If us, honest hardworking people, had even an iota of the confidence that con men have, many of us would be billionaires, movers and shakers, people of note, personalities that, when they stand to speak, the world shuts up and listens.
Be patient, I am going somewhere with this.
Last Saturday, at about 3pm as I was dozing on the seat, a rare occurrence, as rare as the lunar eclipse, my phone rang. It was an unfamiliar number, but since it is only my Sacco that I owe money, and I was sure I hadn’t defaulted on payment, I answered.
“Kwanini hujalipa stima?” a voice barked. (Why haven’t you paid your electricity bill?!)
Still groggy from afternoon sleep, I didn’t answer, racking my brain, which was grinding slowly from sleep, trying to recall whether last month’s electricity bill had been paid.
“Madam, kwanini, hujalipa stima!” the voice harshly demanded again.
Since my brain was taking its time to wake up from slumber, I told the voice that I would call him back, and then hang up in a panic, sure that if the bill hadn’t been paid, I would spend that weekend in darkness.
To my horror, it turned out that it actually hadn’t been paid. Just as I was about to call the man to assure him that it would be paid within the hour, my brain finally woke up.
“Wait a minute,” my brain told me, “Since when does Kenya Power call its clients to ask why they haven’t paid their electricity bill? Don’t they just arrive unannounced at your doorstep and disconnect it?” my brain reasoned. It is then that it occurred to me that I had almost played into the hands of a con man.
Less than a minute later, he called again. Feeling extremely pleased with myself for having smelled a con, before he could speak, I said, a sneer in my voice, “Nini!” (What?!)
“Unauliza nini na hujalipa stima?” he said with force. (How dare you talk to me like that yet you haven’t paid your electricity bill?)
Still feeling pleased with myself, I dared him, “Kuja ukate!” (Come and disconnect it)
To the con’s credit, without missing a beat, he said, “Good!” and hang up.
He said it so confidently, for a minute I believed that I had just rudely invited a Kenya Power employee authorised to disconnect my electricity to do so.
But no, that could not be, I convinced myself. The meter wasn’t even registered in my name, so there was no way Kenya Power had my phone number. But, just to be on the safe side, I decided to lock the gate — there was no way I was spending Saturday night in darkness.
I know it is ridiculous, but I only breathed easy when night fell and no one had knocked on my gate. And then something happened at around 8pm, something that made the doubts I had had earlier come flooding back. The lights suddenly went out. No warning, no nothing. When I looked out the window, I saw that the lights were still on in all my neighbours’ houses. I panicked, and for a second, wondered whether the voice had made good his threat and somehow managed to disconnect my electricity.
“At night?” my brain wondered, “Who’s paid to disconnect electricity during the night?”
It was inconceivable, but, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why my neighbours had electricity but I didn’t, yet we were serviced by the same line. I only got to really believe that I had not been targeted by a con when an electrician came over in the morning and repaired a blown switch.
Intimidation. Unfortunately, in this country, this is the weapon that those in positions of power commonly use to get their way, to oppress the helpless, those under their mercy. The con men among us know just how effective this weapon is because it has been tried and tested in this country for decades and it works, and so they boldly use it to extort.
Think about it, intimidation has most of us cowering even when we are innocent, even when we know we are in the right, even when we know that the law is on our side.
“Utalala ndani!” a policeman will threaten, the thought of being thrown into our infamous cells prompting you to quickly dip into your pocket for a bribe, even though you have no idea what law you broke.
As long as we keep giving in to intimidation, to threats, con men and others worse than them will continue to take advantage of us.
The writer is Editor, My Network Magazine in the Daily Nation. [email protected] Twitter: @cnjerius.