Aidan Hartley

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A great white hunter takes aim at a few sacred cows in contemporary Africa

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Laikipia

Claire came face to face with a leopard last night. She was walking between our office, a thatched mud hut at the bottom of the garden, and the house. It's a distance of only about 30 paces, but it can get dark out there. Instinct kicked in before she even glimpsed the predator and she froze. Then she saw it. He was purring in the way that leopards do, a noise like sawing, and then it jumped over the garden wall. When Claire called out I was in the house with the children watching The Sound of Music. Something about the tone of her voice made me load up the shotgun and head out, but by the time I went out the leopard had vanished. I escorted Claire back and gave her a glass of South African plonk to calm her down. 'That was scary,' she said. 'Nonsense,' I replied. 'How many people have an encounter with a leopard on their way home from the office?'

My sense that we are living in an idyll, and one full of excitement, is that much more acute because I am dreading a trip to London next month. Claire says I need to get out of Africa occasionally, otherwise I'll go 'bush'. But I personally wish to be like the late Terence Adamson – an old cowboy with a jaw that had been ripped apart by one of his brother George's lions – who taught me how to divine for water when I was a child. After the 1936 Kakamega gold rush, when I think Terence popped over to Uganda, I don't believe he ever left Kenya until his death a few years ago.

As I write this I have a cold beer at my side. I can see from my desk a cobalt blue and orange agama lizard basking on a rock, a sunbird drinking nectar from aloe flowers and, ooh look, one of our chickens has just crapped on the veranda. After the heavy long rains, the high plains are a shimmering sea of red oat grass, dotted with wild hibiscus, ipomea flowers and flocks of quail. The boran cattle are calving and we are vaccinating the lambs in the bomas. I have to ask myself, why the hell would I want to leave Kenya right now?

It is ironic to me that Britain has stuck by its spineless decision to ban UK-registered flights to Kenya, based on reports that al-Qaeda is intent on attacking aircraft flying here. These reports, of course, are produced by those same intelligence agencies that have so far failed to find bin Laden, Saddam – or indeed a single weapon of mass destruction in Iraq. Even the British Army contingent that was supposed to deploy in my home area of Laikipia recently evacuated after the announcement. Pussies. Edward Clay, the British High Commissioner to Nairobi, has told friends of mine that Britain won't lift the ban until the Kenyan authorities catch some terrorists. At the same time he has no fears about travelling inside Kenya himself. Recently, indeed, he drove up supposedly bandit-infested roads with his family from Nairobi and stayed at my neighbour's ranch Loisaba – which has lost $100,000 in tourist cancellations thanks to Blairite Britain's policy.

All this is ironic to me because my Kenya is a paradise, where I feel I can understand the everyday threats that surround me: leopards, malaria at the Coast, or muggings on dark Nairobi streets. I can do something to avoid them. By contrast, I am absolutely terrified of flying my family to Britain this summer, where I feel powerless before a looming malevolence against the Western world. I'm sure most Africans would feel the same way as I do. This is because we know London is a far more desirable al-Qaeda target than Kenya, Zambia or Ghana. The killers have gone for 'soft targets', yes. But terrorist plans for attacks in Britain – let's hope the intelligence services are more efficient at uncovering them than at finding Iraqi WMDs – will surely be for something really big.

While in London I will insist that Claire and the children stay out of the Underground. We will never go to the West End. At the first opportunity I'm going to pack the children off to the parents-in-law in seaside Sussex. And the moment the wheels of our Kenya Airways (on which the stewardesses are still young and attractive, unlike on BA) flight touch the tarmac of the runway at Jomo Kenyatta International on the morning of 13 August, I will heave a sigh of relief that we have got home safely.