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State must break mafia-like cartels before they ruin Kenya

By Henry Munene | January 23rd 2016

Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, a conscientious man who dishonest Kenyan politicians have tried in vain to besmirch, recently told us that Kenya is in the grip of a mafia-like cartel. Now, if you have no idea what it is like to live under the spell of a cartel, I have old news for you. Many years ago when we were growing up, there was a gang of one man called Kimani. Kimani was a towering hulk with an aquiline nose and who walked with hands outstretched, as if he was always itching to hit someone.

Kimani reigned terror in the whole area called Runyenjes in Embu, but his ill reputation extended far behind Kiang’ombe hills in Ukambani and beyond Embu town towards central Kenya.

Kimani had an old creaky, wobbly and hopelessly knock-kneed contraption that he had the cheek to call a car, whose registration number was KJY. So people simply called him JY. He hated women. A relative of mine one day asked for a lift in that car and the kind of ordeal she underwent is a sad story for another column. JY had a brother, a mentally challenged man people fondly called Kamengere. The latter, always decked out in frayed suits and loosened neck-ties, was a draught genius whose skills were the stuff of village legend. When Kamengere was not playing draught, he would be preaching to market women, in between announcing to all and sundry who among the market women had turned down his overtures.

It is said one day Kamengere approached JY for a soda and half a loaf of bread. JY bought him whole crate of soda and a whole crate of bread. Then hapless Kamengere, with the help of a whiplash, was forced to eat the whole loot.

JY had killed his own father, cutting the old man’s hands around the wrists, before burying them in hot ash. Sometimes JY would disguise himself at dusk and escort scared women home. Such women, not knowing whom they were talking to, would tell him they dared not walk home unchaperoned for fear of JY. Then when they were in the thick of the village bush, he would terrorise the women to eternal horror.

So why wasn’t he taken to jail? It was rumoured the old goat had supernatural powers that were housed in a red waist-belt he liked fastening at high-waist. Rumour had it that whenever he was locked up in police cells, he simply sent for the belt, which would come stuffed inside the outer shell of a loaf of bread. Once he wore the belt, it was said he would turn himself into a cat, and the police would be terrified into releasing him. It got to a point where no one dared arrest him. Of course we cheeky boys suspected he had no such powers; that he used his connections as a member of a powerful political youth movement of those days, which later bought him an old Mercedes Benz, to go scot-free after committing his invariably heinous crimes.

One day JY came to our school during a harambee. He was elegantly dressed in a grey suit whose coat-piece was unusually long, cascading down to the knees. He also sported a well-polished leather sombrero that gave him the look of a real mafia don. My friend Kombo and I summoned courage and went to sell raffle tickets to him. The man looked knives at us, two disrespectful urchins who clearly did not know who he was. He tried to shoo us off but we stayed put. As he grudgingly bought two tickets for Sh40, his look wistful with defeat, it occurred to us the guy was not invincible. A fraud. A paper tiger.

This was confirmed in 1996, when people travelled from far and wide to see his lifeless body at Runyenjes Police Station, where it was paraded after being killed I can’t remember by whom. So when Dr Mutunga told us how powerful cartels have taken over our country, I thought I’d share with you a lesson I learnt from back then; no evil is too strong for a dedicated citizenry to defeat.

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