Since 1902

When corruption takes root in small villages regular folks pay a heavy price

The year had started without any spectacular incident in the village of Kaluodo, somewhere in the middle of Mangalapa. That year many farmers had gone without getting a cent from their sugarcane plantations because the two factories they used to deliver cane to had been shut down. It was claimed by the managers of Chamkuon Sugar Factory that a turbine had broken down in the factory and the spare part could only be imported. The process of procurement was, however, very long and the parent ministry was still waiting for the Treasury to clear the importation process. Mangalapa Sugar Mill was under receivership and the new receiver manager was not prepared to get things going until his predecessor was cleared of having defrauded the company of some billions of shillings. That predecessor was now a major stakeholder in a county government.

Stanley Otieno decided that there was no future for his family in the sugar industry. He would burn his cane and plow the 10 acres with the view of planting maize. But what about the herds of cattle roaming around; how would he protect his maize from these grazers? Planting maize did not appear to be a practical option. But then, with three children in primary school, one in high school and another at home looking for work, how was he going to provide for his family? That Sunday, for the first time in ten years, Stanley decided to go to church; maybe the Lord would reveal something to him. He sat timidly on the back pew, mingling rather shyly with three little children who were there only to wait for their parents attending the adult service. Sunday school usually ended before the adults arrived. But that day there had been a visiting school teacher who insisted on teaching them a nursery rhyme after the service was over. They decided to wait for their parents just to ensure mother would buy bananas for them at the market on the way back home.

Stanley began wondering why he had come to this old church. The altar looked well cared for. The tables and stools there were covered with white cloths with red crosses at the centre. The chairs, made of wood and standing much higher than the pews, had huge red crosses on them as well where the priests rested their backs as they stared with authority at the congregation. Within no time a choir was entering from the side door to the altar. A man carrying a drum trapped around his neck was beating it furiously with a stick. As he beat the drum and started to sing a chorus, the choir, dancing in formation as they streamed in, responded equally enthusiastically to the drum beat. The congregation then arose, each person clapping and responding in chorus to the music.

Stanley stood up responding to what everybody else was doing. But he did not know whether to clap, sing or just stare. But there is a way in which a situation like that simply takes over one’s mood, and one begins to behave in a manner quite unbecoming under normal circumstances. Within no time Stanley was clapping and jumping and joining in the Alleluias without knowing exactly what was going on. But he was there, in the Nomiya Luo Church, partaking of the service as everybody else.

Three days later Stanley could not really remember what happened at the church. All he remembered was the hilarious music, the clapping of hands and a thousand and one Alleluias. A friend of his had once told him that in that church they also say something to do with Hail Mary Mother of Jesus. But he could not remember such a thing. Maybe it was in the sermon which was so boring he fell asleep midway and woke up when all had left except the care taker. But he kept on feeling some peace in his soul. He could not touch the soul anywhere in his body but he knew that his soul was now different: calm, reassuring and looking for another day in church where, apparently, he was now beginning to feel at home, if only for one day a week.

The day Stanley had gone to church there had been a big meeting of farmers of Kaluodo to discuss what they would do to survive with the collapse of the sugar industry. A message had been sent to Stanley to attend the meeting but apparently he never got it. At the meeting it was resolved that anybody who did not attend that crucial meeting was a betrayer to the farmers and a sell out to the factory authorities. A neighbor of Stanley stood up to confirm this.

“Yes Mr Chairman,” he then cleared his throat, adjusting his belt and looking straight up in the gait of getting ready to say something important.

“Mr Chairman I know that there is one of us who decided to betray us this morning. He got the word for this meeting and forwarded that message right to the factory manager. Mr Chairman that man is just now with the manager. He is telling him that we are planning for the downfall of the factory. We must vet everybody who comes to this meeting. When we begin planting maize we must all begin at once; nobody should be left out. But traitors like Stanley Otieno must not join us at any cost. I insist: they must not be allowed here.”

“Traitors!” shouted somebody from the audience.

“Monkeys!” responded another.

“Gentlemen,” the chairman came in calmly. “Let us not be over excited. We have heard what Abednego has said about our brother Otieno. I control the membership. Leave the problem to me.”

Stanley Otieno had one problem with the chairman. For two consecutive seasons he had lent the chairman money to pay school fees for his children but the chairman never paid him back. The relationship between the two had become very sour. He had finally reported the matter to the police but the chairman bribed the police and nothing happened. A police man was heard saying in the bar:

“After all that is a civil matter and that Stanley of a man should know that our throats are dry. Before we advise him the throat must be oiled for words to come out!”

The money that the farmers had collected over two months was enough to hire tractors and plough all the sugar farms in Kaluodo in a record two days. But only those farms that were in the chairman’s list. The day arrived and that is exactly what happened. The factory managers were completely in the dark. Within another two days a truck arrived on a Sunday morning with maize seeds and all farmers in the chairman’s list were in their gardens planting: all in unison. It is then that the news reached the factory manager that Kaluodo village farmers had plowed their farms not to plant sugar cane but to grow maize. All of them, except a negligible handful including Otieno, had bolted.

“No!” shouted the manager; “that is against zoning laws. The farmers must be punished. Get me the police.”

But the manager did not realise that his own security detail was the cousin of the chairman and had a ten-acre farm in Kaluodo that his uncle was looking after. Through his uncle he was an active member of the chairman’s group. When he left to go and get the police, he took a detour to Kaluodo to warn the farmers of the manager’s intention. Then he added a rider: “If you people don’t get rid of this man Stanley Otieno you will never get anywhere. All information from here reach the manager through him”

That day before the sun set Stanley Otieno’s home was burnt to ashes while he was at church, this time with his whole family. Journalist arrived at the scene to report the story with cameras, writing pads, biro pens, pocket books and jungle fatigues, carrying themselves around as if on a safari to the Mara Game Reserve.

“Were you really an informer for the factory manager?” the journalist asked Stanley Otieno.“An informer? Is that all you can ask me? Lord God! What a terrible world!” Otieno replied, completely beside himself with shock.