I was in this well-furnished nice apartment block somewhere in Kilimani and stories were being traded in the room about the rising insecurity and close shaves various people had had with carjackers.
Suddenly somebody across the room bluntly said that Maj Gen Hussein Ali should be given a free hand to shoot down every suspected criminal in sight. After all it was the only way to stop the rising crime wave.
I was shocked.
Surely they understood that there was no way crime can be stopped in that way. I thought they understood that the strategy they were talking about had already been tried with the Mungiki only to produce more hardened and determined Mungiki warriors. It was also tried during the post election violence. Kill a few people and the rest will be scared.
I thought about it for a long time and then it dawned on me what the problem here realy was. I grew up in a middle class family and lacked for nothing. I was never sent home for lack of school fees even one day. But luckily after school I had quickly moved out of home and lived in some pretty seedy neighborhoods of Nairobi trying to fend for myself despite my inexperience and naivety. Having moved out of home with nothing but my clothes, I learnt a lot. I learnt what it felt like to go hungry for lack of food. I heard so many stories of how people had been brought up and I saw some things that changed my life forever. I will be forever grateful for that experience.
To understand what is happening in Kenya these days you need to hear this true life story that has happened with hundreds and probably tens of thousands of families across the nation.
Let us call this guy Ted (for lack of a better name). Ted comes from a rural area somewhere in Kenya (I dare not mention the place with all the tribal hoodlums hovering around this blog). His parents have known all along that education is enough. All one needs to do is have a good education and they will never lack for money. So they have struggled and taken Ted all the way to University level. They sold cattle and almost the entire parcel of land owned by the family to take their son through school. They were later advised that a basic degree is not enough since so many people have it and Ted would need to go further and get a masters to land a good job (now Ted is confused because some employers have told him he is over-qualified for the jobs they are offering). Well, Ted has finished his expensive education about 6 years ago and his family were expecting that their huge “investment” would start bringing in a return. As you read this Ted I still jobless. Ted is in fact a vet. You would expect that an agricultural country like Kenya would never have enough Vet doctors to keep livestock healthy and profitable. But Ted is now idling at home with his degrees (up to masters level) and he has no job and no source of income.
Now the sad part of this story is that some of Ted’s school mates (who were not as bright and serious as he was with his studies) are doing very well. One is even the managing director of a State corporation. Others have good jobs in their family businesses.
This scenario is replicated all over the country. I want you to imagine for a minute how bitter Ted is bound to be right now. The poverty around him in his rural home keeps staring back at him and he feels guilty over what the family has sacrificed for his education. The bottom line is that the inequality in Kenya has created people like Ted. Clearly, making it in life no longer depends on hard work but whose son you are.
Now in this kind of scenario, how the hell do you expect anything less than a serious crime wave in Kenya?
Incidentally we have now moved to a new kind of crime that everybody dreads. This is kidnappings for hefty quick ransoms.Nigeria has come to Kenya folks. Now we have one problem in Kenya. People here are very quick to see a winning idea and to copy it so much so that the originator of the idea has no chance to make the killing they deserve from their smart thinking. Kidnappings are perfect. You simply warn the family that if they call the police they will find their loved one dead. So hopefully you should be able to end up with a lump sum without the police even being informed that a crime has been committed. Easy money and the perfect way to get back at the monied class.
Many of you who read this blog have recently gone into a supermarket and spend 10,000 bob without thinking twice about it. But watching you from a corner of the supermarket (maybe at the counter for those purchasing a single item) were a number of guys who have never seen that kind of money in their entire lives. Those of them who have jobs would need to save for 5 months or longer to have that kind of money in their accounts. And yet you blow it away one lazy Sunday afternoon on a whim.
That is the crux of the problem in Kenya. The gap between those who have money and the hopeless is just too wide and widening even as you read this.
So far our so-called leaders who can barely see beyond their noses (and pot bellies the size of which would keep them in good company at a maternity wing of a Nairobi hospital crowded with mothers expecting a bundle of joy at any minute) are using 70s techniques to deal with crime.
Let me tell you a story to prove this. In the 1970s there was a top cop (headed the CID at one point) called Ignatius Nderi who got a reputation for scaring thugs in Nairobi so much so that they called in and handed in their guns in fright (I kid you not). He simply did this by making a few examples and shooting down one or two in cold blood (Kwekwe-squad-style). We also have a guy who used to be called Patrick Shaw. A fat cop who sent shivers down the spines of no-gooders by doing exactly the same thing. There were no human rights activists in those days. Patrick Shaw used to drive an old Volvo and it is said that if there was a riot in Campus and he happened to be sent in. By the time he alighted from his Volvo, University students who had a minute earlier been throwing stones at cars would be kneeling down on the tarmac with their hands as high in the air as they could manage. Apparently he knew where all the thugs lived. He would pay them a visit and warn them and the next day they would pack all their belongings and retreat to their rural home while passing urine on themselves. I kid you not.
So our leaders imagine that if you shoot every suspected thug in site it should be able to work. It worked in the 1970s why should it not work now? The only problem now is of course those darned human rights activists who have managed to attract international attention to Kenya and how we have been dealing with crime for the last 4 decades or so.
Well for one thing in the 70s hard drugs were not such a serious problem in the country. And neither were there so many firearms in the city and country in general. In those days cops felt that they were very well armed when they had a revolver capable of delivering 6 rounds before re-loading. These days no self-respecting thug will do a serious job without an automatic weapon. Again in those days very few people had university degrees. I see a day in the very near future when some thugs will refuse to do jobs with anybody who does not have at least one university degree.
My dear Kenyans in the diaspora, I hope that this post will help you to start understanding where your country is at and why you should not be in the least surprised when you hear that crime has shot up. And to make matters worse the rate at which you guys are returning home penniless as victims of the economic melt-down will just worsen the situation.
I know most of you have never used a pit latrine within the city of Nairobi, so how can you understand what the hell I am talking about here?
P.S. So what is the solution? WE have to think out of the box and even as we get a DNA lab for the police, we need to deal with the root problems that cause crime instead of trying to simply snuff out the symptoms. We should start with corruption and impunity and then we need some urgent ideas to create income earning opportunities for the youth. I will write an ideas post specifically on this in the next few days.