Amazing Things Happening in Africa

By Wafula Okumu

The Perspective
May 29, 2001

Sometimes traveling around Africa can be a bewildering, if not comical, experience. Take the case of this poor village in Sudan's Nubian Mountains that is bombed by government planes that destroy the school and kill children and teachers. After this senseless act of sheer brutality, the villagers gather up pieces of shrapnel to use as hoes to dig graves for the dead and there after use the new implements on their farms to cultivate sorghum.

If you are amazed by those who use debris with the blood of their loved ones to eke out a living wait until you hear how life has become valueless in some parts of Africa. A man in western Kenya is now facing charges for killing his brother over a Sh2 (no kidding, this is not even equivalent to 2 US cents) debt. David Olang'o was killed because he had failed to pay his younger brother this money that he had been loaned to buy a local brew. At about the same time Olang'o was being killed over less than 2 cents, in another part of Kenya, Ndakutha Machere had had his two fingers chopped off before being killed by his three sons over a land dispute.

Kenya is a land full of wonders and is now becoming a very insecure country. In fact the United Nations has downgraded Nairobi to the level of Beirut due to its high crime rates. Indeed, Nairobi has been regularly referred to in the Kenyan press as Nairobbery. In Nairobi, bank heists take place in most brazen and dramatic fashions. The trigger-happy police have on a number of occasions responded, when their cars had fuel, and the hot pursuits, reminiscent of James Bond movies, that ensue have usually culminated in some or all the gangsters losing their lives. However, it has now come to the attention of the Kenyans that the Kenya Police never seem to recover any money. In the most recent showdown between the police and gangsters, the police gunned down four robbers but did not recover even a cent of the at least $140,000 that had been robbed from a bank.

Now many Kenyans are asking some intriguing questions: Are those gunned down real robbers? If they are, might they in turn be victims of police robbery? Many Kenyans seem to have a feeling that the police deliberately gun down the suspects so that they can help themselves on the loot. A clue to where the stolen money disappears to was given in one of Nairobi's sprawling slums, Kayole Estate, when Police officers were seen chasing suspects who had robbed a pub, shooting the suspects, searching their pockets and, in full view of onlookers, taking away the stolen money. Policemen are also known to mug Nairobians staggering home after happy hours in Nairobi's lively nightspots. If you go to report the mugging at the nearest Police Station, the chap at the report desk will yawn, pick his teeth and tell you to go back and bring your assailant(s) with you. It is now common knowledge in Kenya that the police officers are either leasing their weapons and uniform to violent gangsters, or they are themselves engaged in terror orgies aimed at dispossessing the innocent public of their valuables.

Kenya does not only have a police force renowned for it's unprofessional and terrorist activities, but it also has courts that sadistically dispense the harshest judgments. The Kenyan judiciary is one of the most corrupt branches of government in the country that has seen a steady decline of justice, spiraling crime and institutional corruption. Besides being openly corrupt the magistrates are also very arrogant and merciless to the poor. This was recently displayed in a magistrate's court in the central Kenya town of Murang'a when a man was jailed for eight years for stealing a Bible from a school he had broken into.

I recently came across an interesting study by the American National Association for Continence (NAFC) that showed that Americans spend about an hour in their bathrooms every day, which works out to two weeks a year. About half of the people involved in the study said they spent their time in the bathroom pondering serious issues, while a third admitted to simply daydreaming, singing in the shower or even talking on the phone. I have been tempted to ask NAFC to carry out such a study in Niger where the government reportedly spent almost $60,000 on toilet rolls for just five senior parliamentary officials last year. A toilet roll in dirt poor Niger costs between 150 CFA francs (21 US cents) and 300 CFA francs (41 US cents), meaning that each of the five officials used 40,000 rolls during the year. Doesn't this give a completely new meaning to the cliché that African politicians are full of it?

In Paynesville, Liberia, a taxi driver, Papa George, was shot dead by a senior immigration officer, Henri Cassell, who happens to be a brother-in-law of president Taylor. Mr. Cassell killed Papa George because Papa George's taxi over took Mr. Cassell's vehicle. Mr. Cassell, who is currently serving his sentence, has assumed a new role: threatening his fellow inmates form the Krahn tribe that if the current war in Lofa reaches Monrovia, the Krahn inmates will be executed by the Liberian government. The Krahn leaders were convicted of treason after another bizarre incident. In September 1998, Liberian government forces, led by Chuckie Taylor (the son of President Charles Taylor) raided Camp Johnson Road area in Monrovia to allegedly evict Krahn people who they said were occupying private properties illegally. The raid resulted into the slaughter of hundreds of Krahn women and children. In a face saving endeavor, Liberian government charged the Krahn leaders and subsequently convicted them of treason. The supreme court of Liberia heard the ruling of the lower court and resolved to double the Krahn inmates' ten years sentence, thereby making it twenty years.

In view of their historical past and conditions that they are in at the beginning of a new millennium there has been a debate around the world on whether or not Africans (or people of African origin) suffer from a massive case of paranoia. There is not a doubt in Wallace Gichunge's mind that they do. He says the widespread fear among black people that someone is out to wipe them off the face of the earth has contributed to the suspicion about the origin of Aids and a reluctance in some areas to get vaccinated, even against polio. Now there is this rumor in Africa about a small magnet hidden in the buckles of cheap belts that have suddenly flooded the market that is said to be sapping the virility of the wearer and consequently leading to sterility. Gichunge opines that the easiest way to scare the ordinary African stiff, is by predicting doom on conjugal matters ­ where virility on the part of men and fecundity on that of women have a higher premium placed on them than a couple of university degrees.

While still on the matters of fecundity the following story might sound stranger than fiction but they actually happened. In Sio, Burkina Faso, Modou Dié took his younger brother, Hamidou, to the infirmary, some three miles away after his stomach cramps had failed to ease. Later Modou was thunderstruck not only after learning that his brother had been transferred to the maternity ward but also that he had given birth to a baby boy. Now called Sita, Hamidou Dié, who had been raised as a boy and was privy to all of the village's male initiation rites, has caused ripples in Sio with his transformation into a young mother.

Apparently, she was born Sita but then her father realized she was a boy and renamed her Hamidou despite her mother's certainty that she was a girl. Central to this conundrum was the anatomical oddity of the baby having been born with two sexual organs. But nature has always had its way and could not be changed on a whim. On reaching puberty age, she started menstruating but kept it a secret and underwent the initiation rites into manhood. During this initiation in the forest, one of her friends discovered the truth and started a relationship that resulted in a pregnancy. She steadfastly stuck to her normal routine until the stomach pains became unbearable and she had to seek medical help. Tragically, Sita's lover ran away and her baby was found dead after two months. The villagers who had considered it a curse are suspected to have caused the unnatural death of Sita's baby.

Is it any wonder that after witnessing such amazing things some Africans have developed second thoughts about conjugal matters? That is why I never gasped for air when I recently read in an African color magazine about a woman seeking a dream man with whom they could "start a loving and honest relationship." However, the man, the 30-year old lady said, had to be impotent. Indeed amazing things are happening in Africa!

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