NAKURU, KENYA // Sarah Njoya can finally move on with her life. The widowed mother of four young boys, who was thrust into the spotlight when her stonemason husband was shot and killed by a rich white man three years ago, is happy to put this chapter of her life behind her. The way it ended, however, has left many in Kenya still wondering what money and influence can buy in the country's two-tiered justice system.
On a dreary day last week, Tom Cholmondeley, a white Kenyan aristocrat and scion of British nobility, who was convicted of killing Robert Njoya, walked out of Kamiti maximum security prison on the outskirts of Nairobi three months before the end of his sentence, ending a three-year saga that tested race relations in Kenya. Without the income from her husband, Mrs Njoya has been forced to sell arrowroot, a starchy tuber, at the open-air vegetable market here in the Rift Valley town of Nakuru. During an interview this week she said she had forgiven Mr Cholmondeley, but is finding it difficult to provide for her boys aged between six and 12.
"I'm just going to the market to sell arrowroot for the daily bread for my children," said Mrs Njoya, 31, taking a break from her work. "[Robert] was the breadwinner of the family and now I'm the breadwinner so it's difficult for me." Mrs Njoya said she is not bitter that Mr Cholmondeley was released early from prison. Prison officials said his release, with one third of his eight-month sentence remaining, is standard procedure for well-behaved prisoners.
Critics, however, see the early release and Mr Cholmondeley's light sentence as another example of power influencing Kenyan justice. Mr Cholmondeley had just about everything. The 41-year-old is the great-grandson of the third Baron Delamere, a pioneering British colonialist who settled in Kenya in 1901. Educated at Eton, Mr Cholmondeley became a successful businessman with a 20,000 hectare cattle ranch and dairy farm.
People who met him say he is friendly and generous but has a quick temper. He also apparently has an itchy trigger finger. In 2005, Mr Cholmondeley shot and killed an undercover Masai wildlife ranger on his Soysambu ranch in the Rift Valley. Charges against him were dropped before the case went to trial prompting claims of influence peddling and high-level government interference. A year later, Mr Cholmondeley was giving Carl Tundo, a friend and rally car driver, a tour of Soysambu when they came across Mr Njoya and his two friends poaching gazelle. Mr Cholmondeley told the court he was carrying a Winchester rifle to ward off buffalo and was shooting at Mr Njoya's dogs when he hit the poacher in the rear by accident. He later changed his story to say that Mr Tundo fired the fatal shot, but the judge dismissed the story as an afterthought.
The three-year trial captivated Kenya. Mr Cholmondeley was charged with murder, which carries a mandatory death sentence. In May, Muga Apondi, the judge, found Mr Cholmondeley guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter and sentenced him to eight months in prison. The light sentence sparked protests inside and outside of the courtroom. The prosecution appealed for a harsher sentence, but the result is still pending.
Mr Cholmondeley's early release was met with mixed reaction. In the Rift Valley, home to many of Kenya's 30,000 white settlers, people said he had served his time. "If he was well behaved, then they followed the procedure in releasing him," said James Njoroge, a petrol station attendant in the town of Naivasha. "He's stayed in prison long enough." Timothy Waweru, who said he had sold handicrafts to Mr Cholmondeley, described him as a decent person who is quick to react.
"He's not a bad man," he said. "He just takes action very quickly without thinking. He does business with us so we know he's not a bad guy." Masai leaders, however, are still angry that Mr Cholmondeley walked free after killing Samson Ole Sisina, the Masai wildlife ranger, in 2005. "This is selective justice," said Martin Ole Kamwaro, a Masai elder. "We feel that our system has let us down." On Wednesday, Mr Cholmondeley was not at his ranch house surrounded by green fields and flat-topped acacia trees. After his release on Friday, he flew in a private plane from Nairobi back to his ranch, where he stayed for two days, according to workers at his house.
"He was very happy to be home," said Patrick Waweru, a driver for Mr Cholmondeley. "All the workers greeted him. We wanted to lift him up." On Sunday, he had flown to the United Kingdom for a month of recuperation, Mr Waweru said. Sally Dudmesh, his girlfriend, wrote on Justice for Tom, a website maintained by Mr Cholmondeley's friends, that he would need time to recover from prison. "Getting back to a normal life won't be easy," she wrote. "As much as we would all wish for things to go back to the way they were before all this began, truth is they can't ... The Tom coming out of Kamiti will be very different from the Tom you all knew five, six years ago. So ... you will understand if he needs time to heal the scars or numb the pain of the past four years."
Though he is not required to by law, Mr Cholmondeley said during the trial that he would help Mrs Njoya and her children financially. However, Mrs Njoya said she has not received any money from him nor heard from him since the sentencing in May. "He hasn't helped me," she said. "He said he was going to, but he is not at this time. I'm still waiting to hear from him. I expect him to help." But, she said, she does not dwell on that fact. After all she has been through, she can finally move on with her life. "I'm not angry. I'm glad because my life has been released."