Aidan Hartley

Wild life | 4 May 2017

He was an ordinary Kenyan, not a white rancher, and he was murdered

Wild life | 4 May 2017
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Laikipia, Kenya

On my way home to the ranch, I stopped for a beer with my neighbour Martin. It was twilight and large herds of cattle were being brought into the yards around Martin’s house for the night. Pokot militias had been attacking for days, trying to rustle cattle and shooting at anybody in sight. Gunmen had a few days before shot Athaju Eloto, one of Martin’s farm workers. Doctors extracted a bullet from near Eloto’s spine but he later died. The bandits had also killed a police officer on the farm during operations to remove the attackers. In a nearby village full of smallholders, Pokot attackers had murdered a policeman and taken two others hostage; their bodies were later discovered burned and stripped of weapons and uniforms. After sunset, smoke rose from herders’ fires and Martin’s cows were chewing the cud. I asked, ‘Can I have a bed?’ Martin popped open more Tuskers as his sons Warren and Matt came and sat down after the work of the day.

The radio crackled to life with urgent voices. ‘Duncan’s been shot,’ said Warren. Martin’s boys kitted up and took off. ‘We had better follow,’ said Martin. Darkness had fallen and our two vehicles made their way up a hill behind the farmstead. A voice on the radio that I realised was Duncan’s pleaded for us to hurry. As we drove, I cursed myself for forgetting the trauma medical pack I kept in my car, but it was too late now. Under a moonless sky, we arrived on a flat plain and came upon a group of farmhouses near the farm cattle dip. The boys pulled Duncan out of his house and by now he was groaning but still able to speak.

He said that he, together with his team of three others, had seen the gang of gunmen striding towards them at dusk. Duncan’s mates fled, including an armed askari. Unarmed Duncan stayed, locking himself in his house. He was standing behind his front door when the militias fired a clip of high-velocity bullets through it. Duncan said his arm was hurt. We slung him on a mattress in the back of a pick-up. In the dark night I could see very little but I caught flashes of wet black liquid on the wounded man, his clothes and the mattress. Duncan was bleeding heavily.

Martin’s sons stayed behind at the houses. I imagined the attackers watching this scene unfold, looking for a chance to open fire again. We drove back — fast — to the farmstead, where I said I needed some light. I felt so stupid to have forgotten the trauma pack in our rush to drive out to Duncan’s house. We were losing valuable minutes. Duncan was in the back of the pick-up with Martin’s head of security Mohamed, and he was shouting with pain. Finally, we arrived back at the farmstead, reversed the pick-up into the area outside the farm office where the lights were on and pulled Duncan out on his mattress to lay him on the floor.

I got my trauma pack from my car and unzipped it. Moving towards Duncan in the light, I saw that he had a severe wound to the left arm: a bullet had hit his bicep and smashed the bone in two. Duncan’s breathing was laboured and he had stopped talking. Thinking he was only wounded in his arm, I strapped on a tourniquet and wound it tight. As I did this I saw there was blood gushing from his body, a wound we knew nothing about until now. Mohamed helped me cut away Duncan’s shirt and coat and then I saw the terrible truth. There was a huge hole in Duncan’s left side. I am a fool, I am so ashamed to say, but there was so much blood flowing from Duncan’s side that I did the wrong thing. I grabbed Celox blood coagulant and stuffed it into his wound. I put on surgical gloves and probed the huge entry injury caused, I think, by a tumbling round smashing through his ribs. ‘Chest seal!’ I realised and went back to my trauma pack. My memory of all the war training I had as a journalist was foggy but I now knew I needed to close up the injury in Duncan’s thorax with a Bolin chest seal, to prevent his lungs from collapsing or a total crisis known as a ‘tension pneumothorax’. I fiddled around in my kit but it was too late. Duncan was gasping his last. He looked skywards and gulped until he went quiet and Mohamed closed his eyes. A crowd of us were around Duncan and we were all crying. He was an ordinary

Kenyan, not a white rancher, and he was murdered.