ABSTRACT

During the colonial era, the Oserian estate became a symbolic centerpiece of the Happy Valley. Gin-soaked parties and marital infidelities in the famous Djinn Palace at Oserian led to the demise of the handsome young Lord Errol, whose unsolved murder was immortalized in the book (Fox 1988) and film White Mischief. Since Kenya gained its independence in 1963, Oserian has changed hands several times and many ambitions have been attached to these infamous acres. Today, Oserian is synonymous with two seemingly incongruous industries-large-scale greenhouse floriculture and ecotourism. Eight thousand acres of the contemporary Oserian estate are devoted to growing cut flowers sold in European supermarkets and auctions, while another 18,000 acres make up the Kongoni Wildlife Sanctuary, an ecotourism venture that caters to elite customers. Both ventures were founded by Hans Zwager, a Dutch-born entrepreneur who moved to Kenya in 1953 and made his initial fortune selling agricultural chemicals. The flower-growing portion of the estate lies under more than 245 hectares of greenhouses, artificially heated by energy from a small geothermal power plant and staffed by a labor force of 4600 employees (Oserian 2012). Surrounded by miles of high-voltage electric fence, the neighboring wildlife sanctuary is home to many of Kenya’s famous charismatic species, including a rare white rhino. Most of these animals were not initially in residence in the Lake Naivasha area. Zwager had them transported to Naivasha from places where they were ‘threatened’, often at great expense. At the time of my fieldwork in 2007, funding for the young ecotourism venture had largely come from Zwager’s personal fortune, and it was not clear that the wildlife sanctuary would ever be in the black. In his 2005 self-published autobiography, Zwager explained his dual commitment to floriculture and ecotourism:

I’m not interested in making a profit, but it does have a knock-on PR effect. Representatives from British supermarkets, when they come to visit the flower farm are impressed. These supermarket chains are highly sensitive: they live in fear of a possible campaign to boycott their products by environmentalists claiming that damage has been done to the land as a result of the production. In our case, they can see we are giving back to Africa more than we take.