Of Guns, VIPs And The Watus

Sonko guns

Internal Security CS Joseph Nkaissery is developing a penchant for issuing threats and ultimatums. He wields his big stick, swatting perceived threats to national security with the fervour of a man pursuing a mosquito with a hammer. Recently, Mombasa governor Hassan Joho was caught in Nkaissery cross hairs. In Nkaissery assertion, Hassan Joho is unfit to own a licensed firearm due to his latest public outbursts which is a reason that could equally apply to the Internal Security CS.

As Kenyans were treated to another public spat about the right of our leaders to bear arms for their own protection, I could not help but marvel at the captive nature of our big man syndrome. Gun ownership in Kenya is a study in class disparity. Out of the 80,000 members of the police force, 11,000 are dedicated to the security requirements of our VVIPs. Cabinet Secretaries and Governors are entitled to between 6-15 members of the police force for protection. Members of Parliament are eligible to two policemen at a bare minimum while High Court judges have access to up to a 5 person security detail. The attainment of the recommended ratio of police officers to civilians has become another laptop dream, deflating public confidence in the police.

It is illegal to own any type of firearm without a valid gun ownership licence issued at the discretion of the Chief Licensing Officer who has the power to deny or revoke an ownership license.

The irony, is the elites of our society who probably never get to use their firearms outside a target range thanks to the privilege of security paid for by taxpayers, enjoy the almost exclusive civilian right of bearing arms.

Sources indicated that they are averagely 6 000 licensed gun owners and God knows how many unlicensed ones exist in the country. In a TV interview in February this year, police spokesman Charles Owino alluded to a suspected criminal gang behind issuance of firearm licences outside the official security procedures.

Owning gun has become a status symbol and even two bit pop celebrities have been caught in episodes of misuse of personal firearms. Gun licensing proportionately increases with the high net worth of private citizens. The recent unchecked terrorist attacks and the ever constant threat of armed criminals, has increased the demand for guns in civilian hands. Owning a gun has now become as equally sensible as getting health insurance.

Meanwhile, the hoi polloi, 40 million strong have been conditioned to accept the ineffective status of an overstretched and demoralized police force whose primary mandate is VIP security. Unarmed private security personnel who are supposed to help us sleep better at night, specialize in manning gates, running errands and washing cars. The working classes most in need of personal protection that a firearm seemingly guarantees are explicitly banned from the thought of gun ownership unless has one has no qualms getting branded a criminal, bandit or terrorist.

Poor people cannot be trusted with guns. Most residents of rural Kenya see no need to challenge the status quo and make do. No real man in shags goes to bed at night without a panga or a rungu beside his bed. In the Nairobi’s informal urban settlements, self-defence and prayer are the only options. Paradoxically, legally licensed guns are killing more youth than criminal and terror elements. In places like Mathare, a young Kenyan is more likely to be felled by a police bullet than by a criminals’. Hip hop pioneers, Kalamashaka in their hit number Tasfiri Hii stated back in the day, of the zero difference between polisi and jambazi in urban ghettos. Not much has changed since those poignant lyrics were dropped.

To be young and poor is to be born a crime. Policing of informal urban settlements profiles all young men as potential criminals to be neutralized at the slightest hint of suspicion. Public apathy towards the government lip service commitment to national security has created a space for extrajudicial executions of poor young men all over the country on the grounds of fighting crime and terrorism.

These are relics of Britain’s colonial legacy that created a police force to protect the interests of the elites and keep the masses in their place. Class privilege has always underlined gun ownership in Kenya, quieting the fears of the haves against an uprising from the have-nots. One hundred unarmed civilians can be controlled by a single individual with a gun.

Those who control the economic or material forces our society, commandeer the priorities of the nation. The interests of the wealthy few at the top have become the dominant ideology of the country. Personal interests of the leadership are packaged as common interest of all. Like in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, some of our animals are more equal than others and the security needs of the masses cannot take precedence over the safety of our wahemishwa. And, that is just the way it is.

Oh God!

It must be a huge sigh of relief for non church goers who have since found good reason to continue absconding. Church is simply too dangerous. One could get blown up, shot at or robbed in the House of God. The church is under siege from rogue elements raising hell on holy ground. Only last week, we witnessed a brazen daylight robbery in a church compound thanks to a KTN headline broadcast (Click link to watch)

A group of 15 men walked into a church compound, bolted the gates and proceeded to pilfer and shake down a congregation of cash, mobile phones and stuff. They rummaged through unlocked car boots in the parking lot and methodically emptied the pockets of subdued church members.

The footage was captured by the church’s CCTV cameras. That we even have surveillance cameras in church is a story for a different day. The video recording showed that only one of the thugs had a gun which appeared fake. At some point, the squad leader seemed to be wagging the pistol like it were an extension of his finger. But we will never know because no one was bold enough to rally the numbers and dare the thugs who went on robbing the faithful for over 15 minutes! Some even had time to try on newly acquired wrist watches. All we needed were a few worshippers in church with hardcore street life experience and the thieves would have not operated with such audacity. The church may have to lure back the so called dregs of society, criminals and prostitutes for their own protection.

Even so, I do not find the congregation’s behaviour unusual. They merely lived up to middle class programming as law abiding citizens. See a gun, hit the floor, keep your head down and say your prayers. It is really the height of folly to get shot in church trying to save your mobile phone. This scene should have been funny, if weren’t such a stark reminder of just how far down the slippery slope we gotten as a society.

You know things are getting a little dicey when thieves forget their limits. Whatever happened to thou shall not steal from the church. Fleecing the church members, ransacking and taking off with loot stashed in green plastic bags on a Sunday morning is a new low.

For those raised in conservative Christian households, where Christ was the ‘Head of the House and the Silent Guest at every meal’, church represented refuge. It was where the spiritual connection was rejuvenated and one found a sense of belonging amongst a devout religious community.

That purpose was long forgotten and places of worship became places of business. The gospel of redemption was superseded by the gospel of prosperity. Celebrity preachers’ have turned the pulpit in a platform for self aggrandizement tantalizing followers with the secret of creating wealth. “Give and you shall receive”. Churches have become towers of opulence and the spiritual community has gotten flashier and exclusive. Many churches are in all out scramble for numbers through aggressive marketing and they have taken to promising fast, painless cures to all and sundry. These days you can receive blessings without leaving your home. All you need is an Mpesa account and a TV. Send a miracle request to the number on screen and once the messenger on earth receives a confirmation message, the blessings are set to descend.

It is no wonder then that churches are frequently targeted by criminals because they are simply seen as places with pots full of cash. We now have to be frisked by metal detectors, monitored on surveillance cameras every time we venture into church because it really no different than walking into a shopping mall.

We are doing business with god over altars. It is time for church to beef up security for the streets are getting meaner.


Image source: schleitheim.com


Where Only The Brave Survive

I use to sleep with a Somali simi sword under my mattress and a carved club with a knob the size of a baby’s head within reach disguised as tribal art. Fortunately, it has been years since I had to step outside in a vest and shorts wielding a club to repel opportunistic thieves.

I picked up these self defense instincts in circa 90s BC (Before Cellphones), living on the fringes of Kawangare in what is sometimes referred to as Landhies. These typically comprise of rows of one roomed houses with communal bathrooms and toilets located within a single compound, managed by a punitive land lady who rationed power and water. Out in that neihgbourhood, thugs operated with impunity. They arrived in gangs of over 15 men, held the entire plot hostage for hours and not only robbed you, fondled your women but ate up any food they found. Two months later, they would be back to pinch the replacements.

The harassment was cyclic, the land lady helpless and there was a looming mass exodus until a nondescript individual moved into one of the vacant rooms. He was known as “Japolo” a religious devotee from the Legio Maria sect, known for their energized worship ceremonies. he worked as a mason professionally and doubled as a charismatic preacher on the weekend. Japolo had a sinewy body shaped from a lifetime of physical labour and he showed an amicable disposition. Shortly after his arrival, the rude boys returned for another post midnight raid.

Loud noises emanated from the first house in the row and we cowardly prayed in our rooms hoping to endure the torment unscathed and thieves would skip your door. It would take us awhile to realize what was going on outside our securely bolted doors. The rising crescendo of noises turned into a blood curdling scream, followed by what sounded like a stampede. Followed by was an interlude of silence before we had a deeply throat Dholuo accented voice commanding, “Wanaume ote otoke inje” ( all the men step out) repeatedly.

When I eventually stepped outside cautiously, club in hand, the sight was one to behold. Standing out there in the dead of the night was a stark naked Japolo, breathing heavily with a bloodied panga held in a vice grip by his side. There was not a single thug in sight. A nude everyday hero had emerged to save the day.

For a week he was feted like a Don, food always waiting as resident women swooned over their able protector who as we came to conclude slept naked. The thugs did came back once more to salvage their pride but they were repelled because they found all the men had acquired a pair of steel balls and found guts after months of playing victim.

With the increased spate of gun related violence and grenade attacks against innocent civilians, my sword and club feel terribly inadequate as deterrents against radicalized youth tossing about grenades with unnerving ease. As it is the only citizens who enjoy the privilege to bear arms that would serve as a sufficient deterrent against modern day criminals are a demoralized, underfunded police unit, trigger happy APs, ex military personnel, a protected political elite and licensed sports hunters. The rest of us have to put our trust in the lord and hope that we do not end up a statistic.

Meanwhile the other side is awash with illegal firearms, in the hands of criminal elements running circles around the authorities. This makes a rather strong case for a right to self defense when the government fails glaring in its mandate to protect citizens.

Anyone rendered hostage by unabated terror would accept that access to a loaded handgun is lot more reassuring than an empty pronouncement from some official functionary who enjoys 24hour guard at his residence.

What happens to a community when its good men cannot protect themselves from the brutality of evil men. There will always be the odd Japolo. One man can stand up but others have to stand alongside him for one man can only hold out for so long.