause harm to myself and my staff. There was no indication that he was a KWS ranger, and I am most bitterly remorseful at the enormity of my mistake.”
Sisina’s family members and more than 50 locals stormed the nearby Naivasha Police Station, where Cholmondeley was being held, demanding justice. They were teargassed and driven off by riot police. Others demonstrated on the Naivasha highway in front of the Delamere ranch. Finally, Director of Public Prosecutions Philip Murgor ordered the release of Cholmondeley, citing a lack of evidence to sustain a murder charge. That was before the case could be heard by Justice Muga Apondi.
Apparently, Murgor, under instructions from Attorney-General Amos Wako, entered a nolle prosequi, meaning that the State was no longer interested in pursuing the murder charges and the case, even though Cholmondeley had admitted killing in “self-defence”. While there was a national uproar over that decision, later attempts by the family to pursue justice at the courts collapsed.
By coincidence, it was Justice Apondi who later found Cholmondeley guilty of manslaughter for the fatal shooting of Njoya and jailed him for eight months.
Cholmondeley had 10 guns to his name and was known to terrorise anyone who ventured into the family estate. What was intriguing about the Njoya case was that the three assessors entered a verdict of not guilty, with one arguing that nobody had seen the accused shoot the deceased.
Secondly, the second assessor stated that the accused never planned the shooting, and that he had intended to shoot Njoya’s dogs. But the fact that Njoya was shot from the back meant he was escaping from Cholmondely.
For many years, the Delameres were the untouchables of Naivasha, so when the Sisina case was withdrawn, it became apparent that colonial social injustice was still prevalent in the corridors of power. Only the villages surrounding Soysambu know the true story of their association with Cholmondeley.
After being released from Kamiti Prison, the killer died while undergoing a hip surgery in Nairobi.
Correction: In my article last week, we inadvertently used the photo of US Federal Judge Thurgood Marshall together with Jomo Kenyatta instead of former US ambassador, Anthony Marshall. We apologise for the mix-up.