I was recently told off at a burial and funeral committee meeting that it was futile to accuse politicians of corruption because whatever till they loot “they always remember to share the harvest with us, their voters”.
“The money, whether from the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), false mileage claims or his own earnings or whatever else, belongs to us, the public. It isn’t theirs. And that’s why they contribute so generously at meetings like this one,’’ quipped a tall member of the committee, whose pot-belly looked so misplaced in the middle of a lean, wiry body.
The chairman of the committee, who believes all those who crusade against corruption are Marxists, nodded in support and said: “The MP in the story is as entitled to the piece of land as the constituents he cheated out of it.”
The statement was aimed at me on the strength of the episode in Ngugi wa Thiongo’s A Grain of Wheat, where an MP appropriates a piece of land some of his constituents want to purchase.
“Does Ngugi want politicians to own nothing? Do you want your MP to live on air? You disciples of Ngugi and Marx should know that nothing comes from nothing,” the chairman addressed me and others not in support of blatant misuse of public resources.
“The chairman is a born-again Christian, who prays and worships more than five times a day and, therefore, should not rejoice in being associated with stolen money,” I thought and told him as much.
“If the bird feeds on worms and finds plenty of them in a mound of rotten human waste, it is the bird’s business to isolate those worms and eat them without fingering the dirt,” the chairman responded.
He acknowledged that the illustration was derived from a Ghanaian writer called Ayi Kwei Armah.
My take is that most Kenyans worship money so much that if the Almighty is watching and indecisively wondering which one is mightier, I can authoritatively tell him that money is sweeter than him and all. And whether it is stolen or not is not as important as its immense power, and value.
The wiry man confirmed all this: “Indigenous chicken wander all over the bush eating anything. Human and animal dung, worms, small snakes and nasty-smelling insects are delicacies they can’t resist. Yet when cooked, you suck its meat and bones and lick your fingers without a care that the succulence is as a result of the concoction of a multiplicity of vermin.”
The chairman tried to focus the proceedings of the meeting on the forthcoming funeral and burial of the revered kinsman: “Even Muslims give alms to the poor outside mosques. The beggars don’t research on the origins of the gifts. Only Marxists bother about kleptomania, drug trafficking, money laundering, fraud, exploited labour and so on.
“This meeting is for raising money and not questioning the source of that money.
“Our leaders who are here with us need not be quizzed about their sources so long as they chip in with their largesse.”
“However, we spend public funds like the CDF, I don’t care so long as it trickles down to us for the task ahead.”
“What money does never smells or looks like the money itself. What it does never smells like the way it has been acquired. Thus a drug-trafficker’s money, if contributed here, will buy a coffin that won’t smell of heroin or bhang. Don’t they say somewhere that the end justifies the means or words to that effect?” the tall member interjected ostensibly to enrich the chairman’s logic.
I weighed in unconcerned by attempts to stick the gathering to the national fetish called money. “And so the opposition crowd in Kenya is essentially marxist and anti-development?”
Three Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) present stood up simultaneously to respond but only one spoke on their behalf.
“We are in the opposition, yes, but are opposed to poverty. If money can bring ambulances, food, roads and piped water then please let it rule.
“Name the source of the money as theft, fraud or murder but nobody minds so long as it makes ends meet.
“Let the source be filth but change, need, and development always wash away the filth. Talk of corruption, Eurobond and chickengate is an exercise in chasing shadows, an exercise in futility. Those words will not help this burial or this constituency. Words, words add up to empty air. Let us dig money from our pockets and contribute.”
The crowd roared in approval and someone quipped when the shouting ended: “Money sweet pass all, including our noisy so-called opposition.”
“Are voters on sale? Are Kenyan citizens disciples of the money-order?” I asked, determined to provoke the whole crowd.
Nobody seemed interested in responding loudly. They looked bored. I was a lone voice.
Somebody sent a text message on my phone: “Wealth, money, the rich rule this country because the majority are poor and gullible and will support any politician who offers as little as Sh50 for chang’aa; and will always rule.”
It was a dialogue of the deaf.