Celebrating East African Writing!
One chilly Tuesday afternoon in July of 2005, Tom Githinji’s long-suffering secretary, Aseca Jamati, poked her head into his office on the tenth floor of an office building in downtown Nairobi and announced in a curious tone that there were two gentlemen at the reception asking to see him. “They say that they are policemen,” she added, her brow creasing inquisitively. Tom had worked with Aseca for six years and during that time, as the group human resource manager, he had had cause to deal with the police on various occasions in the course of duty. Nothing untoward had taken place that he could recall prior to this unsolicited visit from the good gentlemen, and Aseca had reason to sound curious.
“Let them in,” Tom instructed her. In a short while she showed in two men. Both were tall, over six feet, close shaven and wore inscrutable expressions.
“Come in. Take a seat, please,” he told them. They sat on two visitors seats in front of his desk. He tried to read their faces for signs of trouble but drew a blank. “So what can I do for you gentlemen?” He inquired.
“You are Mr. Tom Githinji?” One of them asked him in an ominous tone.
“Yes I am,” he replied, handing each a business card, which they both proceeded to scrutinize with a level of interest usually not accorded a simple business card. He leant back in his leather chair, waiting for them to resume the conversation.
“My name is Colonel Tirbett and this is Major General Owiti,” the one called Colonel Tirbett introduced them expansively, in a manner that implied that Tom should start trembling in his well-shined executive shoes. He disappointed him, prompting him to proceed. “We are from the Department of Defense. Mr. Githinji, have you received any strange e-mails lately?”
“As a matter of fact, yes, I do receive strange e-mails, just like anyone with an e-mail service does.”
“Such as?” Colonel Tirbett asked.
“Well, let’s see. I have received e-mails from Mrs. Sanni Abacha, promising to share her zillion dollar inheritance with me, another one from a banker in Belgium requesting my help in laundering money from some dormant account for a hefty commission, several from some enterprising unknowns selling potent variants of Viagra, a few hawking mojos that promise to enlarge my member in record time, quite a number asking if….”
“We are not asking about those types of e-mails. Have you received any strange emails from real people that you know?” One of them cut Tom off just as he was warming up.
“Yes, that too. I do receive a rare e-mail from my boss commending me for some job well done.”
“No, no, no. E-mails of a security nature,” the one called Owiti chipped in helpfully.
“I do get some from Kaspersky and MacAfee reminding me to update my subscription.”
“Who are Kaspersky and MacAfee?” Tirbett asked, perking up noticeably and sitting straighter in his seat.
“They are Internet anti-virus security software brands,” Tom answered, enjoying himself tremendously. “You should try them. MacAfee is especially effective….”
“Mr. Githinji,” Owiti interrupted, “we are talking about national security.”
“Well, about national security, I haven’t received any e-mail.”
“None whatsoever?” He insisted.
“None whatsoever.” Tom replied, wondering where this was going.
“Who is your head of marketing,” Colonel Tirbett asked, clearly dissatisfied with the results of the interview so far.
“His name is Dan Salzburg.”
“Is he an Israeli?” Tirbett asked.
“Yes he is.” Tom answered, wondering where the discussion was headed.
“What can you say about him?” he asked.
“That is a very general question. What can one say about a colleague with whom one works?”
“Just tell us what you know about him,” Owiti explained unhelpfully.
So Tom briefly delved into the character of Dan Salzburg, the Head of Marketing and a guy he found easy going, co-operative and generally kosher (pun intended). After that, the two engaged him for two hours in a marathon interrogation that seemed futile. He was getting exasperated, and asked them to explain what it was all about.
“We shall get back to you in due course, and perhaps answer your question then,” Colonel Tirbett said, giving him their mobile phone numbers. “You can call any of us if you think of anything.”
The two visitors left, leaving him in the dark as to the purpose of their call. He forgot about the incident and continued with his daily routine, although the event kept nagging him at the back of his mind. He didn’t even discuss it with Aseca. She was a confidential secretary with whom he discussed many business issues and who had useful insights that advanced the operation of the human resource department.
But this one he played close to his chest, for he felt that it could develop into something explosive. Tom’s boss, the Group CEO was abroad, and being the only person he could share this matter with, and given the sensitivity and gravity of the subject, he was duty bound to keep an extremely tight lid on it until he came back. It was the loneliest time of his life.
Two days later a different set of policemen came to see him. This one consisted of Chief Inspector Timothy Kariuki and Inspector William Lesirma from the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) at Vigilance House, the police headquarters. When they begun their interrogation, he insisted that they must first explain the purpose of the whole affair before he answered any questions. He asked them for official identification. They demurred, but he stood his ground. He wasn’t going to co-operate with this charade without further information, groping in the dark and probably incriminating himself in some intrigue.
“We have received information that is very disturbing Vis a Vis national security, and which points to you. That is why the ATPU is involved.”
Tom was shocked, to put it mildly. He explained that two officers from DOD had visited him already asking questions that had left him confused. He told them the details of those questions, and stated categorically that he would not co-operate any more without concrete information.
They relented, and Chief Inspector Kariuki delved into his jacket and came up with a sheaf of papers on A4 printing paper, which he handed over to Tom with a flourish. “We received these two days ago. Read it and tell us what you know about it.”
The document on top was a letter addressed to the Director of NCTC and the Commissioner, on letterhead from the Office of the President, Department of Defense. The letter referred to an attached anonymous letter, and instructed the addressees to commence investigations about the anonymous letter. Signed by a major General Opanga, the face of the letter had many hand-written notes from various people, all to the effect that Tom Githinji should be investigated with regard to this very serious matter. The last vestiges of his steely self control ebbed away in a flash of fury. As far as Tom knew, he had done nothing to warrant investigation, even by the local watchman where he lived, let alone by decorated bigwigs from high office.
The contents of the anonymous letter were confounding. Tom was nonplussed, and his nonchalance quickly turned to sharp annoyance at the effrontery. He was an average Kenyan struggling to put bread on the table for his family, and the contents of the anonymous letter, which formed the basis for the investigation, went far beyond the boundaries of outrage. It read as follows:
I have received some email from our linkman regarding what we discussed during our last trip in Israel. He has raised some concern and he needs some clarification on the fine details which we shall discuss during our next meeting. But he agrees we proceed with speed and he also confirms August is ok- August is considered a bad month here in Kenya. One thing which he says we be careful is that at the moment we do not have any senior government minister or official who we can rely (sic) when carrying out this mission. Remember in 2002 our security cause an error (sic), they actually took the security (sic) at Mombasa airport just before the bomb and the missile scare. This time we are not sure if our security forces will assist in cover up. So note that in 1998 and 2002 we had enough control of quite a number of government activities due to the links we had at that time. The only task was to silence the America’s (sic) dislike on some politicians.
I have confirmed to him that all materials are here and assembly will take a short time, by end of July, the persons handling the assembly will have left Kenya. He has agreed with all our target (sic) except oil terminal in Mombasa. We have details of 3 military targets and one supplier to military has agreed to our terms. Oil installation target (sic) are here not a problem we are handling that. In 2002, we were not sure who will win elections (sic) and it was important to do what we did to be seen as friendly and as a target. But you see what is happening in Naivasha on environmental issues will finish Israels (sic) The new workpermit (sic) regulations plus a total failure to have a single government official to handle our interests. This is the only way as usual we can secure our influence otherwise you cannot underrate what this current government is capable of doing. Kenya must be our second home and at time to achieve some goals, blood must spill (sic). We must change them top change the focus on some of these issues.
Once this is done an email to claim Al Queda’s (sic) responsibility and Israel army flight to Kenya will be immediate our link at the embassy will coordinate that (sic)- The only problem is if the our experts (sic) are not allowed to take over the operation, but that one they will know what to do.
I brief will make it clear (sic) as you requested to know why we must spend all those resources remember (sic) that all emails must be in Hebrew all our local contacts from now on must be in the dark on all key issues (sic) secrecy is what matters.
Mr. Githinji we have found this very sensitive copy of email in the computer of Head of marketing. We know it is difficult for you but you have to choose between your job and serving our government. I think Kenya is more important than (company named). In this case, there are innocent lives at stake. We have passed the other two bad emails but I think you are afraid of this Israels (sic), This time we are sending a copy to the relevant authorities. You’re the HR manager and I think keeping quiet on such a thing can haunt you forever. Forget your closeness with them for now.
Tom looked up after reading it. “What about it,” he asked Chief Inspector Kariuki. “I would like to make a copy of these documents.”
“You may make a copy. We received this letter in our office. It says that you were sent two e-mails but you never took any action. Did you receive such e-mail?” he asked rather amiably.
“This is a very serious allegation and if you know anything about it, you had better tell because as you can see, it has been discussed at very high levels of national intelligence and you fail to disclose any information that may be in your possession, that would be dangerous,” his colleague Lesirma threatened. Tom noted that the two were playing the good-cop-bad-cop routine. The undertone was that he was a possible aider and abettor of terrorism and possibly high treason.
Visions of himself, the son of a peasant from central Kenya, at Guantanamo bay dressed in bright orange overalls, suffering water boarding and lugged through the compound on crude wooden contraptions with chains restricting all appendages, flashed through Tom’s mind. Dubya was still in command of the globe and all things therein, living or dead, breathing fire and brimstone, Sodom and Gomorrah and turning enemies into pillars of…well, not salt. Coming after the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam American Embassy bombings and the 9/11 World Trade Centre, it was not far-fetched to imagine Tom as the subject of a White House breakfast security briefing.
“I haven’t received any such e-mails and I know nothing about this issue.”
The conversation went back and forth. They realised that they were getting nowhere, and they rose up to leave. He hoped that the matter would end there. For a Kenyan who eschewed contact with the police and had never encountered them from a position of suspicion, this was unnerving. He was disabused of that hope when the two security specimens announced…
“We would like you to come to our office and discuss this further on Thursday afternoon at 2.00 pm,” Chief Inspector Kariuki instructed him as they left.
The only person Tom discussed the issue with was his wife, who read the letter with growing consternation. Her opinion was that it was rubbish fabricated by someone out to ‘finish him or the said Israels (sic)’ in the parlance of Kenya politick. Tom agreed with her. But who would go to such lengths to cause harm to him or the Israels, who he was convinced were also being victimised? Jews are not known to perpetrate acts of terror outside of Palestine save perhaps for boardroom terrorism, with its manipulation and intrigues that Tom was so familiar with in his working environment. Rather, they are usually the target. This fact alone made the whole matter implausible and exposed the malicious nature of the allegations.
Tom didn’t spend the next few days looking over his shoulder. He refused to let paranoia overcome him. On the contrary, he was rather flattered that someone, never mind the ill intention, could invest so much confidence in his ability to deal with such a monumental issue.
Tom honoured the Thursday appointment. The two hours spent in a decrepit office produced nothing. The cops noticed that he was not intimidated, buoyed by the supreme confidence of the innocent. They changed tack and started treating him like the victim. They recommended that he start being more security conscious. “Start using different routes to drive home, often checking if another car is following you, change the pubs you frequent. Here are our mobile phone numbers in case you ever feel that you are in danger.” They were asking Tom to adopt the best of James Bond tactics. Tom laughed it off.
His boss too laughed it off when he came back. Tom is still laughing, but also wondering what it was all about. He assumes that he has a file in all the security agencies in town, writ in huge red lettering ‘Top Secret’. After all, he was at that time on the road to Guantanamo Bay.
That year Tom quit his job. That decision was not informed by that issue. It was informed by an unrelated but no less intriguing circumstance. He promised to relate it another day.
© Evans Kinyua 2009
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