The Kenya government is out to improve security by spending millions of shillings on upgrading the salaries of security personnel and improving their housing. As this happens, the people of Sango Sergoit region of Lugari District in western Kenya continue to live in fear. The promise of security is an old refrain.
Mr Stephen Nyongesa, who was recently robbed of his generator and salon equipment, takes us through the hardships of a common man in a developing country. Staff writer JOSEPHAT JUMA caught up with him in the streets of Nairobi. Excerpts:
Q: Why are you leaving Nairobi for Lugari in a hurry yet you haven’t finished your business?
A: It is just to give psychological support to my family. The security in my village is quite tense and unpredictable.
Q: Briefly explain the situation in your area.
A: A gang of over 100 people is systematically combing villages, killing, maiming and looting. Security meetings have not helped. Even after President Mwai Kibaki (of Kenya) called for an end to the insecurity, it has yet to reduce. A few days ago, two mechanics who had been hired to repair a woman’s vehicle were killed in cold blood by thugs.
Q: What do you think these gangsters are up to?
A: There are several schools of thought on their operation. Some say some politicians are grooming private armies to unleash terror on their opponents ahead of elections in 2007. Otherwise, what explains the failure to arrest this gang? Others think it is the government’s way of gaining more control for whenever there is a security risk, freedoms of people are sacrificed at the altar of government control.
Q: How is the economic set up there?
A: Most people have closed their shops. Those who had big stocks have reduced them. There is general laxity and fear of investment for the labor of many days gets stolen in a few minutes. One businessman who had withdrawn Kshs250,000 ($3,290) to pump in her business one morning got a rude shock after she received a letter from the gangsters threatening to come for the money that evening. The gangsters have classified families according to their wealth. Those with grass-thatched houses are asked to remit Kshs1,000 ($13). Those with brick houses are forced to part with Kshs8,000 ($105). Those in business pay the highest. Incentives mean everything if our economy is to return to it’s a competitive growth rate. It has to encourage more work, saving and investing.
Q: Is this affecting the social fabric?
A: Why not? People are afraid to travel at night. Most of them can’t openly display mobile phones. Men can no longer fulfill their marital obligations for they have to keep vigil outside their homes nights on end. One man who had been out of the country and visited his home got a rude shock when he could not be allowed to sleep in his house for this would be a betrayal to his fellow men who were keeping vigil.
Q: What is your opinion on the state of affairs?
A: Security in the urban areas should not be overemphasized at the expense of the rural areas. Thugs have relocated to the countryside. The nearest police post here is at Soy and Turbo, which are very far. The roads here are not passable by car, hence giving the gangsters a field day. They also know that the ratio of police to the Kenyan population is quite low. Contradictions such as the imposing and withdrawing of the shoot-to-kill order is giving them an advantage. Being robbed and subjected to high taxes is quite a big blow.
Q: How can so large a number of gangsters go undetected?
A: Some have the blessings of security personnel. Some have been arrested in the morning only to come back in the evening in security vehicles breathing revenge. Some chiefs have been seen talking at low tones with criminals. The whole network is quite complex.
Q: What does this mean?
A: Living off someone’s property does not improve the economy. Taking away from A to give B does not help the economy either. The government continues to spend as if we need more government programs to improve our lives and spur economic growth. Millions of shillings are being wasted creating a permanent underclass that has little ability to abandon poverty. Any government worth its salt should protect its citizens from “legal” and “Illegal” plunder of their property. Poverty will never thrive when people are afraid of losing it and life without compensation. With the Maasai clamoring for their property rights, people fighting at Mai Mahiu, cattle raids being carried out in Baringo, people holed in the forest at the Coast Province, we are headed for a civil war unless the sanctity of property rights, life and individualism are addressed.
Q: So, why have you purchased a computer and printer?
A: Life is a matter of risk. I believe I should keep on trying to reach the top and keep hoping nobody will rob me of these again.
By Josephat Juma
Mr. Juma is an African Executive Writer
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