By Anthony Muiruri
His death captured the imagination of all those who knew him. Our whole township went to his funeral of course for varying reasons. The poor gluttons because they knew that rice and stew would be very plenty as had always been the case during the burial of other members of his family – the only time the great man returned to his ancestral home; the jackasses because they wanted to catch a glimpse of the (in)famous politicians from the capital and listen to their rhetoric – a rare occurrence in our rocky, hilly, remote town, 80% of which knew no electricity or running water – and the rest like my born-again parents because it was perfect to accord a blessed Christian gentleman his last honours in style and dignity.
‘I’m the Lord’s third favourite creature after his son Jesus Christ and Angel Gabriel. What don’t I fulfill?” he’d once asked mourners at his cousin’s funeral.
‘I couldn’t agree more. I assure you that Mheshimiwa meets all his obligations as spelt out in the Bible. He tithes; he feeds the disadvantaged, never misses our Sunday and Wednesday services and does much, much more. He and his blessed family. I particularly remember that he once donated his two-acre piece of land as part of his 10% contribution. Usually you don’t encounter such a generous heart. Not even us members of the clergy can rival his kindness,’ his pastor had shot up and confirmed to the ululating gathering.
After all Hon.Nemesyus Donald Kanyoro was one of the most famous and wealthiest politicians in the capital city. A hugely-built and pot bellied, determined and inarticulate teetotaler who always-even while
in the gym-dressed in imported designer suits and monogrammed shirts, his appearance and demeanor portrayed a hardnosed businessman in lieu of what the demagogue so loquaciously claimed to be – a servant of the people. Five or six pens always hung from the breast pocket of his coat. Quite approximately the pens served to conceal Mheshimiwa’s lack of formal education. Otherwise what was the use of pens to someone who illiterate?
His solid fame and immense affluence didn’t mean he had a good head start in life. He had been the first-born of very poor jigger-stricken parents who had succumbed to bubonic plague while Donny, as he preferred to be called, was only ten years old. He could not therefore go to school and he began to fend for his younger five siblings by working in the formerly White highlands for European settlers in the Rift Valley.
After ten years of service for Mr. Robin Hill, a Boer who had migrated into the country from Holland by the start of the 20th century, Donald had saved enough to return home in Murang’a and start a green grocery and a charcoal business. His obedience, subservience and diligence had tremendously marketed him to the boss which explains why he rose through the ranks so quickly for when he had started as a milkman, within five
years he had risen to a senior gardener, chef, foreman and a farm manager the position at which he quit ‘white service’- as the natives called it – in 1953 just after the declaration of the state ofemergency.
Robin hill believed in nothing else apart from the total subjugation and submission of the dark race. His philosophy was that Africans were not full human, had no feelings exceeding those of the wildlife and
thus their treatment ought to match this. He would whip or kick workers who didn’t exhibit submission and industry or the independent minded ones conscious of the B-grade life the colonialist had assigned
the natives. But he was a bit liberal and progressive with the natives who had resigned to subjugation and embraced its frills unquestionably if not with enthusiasm. Donald conspicuously belonged to the latter
group. He embraced everything white or Western and scoffed at his peoples’ ways. He had converted to Christianity which is how he acquired his two Christian names.
He had also learnt a great deal of subservience and moderation from his faith, values he practically put into use. Needless therefore to say he was Mr. Hill’s favourite servant and as a token of appreciation, Hill augmented Donny’s savings and wished him luck.
Starting a business in his rural village of Gathathi was a superb move. Long customer queues stretching sixty meters away were usual in his premises and Donald and his wives could be seen moving up and about attending the customers. The charcoal’s soot didn’t do much harm to the already black as pitch Donny and Alice his wife but for his second wife Malia, her once ripe-tomato-like complexion turned like a starched white cotton cloth.
He however had a great problem. In those days when not many people in his part of the world knew as much as the letters A, B, C, D, contraceptives were as scarce as mercury. The folks heavily relied on natural birth control methods which not only proved inefficient but disastrous also. One method turned out useless because of the women’s poor grasp of math and biology and also because men couldn’t hold their own and forced their wives into it.
It was again because of men that another method failed. They were truly in the driving seat but
failed claiming that it was too tempting. Donny’s wives would thus give birth in quick succession and no matter the accruals from the petty trading, his large family barely had enough to eat and he was forced to contemplate a plan B.
Through a white friend’s offices a district commissioner of the city district, Donny was appointed a colonial sub-chief of Kiritiri area in the capital. This was during the height of the liberation war and many businessmen particularly those from Donny’s home area operating in the capital, had jumped into the independence bandwagon that he saw a life-time opportunity to lay to rest his financial constraints into as people put it: a ‘forgettable grave’ which he rightly actualized.
He would have freedom agitators arrested by the colonialists and upon their incarceration, execution or detention at back breaking labour camps; he would help himself to their businesses and other property.
The story of one wealthy business man from Gathathi village who lost all his property courtesy of Sub-chief Donny is still told in the village today.
Donny was a man of great political and business acumen. Upon the colony’s independence from the British, he like many of these administrative contemporaries ditched civil service and joined politics. He knew that this is where the real shilling lay even though he had already amassed a substantial fortune as an administrator. He was easily elected a councilor representing the Kiritiri ward in the capital’s city council where he was subsequently elected by fellow councilors as the deputy mayor. Two years later he was the city’s mayor. Yet he was never a debater and he seldom introduced motions or contributed to them. His skills in the councils’ official languages English and Swahili were exceptionally pathetic. He would always rush to the men’s rooms whenever they were heated deliberations.
So his overnight rise was as a result of his strapping financial muscle. He thus had the best well oiled campaign wheel during elections. He would dish out money to the electorate as well as fellow council men and overwhelmingly win their favour. There was a common adage among the countrymen that “money can break a mountain” and Donny took it to its logical conclusion.
Blessings continued to overflow. He ingratiated himself to the big boys in the government more so the president. This way he landed juicy government tenders and contracts, macro credit which was never repaid
through insider lending and in particular no public land was safe in the capital and its environs. He became the heart beat of the country’s real estate industry.
People from his rural village always flocked at his gate in search of work at his construction empire. He and his wife capitalized on the poor folk’s helplessness and paid them a pittance. Some would give up after a few months and even though others soldiered on, they hardly saved anything to send home to their ever hungry families. But there was no need of explaining to these labourers Donny’s exploitative tendencies for they would always tell you that he was a man bestowed with a rare ability to ‘manufacture’ a shilling.
Twenty years after independence, he was now wealthy enough to seek a higher political office. He vied for a parliamentary seat in one of the city’s constituencies and won easily. Of course he had not only greased the electorate’s hands but he had his native villagers fed well and transported in astronomical numbers to the big city to cast their votes something he repeated for the next three elections when he was swept out of parliament by the wind of the clamour for political pluralism that had engulfed the nation.
At this time many conservatives stuck with the unpopular incumbent president baying for the blood of reform agitators whom the former accused of destabilizing the nation. But as luck would have it, the incumbent tyrant rigged the first ever multiparty elections and Donny’s sycophancy was rewarded with a nomination to parliament and this time round he was even luckier for he was for the first time ever appointed a deputy
Here he is most remembered for the goof of the century he once made at a public rally that the president attended. The latter was so much embarrassed that he ordered Donny to enroll for private lessons in English and Swahili. He had made the speech in his mother tongue but being the social climber that he was, he intoned it with English.
“It is unfortunate that my people got carried away by the wave of stupid opposition and rejected me. But woe unto them for am the president’s blue-eyed boy and am still in parliament. To crown it all, I am a deputy minister of mai (water) and water. I’ll serve this country diligently for the sake of uthii wa nambere “ (development) he said as part of the crowd went berserk with laughter and his colleagues in the presidential entourage (those who understood the dialect) held their breath because of the outright repetition.
In another occasion members of the ruling party were on their way to a fundraiser when they stopped at a newsagent to buy newspapers and keep abreast with the news. Donny couldn’t afford to be left behind and a
photographer with a sharp eye for detail snapped him reading the newspaper upside down.
That was a decade ago. Hon. Donny had been hit by diabetes and with that he had hang his political boots much to the disappointment of the president for losing a reliable lieutenant, a business associate, a personal friend and a political loyalist who’d not only said that the repressive ruling party was part of his DNA but also once publicly declared that he would ask God to slash ten years of his life and have it added to the former.
He was in and out of hospitals either in the country or abroad for the rest of his life. The disease took a heavy toll on him. He’d lost 90% of his vision and he was emaciated and frail. He was already minus his right leg and the thumb and index toes of the other leg. By this time, his three wives, a handful of concubines and their children (the children sided with their respective mothers) were involved in fierce legal and physical battles over the control and ownership of his multi-million shilling estate.
The children of the first and second wife had their father’s youngest wife manhandled by hired mercenaries
and taken back to her parents while her eldest son was brutally murdered. This just added to hasten his grand and irreversible march to the grave and he finally lost the battle to diabetes in a royal
hospital in London one afternoon like so many of his class who preceded him.
Meticulous, superb, splendid and outstanding. This was fittest description of the elaborate state-managed funeral arrangement for this great statesman. To this end the government gave seven million
shillings. The Provincial Administration was charged with task of organizing the funeral. Yes from the provincial commissioner, district commissioners, District officers, Chiefs and their deputies from the whole province left their comfortable offices and camped at his palatial home in the village to see to it that Mheshimiwa was
gallantly escorted to his final resting place.
The government declared three days of national mourning during which flags would fly at half mast. Condolence books were placed at all strategic places in the country in the exclusive forested suburbs, in
his three Victorian-style five star hotels in the country’s three major cities and in all public offices. Politicians across the political divide, the super rich business class and Wananchi from all walks of life trooped in large numbers to sign in their condolences and console the bereaved family.
Two days before the burial, Kimondo Boro had a bitter exchange with his chief.
‘Honourable citizens! I called this Baraza to inform you that on Monday no one is supposed to be working on their farms. There’ll be no picking tea, digging or any other work whatsoever as we must accord
Mheshimiwa a decent burial. In particular, we his village mates must not be seen to be disparaging this dauntless son of our land,’ the chief firmly explained.
‘With all due respect Mr. Chief, this is totally unfair, foolish and unrealistic. Why would we be robbed of our livelihood just because of this farce? Cultivation of our land is our sole mainstay. Will you then give us and our families food on that day?’ Kimondo enquired.
‘Shut up! Sit down! You’re so disrespectful of the authority, the late honourable and the entire community,’ a woman in the chief’s audience yelled.
All the others agreed with her and said that Boro who was renowned opposition activist was just a disgruntled man envious of hardworking and orderly people’s achievements.
‘It doesn’t matter what some anarchists think about the day. This is government’s position and has the full backing of the opposition which some of us are especially devoted to, to a point of blindness. Everything will go according to plan and those mobilizing the public not to attend the burial will be ashamed,’ the chief retorted proudly.
The word opposition sent a cold chill down Boro’s spine. He raised his head and creases formed on his forehead in enquiry and doubt. He’d been hospitalized by the time Mheshimiwa bowed out of the world and
only yesterday had he been discharged and thus had not kept abreast with the news. His wife Wangui had always told him that politicians no matter their party affiliations were birds of feather.
They’re very good friends when cameras are turned away. They play their pol-tricks on us the un-suspecting masses and we believe them. Mind your business even if you sometimes got to play your part to improve the world. Don’t you know that they are always unanimous when they vote for hefty salary increments? Woe unto you for your love for darkness! ’she always admonished him.
He knew there were lots of truth in this but tried his best to suppress it. He would always veto her opinion in hazy pretence and argue that her line of thought amounted to saying that water and oil were miscible.
‘Do you for instance want me to believe that the conservative incumbents are the same as the centre-left opposition? No way,’ he always summed up.
Yet he was in dilemma, for didn’t people say that you can never deceive your heart? By trashing his wife’s observations, he felt guilty. Otherwise he felt despondent and disillusioned for where would
he turn his hopes of a fair, just and equal society to? In the morning his wife had told him about those on the political left’s visits to Donny’s family and their flattery condolences but he had pushed it out of his mind and his admiration of his political idols had reigned. Yet here he was staring at nothing but the bitter truth.
He felt abandoned, alone in the world and the sole voice for the cause of the poor.
‘I thought ours is democracy governed by the rule of law. But I’m surprised that the government would rather have us to attend the burial of one of those responsible for the raping and plundering of the nation than nation building,’ he thundered to the chief.
‘Indeed it is. The majority is against you and you just let them have their way. Isn’t that what good democrats like you teach?’ the chief was rather sarcastic.
‘Of course but they can be wrong and vice versa. Anyway have your way but……eeerrrrr’ he said and disappeared.
The forty -thousand capacity stadium was full to the brim. The family members, political and business friends from the city led by the president, his whole cabinet, senior civil servants, senior police and army officers, the official leader of the opposition and legislators across the political divide sat under the tent canvassing and mingling amiably. Outside, ordinary wananchi braved the scorching sun as the attractive slim knew the city hoteliers treated them to a rare diet of rice and stew, soft drinks and fruits. The unlucky ones stood outside
at the main gate and along the fence just to catch a peek of the event and a whiff of the sumptuous.
Speaker after speaker poured praises on the former Mheshimiwa. He was called a courageous leader, a man of the people, an astute businessman, a God-fearing and a caring family man among other big and weighty.
‘He was true patriot, a reliable ally, an honest and successful businessman and most importantly a man of integrity,’ said a dejected president.
‘He was a good friend of mine, a business associate, a decent man and a hardworking guy in spite of our political differences. He is testimony to how sheer hard work and great determination can liberate
somebody from poverty,’ said the official leader of the opposition.
More adulation followed from the tent and the Wananchi were hooked to every word the sophisticated men uttered. Soon it was bucketing down but they went about their business of gulping food down and applauding
the moneyed men undisturbed.
The graveside could only accommodate a few family members, friends and the VIP’s who carried the casket to the grave. Out of the blue there was a sound of gunfire and everybody else apart from one man was on the ground. The casket carriers had gone to the ground with a thud like a falling huge tree for the bullet had blown out the brains of the official leader of the opposition at the head of the casket.
Another sound of gunfire and in front of everybody was the body of Kimondo Boro clutching at a rifle in the right hand. He’d just been shot by the VIPs security detail.