Almost five months ago, a man fell from a plane into a London backyard, startling the resident who was enjoying a rare good weather of a London afternoon.
Kenyan and British authorities immediately opened investigations to identify the man and the circumstances leading to his death.
Five months down the line, the authorities claim investigations are still ongoing and the man’s identity and motive remain unclear.
The only concession they make is that the man was probably an airport worker with access to the airside.
A few days ago, a United Kingdom news outlet aired an investigative piece in which they indicated that they have finally solved the mystery and identified the mystery man.
Paul Manyasi, they said, was an employee of an airport cleaning firm who had access to the airside, and interviews with his co-worker and friend, as well as his parents, had confirmed that he was indeed the man who had fallen from a Kenya Airways plane as it prepared to land in London.
This discovery allowed many Kenyans to finally put a name and a face to a departed compatriot, and many of us believed that responsible authorities would do everything in their power to bring the matter to a satisfactory close.
Unfortunately, this was not to be. The company that employed the man quickly denied having his name on its employee register.
Kenya Airports Authority issued a statement soon after that, saying that they had never issued an airport pass to a man by that name or description.
Even more shockingly, the people identified as the man’s parents were interviewed on national television a day after the story broke, and the father claimed that the man featured in the story was not his son, and that he had information that his son, whose name was also different from Paul Manyasi, was alive and in a Nairobi jail.
Media inquiries at the said prison revealed that no person going by any of the names or descriptions given was being held at the prison. So the mystery deepened.
It is an established tradition that most Africans who live wholesome lives and are assets to their communities do not die.
They are celebrated in life, and their memories are kept alive even after their physical demise using various devices, including naming newborn children after them and eventually elevating them into the ranks of ancestors.
The only people who truly die in this tradition are those who break certain social norms and traditions, and whose memories no one wishes to keep.
In those African traditions, there is indeed a fate worse than death.
A person who does such nasty things that society is compelled to get rid of him is completely ‘erased’ from existence.
Upon such a person’s death, nobody is named after him, and no stories are told of his exploits or activities.
His name is not mentioned in social gatherings, and within a generation, his identity disappears completely.
This erasure constitutes the only ‘death’ known in many African societies. What atrocity did Paul Manyasi commit in order to earn this death sentence?
Was his crime to dream of a brighter future, and to pursue it like Icarus, who flew too close to the sun with wings held together by wax?
If so, we must remember and mourn Paul Manyasi, the dreamer who died in his sleep.
Atwoli is Associate Professor of Psychiatry Moi University School of Medicine. [email protected]