12 JUNE 1993, Page 14


Simon Courtauld on the

decline of the White Man's Kenyan playground

Nairobi THE PROBLEM, I was told, with Presi- dent Daniel arap Moi is that he used to be a teacher. He spends too much time con- cerning himself with schools and trying to improve standards of education. One of his decrees — less objectionable, one might think, than many of the activities of his government in the 15 years since he came to power — was that every schoolchild should drink milk. Not the goats' milk, cows' milk, sheep's milk or camels' milk which is available in most rural areas, but official cows' milk, provid- ed by the government.

By the time it had reached schools in the many remote parts of the country, where pastoral tribes are anyway well sup- plied with milk from their own animals, the distribution costs had become absurd. And the milk was usually then sold by teachers in the local towns. In a country which has interest rates of 30 per cent and has devalued its currency by more than 50 per cent this year, the Great School Milk Scheme should possibly not have enjoyed such a high priority.

Education in Kenya is the largest con- sumer of public revenue, taking up 20 per cent of total government expenditure. Moi's programme of education (17 years of it, including university) may be laudable enough; but there is only a 7-1 chance of a full-time job at the end. By that time many are resigned to not being able to work. According to an article in the Daily Nation, `The unemployment situation is so bad even children in primary schools can be heard talking about it.' Half the rapidly ris- ing population — 26 million now and esti- mated to be 36 million by the end of the decade — is under 15. Little wonder that so many young people can be seen in the towns, hanging around all day and often with the smell of alcohol on their breath. Drugs and crime are the likely next steps. Multi-party democracy, introduced under pressure from Kenya's First World paymasters, is not going to improve any- thing in the short term. (Multiple pro- grammes of family planning would be more to the point.) The criticism is frequently heard, from Europeans and Asians living here, that the new political system is mak- ing matters worse by reopening tribal divi- sions. Moi now has a greater proportion of ministers from his own Kalenjin tribe; Kikuyu, Luhya and Luo dominate the opposition parties.

Nor is there much chance of the country becoming any less corrupt. On a day's drive from Maralal, in the north, to Nairobi I was twice stopped and asked for money --- first by two armed soldiers, on leaving their Samburu District, and later by a traffic policeman wanting cash for an unspecified offence. 'You always get stopped by the police around the middle of the month,' InY driving companion said, 'when their monthly salaries start to run out.'

Near Rumuruti, we were passed by a Toyota van with its rear windows shattered. On the rutted dirt-road it was being driver' with scant regard for the vehicle. Tilat'S the director of Famine Relief, who was arrested last week for selling food aid,' i was told. 'He has probably paid a small fine

and has now been sent to another area. No doubt he's in a hurry to start doing the same thing again.'

I don't know why I should have expected Kenya to be different from any other African state; possibly because I had heard how it was such a stable society — that must have been in Kenyatta's time — and that more Europeans lived here than else- where in black Africa.

The last time I had been here was 1956, in colonial days; my memories were of ten- nis at Government House, dancing reels at teenage parties and having a day with the Limuru Hunt. However, it is still possible, at the Muthaiga Club (Scotch eggs and roast pork with apple sauce were on the menu last week) to wallow nostalgically and pruriently, remembering those days of White Mischief — in the past.

A visit to Karen Blixen's house outside Nairobi also recalled the pioneering days of the white settlers in what was then known as the British East Africa Protec- torate. She lived there from 1917 until Denys Finch-Hatton's death in 1931. (According to Blixen in Out of Africa, she had wanted to accompany him on his last, fateful flying trip; while Beryl Markham, in West with the Night, relates that Finch-Hat- ton had invited her. In the end he took only his native servant.)

The National Museums of Kenya have done an outstanding job of looking after the house and the garden. Furniture, pho- tographs and various memorabilia are well displayed and there is an excellent guide. I wanted to ask him about Finch-Hatton's grave, a few miles away in the Ngong Hills. Here, Blixen recounted, lions used to come at sunset to stand on the grave. `Lord Nelson himself,' she wrote, 'in Trafalgar Square has his lions made only out of stone.'

It was a romantic story, and I wondered whether lions still guarded the white hunter's remains. The guide told me, with a laugh, that Finch-Hatton's brother, the Earl of Winchilsea, had put an obelisk on the grave years ago — and the lions had been moved from the hills into the Nairobi National Park.

However, I still hoped to go up there and see the grave — from the site you can see both Mounts Kenya and Kilimanjaro — until I was abruptly brought back to the realities of modern Kenya. A trip alone into the Ngong Hills, a friend told me, was not advisable: it was a bad area, where not long ago foreign tourists had been robbed and beaten up. Could I not ask a local policeman t°, come with me, for protection? My frivol shrugged his shoulders. 'He would proba- bly want money to guarantee your safetY. Or . . . ' I got the message when he point. ed to the front page of that day's newsPa per, reporting a bank raid in which ., policeman had been shot — by one of T' colleagues who was himself attempting to rob the bank.