Two strange gentlemen who were most unlikely but, definitely, destined to meet happened to do so late last evening. They never saluted one another – well, formally, with greetings that those of their kind would ordinarily exchange. Their conversation – or something close to it – was straight to the point.
Are you sharing this two-seater with me? The first one asked. Yes, I am. Would you like to seat by the window? The second asked. No, you can seat over there. I will see to it that I make myself comfortable with this one right here. The first one replied.
That was the first, and, for a long while, the only exchange between them. Characteristic of, especially, those who lived in the city. They had ended up next to one another because the original occupants of their seats had had a change of mind, and cancelled their trip to Kampala, Uganda.
The first one, Stranger from Uganda, was returning home, for the first time in a long time, for a much needed break that happened to be the Easter weekend. Ugandan because he spoke with that well renown and heavy accent and, also, hastened to let a person who engaged him in a conversation that he did not know or speak Swahili – or pretended not to.
The second one, Stranger from Kenya – because his facial makeup was self-explanatory – was, as he confessed to the first one, on one of his numerous trips to Kampala for not anything worthy in particular, but something that surprised the first one; pleasure. Stranger from Uganda was certain, that Stranger from Kenya could find it, and in plenty.
Their journey was the typical Nairobi story; characterized by an unfathomable traffic jam on most roads including the one on which they were – Chiromo Road. Stranger from Kenya took note of it, with his mobile phone camera. He took pictures of almost everything; flashing car lights, neon lights emanating from billboards, and the well lit and decorated ceiling of the bus which they shared with several dozen others.
Stranger from Uganda reclined his seat and tried to relax as he listened o the soothing sounds that played from his mobile phone. They both lived in the digital age, and if one was to exploit his camera, then the other would definitely have to exploit something – like, in this case, his music application.
Both Stranger from Kenya and Stranger from Uganda alighted in Nakuru – to ease themselves – and slept through Eldoret and most parts of the depths of the Rift Valley. Stranger from Uganda was well aware of that fact. He never slept that much. His sleep never came naturally. It arrived and went intermittently.
When both were awake, Stranger from Uganda, while looking over his shoulder, noticed that Stranger from Kenya was scrolling through the most notorious story of the day. The one from Garissa. The one which, from several sources, detailed to the world the terror attack on Garissa University College students. The one which told us that, terrorists had, in cold blodd, taken the lives of at least 140 and injured 70 innocent students. The one about the second worst act of terror on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the then American Embassy.
Stranger from Uganda had, a few minutes earlier, also read a blog post by one of his notable Kenyan writers; Silas Nyanchwani. It was about corruption, misplaced army barracks, and insecurity in Kenya. Nyanchwani was not impressed by the reality as it is in respect to all the three topics that he had bundled together when he wrote. An attack had happened, a building in Roy Sambu had collapsed, and corruption was still the order of the day.
Their full length conversation started just after they had spent two hours trying to cross the border into what used to be described as the Pear of Africa. It started with the variations in the figure of those who had lost their dear lives.
These media people are always trying to confuse us with the figures they put out there. Stranger from Kenya lamented.
I believe they, and all other interested parties, are always trying to strike a balance. A low figure would not reflect poorly on the government whereas a high figure would have the best impact on the viewer’s, reader’s and listener’s emotions and possible outcries for interventions and calls for revolutions. Stranger from Uganda responded.
Thereafter, it proceeded to their personal experiences. Both confessed to each other that something that should not happen always happened whenever they left, were leaving, or were about to leave Kenya. Westgate, Gikomba, Mandera, Mpekotoni. All fatal and, certainly, undesired happenings.
I believe we should have your passport revoked so that you keep in your country and never leave it. Stranger from Kenya, laughing heartily, said to Stranger from Uganda who joined him just for the sake of it. He never wanted to return to Uganda.
Later, while delving deeper into the perturbing story, Stranger from Kenya spoke passionately, like he ought to do. He had had a fair share of experience as a Kenyan. Their conversation was, thanks to interruptions for inquiry from Stranger from Uganda, more like a question and answer session, like an interview. An important one, as it was, more than enlightening, especially for him – Stranger from Uganda.
Stranger from Kenya took Stranger from Uganda through the background to these headlines that had shocked the entire world and managed to get influential world leaders into delivering statements. He said that in the early 1990s till now Kenya had been peaceful because there were no able bodied men in the North Eastern corridor to fight for cessation as people who had harboured such ambitions were, on one bright morning, taken to a field and shot dead by the then former president’s government. It was a massacre.
The only ones who were spared were children and the old. He added that it is those children who have now grown up and treated the previously out of work army to more than a couple of surprises. And, that even the population had dipped for there were only old men who could not be trusted to handle the tedious –for them – task of reproducing.
Stranger from Kenya confirmed Stanger from Uganda’s suspicions. A fly on the wall had, not so long ago, told Stranger from Uganda that if Mr. Current President had not been taken to The Hague for those other things, he, Mr. Current President, would have chosen the same route – that of elimination. They both agreed that now Mr. Current President had, luckily, gotten the ICC burden lifted, he was going to start being the President that he wants to be. He had already given the nation a taste with his recent speech on, amongst others, corruption.
However, whatever Mr. Current President chose to do, an elimination programme – of all indoctrinated Kenyans – would prove to be costly. His image had been tainted and new changes against him, for wiping out either opposition or terrorist forces would not be a good idea, especially in a time and world like this when human rights activists spoke about anything; including, currently, a parliamentarian’s inability to ask a woman for things politely.
The problems with the North Eastern corridor, they agreed, included the locals. They do not mind about what is happening in their community. Stranger from Kenya said that, in fact, they do not care. They do not want to tell the government about any impending dangers. All simply because they feel, or rather, that, it is a general presumption that due to the injustices that have happened both before and over a stretch of time, they are not part of the rest of the country.
Stranger from Kenya added that the locality – made of Kenyans – feels that it is as good as disenfranchised, that theirs is an area of hardships, and is, unfortunately, porous enough to accommodate insurgents.
Burdened youngsters from the area are talked into travelling into Somalia, seduced by hefty sums of money, trained to fight and indoctrinated by the ever ready to take blame Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen, and asked to return home and carry out attacks on Kenyan soil. When they return as, of course, Kenyan Somalis, and part of the welcoming locals, they carry out these attacks, like this Garissa one. They are difficult to find, blame and punish individually because they blend well with their fellow locals.
It is the locals who have helped them find comfort in obtaining Kenyan passes and, or citizenship. In some instances, immigrating Somalis, Stranger from Kenya said, have taken time to learn, speak, and perfect their Swahili, and, in addition, paid a couple of poor old men to introduce them to Kenya Immigration officers as their sons. Thus, and easily, becoming Kenyan national identity card holding citizens. And, with their newly earned presence in both countries, they are able to, irresponsibly, conceptualize and effect an attack(s) without facing opposition from their welcoming and sympathizing locals.
Back in the day, Stranger from Kenya continued, there was something similar, with my people – the Kikuyus. A group of local militia called the Mungiki clan had caused a lot of havoc before they were systematically wiped out by the government through a series of executions.
The Mungiki clan had gotten to a point where they were collecting taxes from the local community. Like where Stranger from Kenya comes from, people with stone houses were asked to pay a certain amount. The same went for those with a toilet, or chicken, or something, or anything worth value. Each was apportioned their own amount to pay. The point that made the community intolerable was when the Mungiki clan started asking for a portion of the tea bonus. In places where tea is picked, the labour is of the intensive kind. Anyone asking for a percentage of the tea bonus, a bonus that the locals had toiled to earn, was not going to be accepted as easily as it had been for, say, owning a toilet.
There we a lot of killings. The locals gradually killed members of the Mungiki clan. The government, Stranger from Kenya said, was providing more than just encouragement. They did not arrest them, but they, surely helped in facilitating those killings. If they had actively participated, activists of the day would have reported important officers the government to the authorities that matter. Thankfully, those times are gone and, now, nothing more than a footnote on the pages of history.
Their conversation digressed, to Spear Motors, Bugolobi, Mbuya, and Kampala. Places they were well aware of and were currently driving through. They looked different, somewhat, to the eyes of Stanger from Uganda. That was something which could be entertained. He had been away for three years and not back for almost a year.
To solve the problems of the North Eastern corridor, they suggested, would have to start immediately, before small splinter groups – besides the Al-shabaab – were born, before the international community started claiming human rights violations. It would, however, take a new sort of generation(s). Indoctrinated people were not to be treated with kid gloves. They were well trained, well equipped – with machine guns, as compared to the government’s mainly AK47s. Even driving tanks to take them out would only amount to a simple show – of prowess not intellect.
The attackers were not, by the way, Al-shabaab, like the media houses had moved everyone to believe. They had sympathizers amongst the locals with whom they lived before, during, and after the attacks. It was and is those sympathizers who provided a haven for the attackers, and would, if possible, give them up, to earn the prize money on their heads, and go back to breeding a new generation of attackers. This was and is a community thing.
Stranger from Uganda opined that it would be a long fight, not against terrorists – per se – but a well established culture and misguided perception. One that would take several years to finish. The young people who were growing up would definitely follow in the footsteps of their terrorists of their terrorist forefathers. Stranger from Uganda said that what we had to, unfortunately, do was brace ourselves for more attacks. Attacks characterized by mundane differences – of cultures, ethnicity, religious affiliations and infrastructure development – and not necessarily terrorist attacks – in the strict sense of the word. It would be a war whose only justification would be inclusion. It would be a war that the government could only fight by constructing good schools, good hospitals, improving the road networks, and other infrastructure developments in the North Eastern corridor. Only then would the locals have a choice between education or business and indoctrination.
Stranger from Uganda had followed Kenyan politics for a long time. Kenyans were praised for their democracy. However, theirs is of a rather unique kind. As it is, bad people, that is, politicians, do as they please and good people have to follow the law. The attackers were and are part of those bad people. When it came to choosing the people and places to attack, they never discriminated. And, was quick to note, that the next elections – of 2017 – would turn on these attacks, and insecurity in general. Whatever Mr. Current President chose to do today, to sort out the situation, be it good or bad, would not matter. It would determine his stake in 2017. He would be judged on his handling of the attacks. He will have handled everything, to the best of his abilities as Mr. President but the North Eastern corridor would have a significant impact on his carrer and legacy. Boko Haram , in Nigeria, had successfully moved social media enthusiasts to replace his counterpart’s name Goodluck Jonathan with Goodbye Jonathan. The only sensible thing that he had done in his term of office, commentators said, was to concede defeat to the opposition candidate-cum-Mr. President.
Stranger from Kenya and Stranger from Uganda agreed that Kenya runs a risk of turning into another Biafra. Like then, people were interested in cessation because one half of Nigeria was and still is Christian and the other Muslim. Kenya would have to do more than face opposition from people who harbor similar interest, like Somalia. Opposition to, for example, the construction of a twenty kilometer buffer wall. How can Somalia argue that it is their land, when there is nothing valuable in it? There was, thankfully, an answer to that. Kenya should continue with putting up the wall, and strike anything that crosses it before it causes any danger.
Anything and everything would have to be done. Put up a wall, triple border patrol forces, and, maybe, keep praying for a peaceful and united country.
Stranger from Kenya said that he was not in any way bothered or inconvenienced by the four stoppages they had made for police, army and the taxman’s checks. Anything that would be done to guarantee his security was welcome.
When they got to their destination, they promised to meet another time, exchanged goodbyes, but like they intended it, not their names.