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Celebrating East African Writing!

Chips by Jimmy Mwandigha

‘A United States of Africa has always been a pipe dream,’ said the professor.

‘Did you say, “Has”?’ asked the journalist, scribbling down a thing or two.

‘I am not very much a predictor of things and outcomes, but as a historian, you can keep my word,’the don replied.

‘That is not difficult to see, as you are already aware. We are just naïve and selfish’.

‘Is it not due to tribalism? Ethnicity?’ asked the journalist.

‘Call it tribalism or whatever,’the professor cut in, ‘but, to whose advantage? Who hatches the plot?’

‘Well?’ the journalist badly needed the answer.

‘The kind of tribalism that existed before colonialism is not what we have today. For instance, a Taita came out with a bow and an arrow against a Maasai, only when the latter attempted to break into his boma. It’s stupid to expect a Taita, or whoever, to take such a provocation lying low. In this case tribalism cannot be provoked. Such is a case of a law-abiding citizen rising against stark injustice. But look at what we are having today: A Maasai attempts to steal a Kalenjin’s livestock and what does a Kalenjin do? Call for the expulsion of all Maasais from his vicinity!’

‘So according to you,’ what leads to this?’ ‘Not according to me, but according to such a given situation’, corrected the professor. ‘Correct,’ according to such a situation, why the change in response?’ ‘‘This ca n only mean one thing’, said the professor. ‘That there is some distant influence. Sooner than later, rumours begin to circulate to the fact that one or two politicians are behind the apparent tribal hostilities’. ‘Why apparent?’ the journalist probed.

‘So, Sir,’ where do you put the blame?’ asked the journalist. ‘The government machinery, the politicians, the media, you and I .we all carry the blame. It’s only the proportions that differ. Our present government machinery plus all its constituent parts is a drunken blind man driving a safari rally sports car We hold elections, govern ourselves and all other democratic nothingness, but we are still blind. We fail to realize that, when the McDonald imposed curfews, state of emergency and so on, he was ideologically correct. The Kenyan’s were aware of the hypocritical governance of the white man; the latter foresaw the reality of a black man’s government and was scared to death. We have mistreated this people in their own motherland and now they want to lead, what if they revenge? But, in an African government, no state of emergency is justified’.

‘But Sir, lawlessness?’ wondered the journalist.

‘Lawlessness? What lawlessness?’ asked the professor, adjusting the cords of his spectacles. ‘We Kenyan’s need cities and all that . But when you demolish kiosks, chase hawkers, without offering them an alternative source of earning income, is that creating or eradicating poverty? Look here young man, what is more important? A poor Kenyan to be left alone to lead a modest life or the prime minister of Britain to find pavements unoccupied? Africans must stop being used by foreign ideologies. Look here, the government comes up with a poverty reduction strategy, a very laudable step. But somehow,it is said that such a plan cannot be implemented without the help of the donors. The donors sit down and look and look at the proposal. As the people from outside Kenya, such donors don’t have the interests  of the Kenyans at heart. What they see before them is an opportunity to invest. They come up with a few conditions, without which the deal goes sour. Condition number one; cut down expenditure on the labour force. Your civil servants are consuming a lot of money. Solution? Retrenchment. Who shall implement the retrenchment exercise? Expatriates and Kenyan from the UN. Now what is the logic, retrenchment ten thousand civil servants earning five thousand shillings per month and pay an expatriate two million shillings to implement the exercise. Why are our policies always self-contradictory? Retrenchment-poverty reduction, industrialization-shutting down local industries, rural electrification program power rationing. If all Americans, Britons or Germanys value Africans so much,why take our teachers, doctors, engineers, professors? Is it Britain or Kenya who needs more teachers? Is it America or Kenya who needs more professors? Is it Germany or Kenya who needs more teachers? Is it America or Kenya who needs more professors? Is it Germany or Kenya who need more engineers? But what happens? Government facilities own brain drain. At the end of the day, what Wanjiku wants is what the Kenyan parliament hates most. We are in a murky situation’

Professor (Dr) James Mwanzia’s remarks caused ripples in many parts of Nairobi city, on the following day. Nairobi university main campus students, carrying branches and placards walked down Moi Avenue, as the police from the central police station followed them in case they started throwing stones. But they never threw any stones.

They praised Professor (Dr) James Mwanzia for ‘saying it all’. They walked along Kenyatta Avenue, Tom Mboya Street, Harambee Avenue and Haileselaisse Avenue. They tried to camp around Harambee house but the police from police head quarters, vigilance house dispersed them. They went back to the campus.

Mwalimo patrolled the streets, to “read” the mood. He visited the bars, cafes and so on, just to find out what was being talked about. He walked in, brushing shoulders with students and lecturers. He studied the university’s compound ‘s ground map for some minutes and strolled past Moi library and into the cyber café. People held the daily nation and discussed and talked. He moved ahead up to the graduation square. There was a lot of movement and much talk. He retraced his steps up to Moi library. He walked into the cultural village, strolling slowly. Prominent professors and lecturers sat sipping calabashes of porridge, discussing. Mwalimo took a chair near the exit facing the Moi library. He ordered a soda.

In the meantime, the professors and lecturers discussed. Some praised Professor (Dr) James Mwanzia for ‘speaking on behalf of the entire Kenyan academic heavy weights’.

‘It’s a call for all true patriotic men of letters to wake up’, said professor Amin. ‘I predict the demise of sycophancy,’ he went on.

‘You see’, said Dr. Wahome, ‘this man is not happy with the way things are. Professor Mwanzia is qualified to be the head of department of history, Nairobi university, if not the chancellor’, the dons roared in laughter.

‘But he is forced to deputize, deputize,  and deputize. I think he is asking for a dismissal in a way’.

‘What do you think’, said professor Amin, ‘is preventing professor Mwanzia from becoming the head of Nairobi University’s department of history? The man has all the qualifications – visiting professor Harvard, university of Michigan and oxford, I mean; what more do we need?’.

‘Look here, professor Amin’, said professor Katana. ‘ Kenya is a land full of absurd things. As we talk now, there is no man in the whole world who is more qualified to lead Kenyatta University’s department of literature than Professor George Mwakioo. But what happens? Degrees, Masters or PhDs matter less in Kenya.

‘But friends’, Dr. Wahome cut in, ‘can’t we change the scenario? I hate being referred to as one of the chips of Nairobi’.

‘Ha ha ha,’ professor Amin couldn’t restrain laugher. ‘That’s a funny little bwana what is it in the chips of Nairobi?

Professor Katana you teach sociology, ‘you see’, said the professor Katana, ‘bomb blast or no bomb blast, mageuzi or no mageuzi KACA or no KACA, cabinet reshuffle or no cabinet reshuffle, VP or no VP, the chips of Nairobi remain just the same. And people keep on eating them, whether dry or with chicken. I guess this is a new term instead of the worn out sycophants. And I any case the chips of Nairobi have very little power to change their nature.

“Very funny, how this country baptizes people”, said Dr. Wahome.

‘Do you think then’, asked professor Amin, ‘That there is going to be absolutely no chance in Kenya?’

‘ Historical mistakes are very difficult to rectify’? Said professor Katana.

At this point Mwalimo’s mobile phone rang. His editor asked him to be present at Harambee house, not less than 4.00 p.m. the resident was set to address a press conference. Mwalimo glanced at his wrist watch it was 2.15p.m.

‘Who is in the parliament?’ he asked his editor. ‘Aren’t you in parliament’, his editor fired back. Mwalimo walked out of the cultural village with a waiter grabbing his shirttail.

‘You haven’t paid!’ the waiter complained. Mwalimo fetched a fifty shillings note from the trouser pocket ad ran out of the cultural village, down Kenyatta university’s main gate. A speeding Nairobi-Nyeri passenger Peugeot missed him by a length of a finger.

The third day after professor (Dr)  Mwanzia’s  sentiments had permeated the nation, the parliament of Kenya debated on the issue.

“Mr. Speaker Sir,’ a fiery opposition member of parliament. Said, ‘the government should take heed of professor (Dr.) Mwanzia’s sentiments and clean it’s house’.

A minister of state in the office of the president rose on a point of order. ‘Mr. Speaker Sir, professor mwanzia is a learned fellow and he knows that government policies are not effected through the press’.

‘A point of order Mr. Speaker Sir,’ objected another opposition member of parliament. ‘ The president himself, in contradiction to the constitution, is running the nation through decrees. A public political meeting is not the ordained channel to chart government policies.

The presidential press conference attracted a multitude of journalists. The head of state lashed out at the don accusing him of washing his dirty linen in public. He lamented that many learned Kenyans talked ill of the government in the foreign lands just to win approval from outsiders. He retaliated his hard stance against university professors who agreed to be used as stooges by the opposition politicians, who knew nothing about governance.

The president pointed that, it was sad for parents to pay exorbitant fees to put their children in the Universities only to be disillusioned by bickering professors and lecturers. He challenged the don to offer himself for presidential elections, if all he thought it easy to lead Kenyans. He reminded the senior academician that bickering and payukaring would not earn him a Nobel peace prize leave alone international acclaim.

Another press conference was called by the dons at the Norfolk hotel. The university’s professors rallied their support behind professor(Dr) James Mwanzia and vowed o turn things round. Nairobi University’s students joined the conference and hell broke loose. They threw stones and shattered windows. Riot police poured in to quell the fracas. Kenyatta university students terrorized  motorists along the Thika highway. They blocked the highway with stones and set ablaze tires, lighting huge fires in the process. Down Haile selaisse Avenue, Kenya polytechnic students went haywire.

The dons were arrested and taken to high court. They were charged with a long string of offences –attempting to overthrow the government, incitement, creating disturbances, causing a breach of the peace, destructions of properties and indecency. ‘The accused are learned citizens of the country. I don’t doubt the possibility , that they might be more educated than me. This makes them deserve much respect. The country cannot go on without the help and assistance of its intellectuals. We need to show respect and appreciations to our land populace. Aman with a PhD. Is not a simple individual . Therefore it is very sad for professors and PhD  holders to go on payukaring around. Such is a very indecent behavior indeed a most disgusting disposition. This court finds the herein accused guilty and therefore liable to prison terms not exceeding two and a half years.’

Mwalimo walked into fish and chips joint and ordered a plate. He cleared the first plate and lorded the second one.

‘How much?’ he asked a waiter .

‘Fifty shillings.’

‘What? These are just potatoes, madam, not even a peace of meat!’

‘That’s the second plate remember’, said the waiter.

‘That’s not your problem! How much do you charge per plate?’

‘Twenty five shillings’.

‘Yes, that’s what I wanted. You should learn to answer questions correctly, get this hundred bob and bring me half liter of passion fanta.’

At this juncture Mwalimos mobile rang. ‘Why on earth have you decided to take leave without permission?’ the editor asked.

‘I haven’t taken no leave man ‘, Mwalimo answered. ‘ I want you in the court of appeal and via the news room of course’.

‘I am having…….’

‘No excuses please I have been a reporter before and there is no ground you are walking on now that I haven’t been. If I call you to cover a story , and then change and decide to have you in the news room you got to be there when I hang the phone.’

Mwalimo found his editor sitting behind the wheel, waiting for him. Prominent daily nation photojournalist was sitting comfortably at the back seat.

‘How’s this?’ Mwalimo asked, after he had joined his editor in the driver’s seat and shut the rear door.

‘ The head of state is making an official trip to South Africa. Don’t be surprised to find yourself in Johannesburg’

‘But am not aware of the trip!’ Mwalimo was stunned. ‘When was the last time when you watched or at least listened to the news?’

‘I can’t tell’ the editor drove madly down Jogoo road and after a couple of minutes parked the car at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport parking bay.

‘That was real fast’. Observed Mwalimo.

‘Young Turks cannot deliver,’ said the editor, ‘old hands would like to remember the good old days.’

The President made a brief speech before the departure. ‘I have instructed the Attorney General to take up the case involving the university dons and withdrawn it from the courts. I ask Nairobians to be patient and let’s not have anymore demonstrations. The journalists should stop covering the case. I have said time and again that freedom of expression and press freedom is not a license to bring about anarchy.’

The reasons for the President’s abrupt visit to South Africa became clear after his departure. The UN Secretary General was visiting South Africa, and among his objectives, was to assess the manner in which independent African regimes. The President of Kenya therefore, had made the trip in a bid to join a fair picture for his country. A prominent Nairobi lawyer Mr. A.I.M. Ochuodho cited violation of the constitution by appointing that the President’s intervention in the don’s suit, though the AG was in contradiction with chapter this and that, subsection that. In the meantime, the much publicized don’s lawsuit went out of existent day after day. Sources close to the AG chambers explained that, the AG had withdrawn all the charges against the dons and all the professors had thereafter been fired from their posts. All of them flew overseas and nothing was heard from either of them for years.

© Jimmy Brown Mwandigha 2009

If you would like this piece to be the Story of the Week, please vote below on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak, and 10 being excellent. The numbers will be tallied on Friday and the story with the highest figure shall be Crowned Story of the Week. Be sure to fill in your name and verifiable email. You can include your critique/comment after the vote.

2 comments on “Chips by Jimmy Mwandigha

  1. kyt
    October 19, 2009

    sad but totally true and that is what happens everywhere in the african continent. soooo bad!!!! 10 no doubt

  2. Tiju Aziz
    October 10, 2014

    Amazing write-up, Mwandigha..!! A true story..!! It was wonderful meeting you in person.. :)

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