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Monday, August 25, 2008

Murder, rape & cannibalism in Naivasha

Kihoto in Naivasha is the typical slum; a patchwork of mud, timber and rusted iron shacks crazily thrown together. Under such circumstances, violent crime would hardly raise eyebrows.

But with the crime involving alleged multiple rapes, murder, and cannibalism, the slum on the fringes of this lakeside town has always hit the headlines. For almost a week, the slum has been in the news after two rape victims escaped from a den where they had been held captive for more than a week. From their beds at the Nairobi Women Hospital, they gave chilling recollections of what they went through in the hands of the suspect who is now in police custody.

A day later, police raided the den and found women’s and children’s clothes stained with blood. It was believed the clothes belonged to people who mysteriously disappeared in the area in recent past. Police discovered the mutilated body of a woman buried under the suspect’s bed. And with that, Naivasha was yet again living its reputation of the town that every once in while attracts the attention of the country with bizarre incidents.

At the beginning of the century, Naivasha gained worldwide notoriety as the playground of wealthy settlers whose lives were characterised by endless debauchery, which earned it the name of the Happy Valley. Books such as White Mischief, which tell of murders and sex exploits like wife swapping, capture the lifestyle of the early settlers. Naturally, the British aristocracy was scandalised by the loose morals of their kin in the colony. Some of the notable characters who inhibited the Happy Valley included the Casanova Lord Errol, whose murder in Nairobi in 1941 remains a mystery. It is widely believed that tit was the work of a jealous lover.

Since those days, the town has always attracted infamy. Since the turn of the millennium, the town has been in the news all for the wrong reasons regularly. On August 23, 2000, Catholic priest Fr Antony Kaiser was found dead with gunshot injuries at Morendat near Naivasha. To date, his death is still a matter of enquiry. A few years later, the town hit the headlines when police used earth movers to excavate the palatial homes of a local tycoon looking for the body of a missing wife. Though the body was never found, motor vehicle parts suspected to have been stolen were found buried in the compound. The tycoon is currently serving a prison term for robbery.

In April 2005, the attention of the world was focused on Naivasha when Mr Tom Cholmondeley, a grandson of the Lord Delamere, was arrested on allegations that he had shot dead a KWS ranger on his (Cholmondeley’s) Soysambu farm outside the town. When the Attorney General dropped the murder changes, there was widespread outrage with demonstrators blockading the Naivasha-Nakuru highway for days.

Naivasha was in the news again the following year when stonemason Robert Njoya was shot dead, again at Soysambu farm. Mr Cholmondeley was again arrested and is currently on trial for the murder. In February this year, the town exploded in unprecedented post-election violence in which at least 40 people died on the first day alone.

The brutality of what was believed to be ethnic revenge attacks was clearly captured on the television footage when a young passenger was pulled out of a moving matatu before being hacked to death by a blood-thirsty mob. It took army personnel backed by a gunship to quell the violence that saw more than 10,000 people being uprooted from their houses and hounded into a hastily constructed camp. Last year, eight hardcore criminals bolted from the Naivasha Maximum Prison to safety. The escapees are still at large. And every year, scores of rape and defilement cases are reported in the town. A case of incest in which a man reportedly chased away his wife and moved in with his daughter is regularly revisited by the media with the local administration promising to investigate.

On the flipside, Naivasha is a prosperous town on the move. It is home to several top-class hotels. Local and foreign tourists visit the area in droves. Located within the vicinity of the famous Lake Naivasha the voyagers enjoy sunbathing by the lakeside. The Naivasha hotels are also popular for hosting regular high-profile conferences, mostly organised for top government officials and executives of private firms. The lakeside town is the destination of retreats for political parties and it is here that some important political deals have been struck over the last five years.

And it is here the Sudan peace accord between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement led by Dr John Garang and the government in Khartoum of President Omar al-Bashir was brokered. Also giving the town a competitive edge is the flower growing business. More than 50,000 people work on the more than 50 flower farms.

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