The 100-year-old fence and our socioeconomic systems

A fencing post that could be over 100 years old. [XN Iraki]

Curiosity can lead us far and wide. This fence caught my attention. It looks unusual, for three reasons. One the fencing wire “passes” through the post and two it has no “stings”. Seen barbed wire?

Three, the post is old and made of cedar, a very rare hardwood. The age is indicated by leeches growing on it. Cedar is never attacked by termites and takes hundreds of years to mature, mostly in the highlands. 

If you have fenced-in countryside, this is an easy language. Urbanites are used to stone walls or hedges. Usually for beauty or security. Countrysiders have an edge over urbanites, they have both worlds. 

The fence is on the northern edge of the Aberdares, about 10,000 feet above sea level, it’s one of the highest inhabited places in Kenya. With my curiosity, I wanted to find out more about this strange fence. Not far from this fence is an old historical house or mzungu house. 

That gave me a clue on the origin of the fence and possible owner. From research, I knew the owner of the house was Colonel (Col) George Trent. The local name for this place is “Kanari”, corruption for colonel. The fence is about 40km (kilometres) south of Nyahururu, near Shamata gate into Aberdares National Park. 

Back to the fence. When was the fence built? I contacted the grandson of Col George Trent, Nigel. His reply was fascinating. 

“The original fencing would have gone in between 1922 and 1932. My Grandfather took up the farm in 1922. My father moved to his own farm in Marmanet in 1934. He called his new place Ol Jabetti. (My father was’ Jabby’ and my mother Betty.).”

Many think Ol Jabet, a small town about 20km on the Nyahururu- Rumuruti Road has a Maasai name! Now you know …

Nigel went on; “My Grandfather was in the North Hampshire Regiment, serving in India. On leaving the army, he was appointed Governor of Malta. He and his family arrived in Kenya from India. Upon arrival in Kenya, he spent six months as a guest of the Delamere’s at Soysambu while looking for his farm.” 

A mere fence can unlock so much history, from England through India to Kenya. The mention that his grandfather was in the Afghanistan campaign was fascinating.

Any great power in the last 200 years had to face the “Afghan Question.” The British faced Afghans, in three wars, Russians did the same in the 1980s. America has done the same recently. No great power has completely conquered Afghanistan. 

The long history of this fence left me concerned. 60 years after uhuru (independence), our link to the past is slowly fading. Our grandchildren may not know who Colonel was, because it’s not documented.

What do students from nearby, Kametha Primary School or Shamata Girls Secondary School know about this fence? What of Laikipia University which is 40km away? 

I find it interesting that our children can easily explain what Zinjanthropus ate or how he crushed nuts, but have no clue who once owned the land they call their home. 

Some could ask why we get fascinated with our colonial past when the present has enough problems from El Niño to the high cost of living. That’s part of our history and it shaped the destiny of our country, for good or for worse.  Our colonial past fascinates me for both economic and social reasons. 

It can easily explain our present socio-economic circumstances. Colonialism replaced the old order, but we still hear its echoes.  After uhuru, we cherry-picked what was good from colonialism, starting with governance and class system. 

Unlike Americans who jettisoned the monarchy into republicanism and settled on their political system, we have been in costly trial and error mode for the last 60 years. We hated colonialism but still copied its systems. 

Think of it; we have been experimenting with different political systems; from multiparty, single party, back to multiparty, coalitions and be sure of more experiments come 2027.

We have shifted from the command economy to the market economy. On this, we have been consistent but failed to appreciate the importance of incentives and unintended consequences like inequality. 

We have kept changing our education system for 60 years. Religions, unlike our former colonisers, have mutated. Our families are not as strong as they used to be. 

Would our journey to prosperity not be easier and smother if we knew where we came from? One fascination with colonialism is the boldness of leaving the comfort of one’s home to seek wealth in all the corners of the planet.

Though it destroyed other civilisations and cultures, it gave its perpetrators choices to live in different countries and continents. 

Africa should revenge against colonialism by owning colonies in space, on the moon, on planet Mars and exoplanets. That would be a good place to invest reparations if we get them. 

Unlike the fencing post that has held steady for 100 years, our socioeconomic systems have been in a state of flux. When are we settling and focusing on what matters?

Jobs, economic growth, higher standard of living, optimism and happiness? Who benefits and who loses from this state of flux? Seen something fascinating like our fence? Let’s talk. 

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