Death in a Nairobi suburb and the lives of the ‘little’ people

Thursday February 11 2016

Nairobi city businessman and former Cooper Motors Corporation director Joel Kamau when he appeared in court. PHOTO | VINCENT AGOYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP.

Nairobi city businessman and former Cooper Motors Corporation director Joel Kamau when he appeared in court. PHOTO | VINCENT AGOYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP. 

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO
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On the morning of February 2, Nairobi city businessman and former Cooper Motors Corporation (CMC) director Joel Kamau Kibe seems to have lost control of his car, and killed a security guard at the Runda security barrier along United Nations Avenue.

Kibe has since been charged with the death of the guard.

Hopefully in the coming days as the case makes its way through the court, we will learn the truth of what led Kibe to crash into the security post. A second guard was seriously injured.

Kibe denied causing death, injury and driving while drunk when he appeared before a city magistrate.

Usually, when such tragedies happen, involving people like security guards, they are forgotten within 24 hours or so and everyone moves on with their lives.

This time Kenyans on Twitter seized on the accident, and raised quite some dust. But even they moved on after about three days.

DEMEANING CULTURE

Then something unusual happened. The debris at the accident site was cleared away, then a framed photo of the dead guard was placed on a cement post on the spot where he died. And the flowers started coming, it seems from the residents of the Runda and Whispers Estate area.

The place is now a memorial spot of sorts, littered with flowers. It is striking, and even touching.

Guards, drivers, nannies, house helps occupy a conflicted place in the big class struggle.

The middle class desperately needs them to function and for their security, but at the same time subordinates them in order to preserve their privilege.

Thus one of the most common, and disturbing sights in the supermarket in the Village Market mall is of a well-to-do family with the little children and nanny.

The nanny clearly has a good relationship with the kids, and it is able to control them when they are running riot around the supermarket better than the market, but she is firmly in her place. She is wearing a uniform, complete with the apron still strapped to her front!

I understand class and the politics of status, but have never been able to figure out why anyone would feel it necessary to take the nanny or house help with them to the supermarket while they are wearing an apron or a baker’s cap. 

And their accommodation are called “servant’s quarters” or “boy’s quarters”.

These are descriptions that have their origins in the feudal, and in Africa, in the colonial area. They are scandalous in a democratic age.

To be fair, most of us are ashamed of that description and don’t use them. But the best polite alternative we could come up with is an abbreviation – the “SQ”.

That spares us the awkwardness of “servant’s quarters”, but it still demonstrates a philosophical limitation. We still can’t bring ourselves to call them “workers’ wing” or something more neutral.

Most people don’t give attention to guards when they drive through security barriers. As the famously leggy and husky-voiced Tina Turner sang; ‘we don’t look at their faces; we don’t ask their names’.

It was different this time. The dead guard’s name was Charles Wachira Mwangi. His injured colleague is Daniel Ochieng Omolo.

It’s no consolation or remedy, but Mwangi didn’t leave as if he didn’t live. He was remembered.

But where did this expression of emotion come from this time?

Because of different  reasons, some unjust, not everyone gets to win the lottery of life and the rat race of modern society at the same time.

For the winners, there is a little redemption to be found in not being indifferent and arrogant toward those who missed out.

There is something disturbing and needless in the fact that a guard out in the cold night, could be killed at his station in a car accident.

It is the same discomfort that should come from being wrapped up in a warm blanket inside the house, and hearing the guard coughing outside on a rainy night.

The necessity of  taking care of your security, should not blunt your senses to the inconvenience of the means by which it’s secured.

It’s in this way that in his death, Mwangi got what he probably never afforded, or perhaps got, while he was alive – flowers.

They might not be much, and his family cannot eat them, but the flowers suggest that not everyone’s conscience is dead. I will take that over nothing.

The author is editor of Mail & Guardian Africa. [email protected]