I realised I had fallen from grace when we were dropped from the Queen’s birthday party guest list at the British High Commission in Nairobi. I wondered what offence I had caused to the recently arrived plenipotentiary. I worried that it was because one evening, while jogging in the diplomatic suburb of Muthaiga, I had passed him going at a slack pace and barked, ‘Giddy up!’ I have always been so fond of our British HCs. I picture them to be like Waugh’s ambassador to Azania, Sir Samson, less engrossed with unfolding revolutions outside than with playing with his rubber dinosaur at bath time, which he sat on ‘and let it shoot up suddenly to the surface between his thighs …Chance treats of this kind made or marred the happiness of the Envoy’s day…’
I got on well with the last BHC, who danced like Michael Jackson, and released videos online to prove it. This new chap had run the Africa office for the FCO before coming our way. I wanted him to like me. And I felt sorry for him. How can the Foreign and Commonwealth Office project global power when, after UN subscriptions and the like, it has a global budget of £700 million — one tenth of that of the US state department, a quarter less than France — and only double what Britain lavishes in aid to Ethiopia’s dictatorship annually. The FCO has 12,500 staff, many fewer than Sheffield City Council. Since most are locally engaged, that leaves just 4,300 UK civil servants; fewer than Britain’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (5,630).
I’d heard that the new High Commissioner didn’t have much interest in white farmers. Maybe this was why the birthday party invitation had vanished. ‘Look, this is the sort of guy who when he was at school wore verruca socks to the swimming-pool. He’s pretty left-wing,’ one official sneered.
There is just a handful of white farmers left in Kenya; a few dozen of them live in my county of Laikipia. Devoted to our country, we work hard to produce food for the nation, to help build schools, health clinics, pay our taxes and protect the environment. ‘White farmers’ tend to be Kenya citizens, while many British citizens in Kenya might be black or brown folks. One would hope that the British envoy could rise above what colour people are and take an interest in Laikipia’s wellbeing. Laikipia provides vital training areas for the British army. Kenya is the most important location for British infantry exercises anywhere in the world. Britain is Kenya’s largest investor and trade partner, and Laikipia is part of that. More than half the tourists who come here to see our wildlife are British. Right now, militant local politicians are inciting the invasion of farms. In the last month my place has been smashed to pieces. Half of my workers have fled because they are from the wrong tribe and their families are being murdered and driven from their homes in ethnic clashes.
It probably didn’t help things when, as a friend revealed, the High Commish was invited some months ago to a house high on a hill, overlooking the slopes of Mount Kenya. The idea was for him to meet local conservationists, farmers and so on, with the aim of getting him on side early. ‘Unfortunately, most of the eminent, distinguished and celebrity African conservationists could not make it,’ my friend said. Instead, he related, a certain woman turned up in an ebullient state, having just come from a party in the Rift Valley.
This woman has a very posh English accent, but with the addition of alcohol the elocution lessons evaporate to reveal a sharp country brogue with plenty of invective. ‘A more shambolic introduction to hard-drinking white ranchers could not have been orchestrated better, with endless curses and profanities as more gin and champers were quaffed,’ my friend lamented. Eventually, the host of the house had to order the woman to go to her room, leaving the British High Commissioner in a state of trauma. ‘The poor fellow was last seen holding his head in his hands …I regret that this visit created a lasting impression…’.It’s a pity that the High Commissioner did not find himself inspired by the story of Churchill’s first meeting with Josef Stalin in 1942. Churchill loathed communists but he and the Red Tsar both famously liked a drink. Their session in Moscow over large quantities of vodka and Georgian wine probably helped win the war. I reckon our man in Nairobi should have taken off his verruca socks and joined the party.