Letter from the US: Day my mother told me not to visit her in the village for fear of insecurity

By Chris Wamalwa

Early this week, Monday to be exact, on my way back to the US from Kenya, I met Kenya’s Chief Justice, Dr Willy Mutunga at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. The CJ was making his way back home from some official engagement in New York. During the brief encounter, Dr Mutunga, having been away from home for some time, as expected wanted to know how the country was faring and so he innocently inquired from me.

 I gave him a mouthful! Without much thought and with no hesitation, I told the CJ that in my view, what was new about Kenya was the increased sense of insecurity among Kenyans occasioned by brazen attacks by criminal gangs in the rural areas on innocent villagers, car-jacking in urban centres and the lynching and torching of suspected criminal elements by Wananchi. I told him that what I experienced during my short visit to the motherland was a country that is held hostage by criminal elements that now seem to define and dictate the security of the whole country.

I told the CJ that it broke my heart when my own mother beseeched me not to travel to the village to see her because if I did so, then I’d endanger not just my own life but also the lives of everybody else in the homestead because the marauding gangs would strike in the dead of the night thinking I’ve left truckloads of dollars.

The CJ patiently listened as I narrated to him how the previous day suspected terrorists had attacked peaceful worshipers in a church leaving 14 people dead and 66 injured. I told him that in fact Barrack Obama, our cousin who is also the US President had condemned the attacks and called for prosecution of the perpetrators.

I told him that I had personally witnessed three carjackings when I was transiting from JKIA to town the day I landed around 9pm and had listened to my cab driver complain that  he had been robbed by the car-jackers just the previous day. I reminded the CJ that in the recent past, marauding killers have struck terror in the residents of Bungoma (my hometown) and Busia, murdering at least 13 people, injuring several others and displacing many more.

I told the number 1 lawman that most disheartening was the fact that even the police did not seem to know who exactly are the perpetrators of this mayhem and why. Some reports attribute the Bungoma/Busia massacres to political rivalries between local politicians while others seem to suggest that the attackers had actually crossed the border from the neighbouring country.

I have a feeling some of my readers would dismiss this as the ranting of another ‘Diaspora’ man bitching about nothing. Speaking to some people in Kenya, I got the sense that they were actually getting used to this kind living. To many, these car-jackings, violent robberies and late-night attacks on homes are common occurrences that should not be taken too seriously. I’ve always argued that, in Kenya, we live on so little for so long that we think what we have is the best in the world.

Yet, if we hope to develop, advance and join the community of developed nations, we must guarantee the safety of lives and property. A government that can’t do this for its citizenry is a government on the ‘ropes’.

 How do we hope to develop when we are only operating on an 8-hour economy simply because everybody has to be at home and completely barricaded in their house for fear of being attacked?

When a spouse can’t go to bed because they are worried their partner who is scheduled to work late or just delayed because they are having a drink with friends will make it home alive or not? Which kind of tourist would want to spend their hard-earned money in a country that can’t guarantee his/her safety? These are some of the questions I put to the CJ just before we parted ways.

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