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Avoid dealing with Shylocks, they cannot be your friends

By Benson Riungu | Jan 11th 2015 | 3 min read

In my salaried days, this week would mark the bleakest times of the year.

Regret at having spent recklessly during the Christmas and New Year season would be giving way to desperation.

The telephone would be worked feverishly not in efforts to advance the employer’s business, but to plead with well-wishers to help plug the vast financial hole thus created.

The irony was that the employer’s misguided sense of generosity, which resulted in the December pay coming as early as the 20th, would end up creating the longest period we would go without pay, as long as 40 days.

We were forced to come up with creative ways to survive until the next pay day, one of which was to avoid meeting our financial obligations such as paying rent.

Unfortunately, this recourse only postponed and compounded problems, not solve them.

Another was to borrow with the kind of recklessness that only matches the spending that created the problem.

That is how learnt, many years ago, that if you talked nicely to the bank manager, you could get a an overdraft against your salary.

My friend and I operated accounts with a certain bank and one day we talked to the manager to advance us “something small” to tide us over until pay day at the end of January. Give a reckless young man an inch and he will take a mile. In February we realised that by settling January’s debts, we only created a new hole that also needed to be plugged.

But we were resourceful, and had charmed our way into the heart of a certain young female cashier who managed to once again intercede with the bank manager on our behalf.

Soon the overdraft became a way of life until we started misusing it.

Matters came to a head the day I went to the bank for money for the fare home and also to buy a packet of cigarettes. The manager summoned me to his office for a dressing down.

My financial affairs, he said, were in a mess and I either pulled up my socks or he would be forced to close the account.

In any case, there would be no more overdrafts.

That is when I met my first moneylender, a Ugandan known as Tamale.

The problem with a Shylock’s loan is that it gives you an appetite for more and since you cannot keep going back to the same person, you get to know many others.

With time, you build up a network of Shylocks with the new ones helping to service the interest on the loans borrowed from the old ones. It works a bit like leveraged borrowing from formal financial institutions, only that you rarely ever get to start repaying the principal.

At some point, the Shylocks will start calling in their debts, including the amount you had originally borrowed — and that is when the stinky stuff hits the fan.

You had learn to keep your eyes peeled for the Shylocks you owe money and be ready to dodge them.

There was a time when the human traffic on Nairobi streets was quite light and people seemed to know one another.

It therefore made the task of dodging Shylocks dicey and chances were that eventually, you would be cornered.


I eventually managed to get Tamale the Ugandan out of my hair when we bumped into each other on Kenyatta Avenue and he started to act tough.

He was forced to beat a hasty retreat when I denounced him to the shoeshine boys as a foreign criminal who was trying to blackmail me.

I had few problems with another one called Mugwika, who was squint-eyed and as blind as a bat.

I only needed to move to the other side of the street whenever we met.

All in all, I am happy that it is many years since I last had any business with a moneylender.

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