Much as Kenyans talk virulently against appropriating things that don’t belong to them, PETER NDORIA looks at how, beyond the lip service, we treat everyday pilferage as a normal, expected and even heroic way of life
Victor was a keen coin and stamp collector in his high school years and liked to show off his collections. One time, he flaunted this to a their houseboy. That was a big mistake, because when he came back from his school holidays the next term, he found that the house help had been fired and his coin and stamp collection missing. Of what use would they be, he wondered, since the coins were worthless.
“Most of them were old European coins dating many years back, longer than the introduction of the Euro. They were of no use or value to him. He just stole them to steal something,” recounts Victor, who gave up the hobby out of frustration after the incident.
Stealing worthless things
It was not the last time that Victor would lose his possession needlessly to petty pilfers. Years later, he was to lose a commemorative glass plaque that he had been given in a conference he had attended, which was rather pointless in his opinion because the plaque bore his name and would be of no use to the cleaning woman who had taken it.
Pilfering for the sake of it is not unheard of in a country that ironically has been waxing lyrical about fighting corruption for decades now. We all like talking about how bad it is to steal from the people yet find it harmless to pocket a few things here and there.
When a truck carrying fuel overturns, we first dash for containers to siphon the fuel — never mind that we have no idea whom we are going to sell the fuel we are risking our lives for.
Nicking trivial things
Nicking trivial things is a way of life for many; it is almost a culture. A local comedy show on TV amply brought this out when they staged one of their ‘caught unawares’ segments. In it, a person posing as blind would request an unsuspecting passer-by for help in crossing the road. Just as they got to the other side another man would ‘accidentally’ drop a heavy wad of notes, at the feet of the blind man.
Whereas many of the unwary passers-by were graciously willing to help the ‘blind’ man cross the road, they turned hostile on seeing the money... one actually violently pushed the hapless man away, lest he steps on the money! Only one of the sampled people took the money and gave it back to the owner.
All sorts of excuses have been advanced to justify this, like poverty. If you are in a matatu and the conductor forgets to charge you, we interpret that as good luck.
On the contrary, if you are given excess balance at the shops or see the person in front of you drop some money and you return it, many will deem you stupid.