February 13th, 2008, a stocky man walks into the room full of bleary students for evening classes in a high school located on the slopes of Taita Hills. The man goes by the name Samuel, the most revered boarding master and business teacher in the entire province. It’s claimed that he knew all the business principles by heart that the only reason he carried the voluminous books to class was to confirm whether indeed the authors got them right.
Samuel loved his short-sleeved shirts, baggy trousers, and shoes with huge soles perhaps to appear taller. He set down books on the table and looked into the crowd particularly at one young boy with huge ears seating right at the center of the room.
The young boy oblivious of what was about to happen looks back at the teacher with a smile on his face. The boy is lost in a fantasy world where he grows up to become a successful entrepreneur, create jobs for thousands of Kenyan youth and takes under his care a young pretty girl he met on his recent visit to an orphanage, so that the little angel would have a better life having been abandoned by her parents.
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“Mark Maina Mwangi, stand up!” barks the beefy teacher.
The young boy complies meekly.
“You are a Mungiki & I am going to do everything within my powers to make sure you don’t clear school,” adds Samuel with a condescending tone.
He walks over to the boy’s desk, grabs the exercise book before him and tears it to pieces while the rest of the class gasp in disbelief.
“How dare you write a love letter in my class? GET OUT!”
The young boy walks out tears welling up in his eyes as the teacher follows him.
The 16-year old boy has a terrible hand-writing hence never written any love letter in his life. This was not the first time he had been falsely accused of things he hadn’t done. The business teacher would openly victimize the boy every single class he attended and so would other teachers. Samuel demands that the boy re-writes all the notes before the next morning or he would take the boy to the principal’s office over trumped-up charges and weigh in his authority to have him expelled. That young boy is now Mark Maish.
I was born in South Coast Kenya then soon after moved in with my grandmother in Nyahururu so that my mother would go back to college. The only memory I have of my stay upcountry is a small wooden kiosk, a lantern lamp, a Friesian cow and old beige Peugeot 504. I moved back with my parents in Coast when I was 4 years old and all I could speak was Kikuyu. Swahili and English were alien tongues to me. Other kids would laugh at me so I set out to learn the two national languages.
Come 1997, south coast turned into a battle zone. A ragtag outfit by the name Kayabombo who were rumored to have mystic powers so bullets couldn’t hit them slaughtered anyone, not from the indigenous tribes. They would invade houses believed to be owned by ‘Wabara’ as we were called, showed you a one shilling coin and ask you to name it. If you said Silingi or Shirigi then that was proof enough you were the enemy so your head was chopped off. I gathered all this from fellow kids who also revealed to me that their parents and neighbors were already fighting over who would move into our house once my entire family was butchered.
I was scared and confused by why the men and women I respected so much were looking forward to the night my family would be annihilated. Back at home, we lived in constant fear. We would have early dinner and by 7pm, all the lights would be off. We slept huddled together on the floor far from the windows and doors for our safety. Fortunately, our immediate neighbor was the District Officer who had armed officers guarding his residency so we were never attacked.
Flash forward to 2007, politics divided Kenyans again and I was part of the most hated tribe after the disputed general elections. This time, things were so tense so we moved into my grandparent’s farm.
It was painful to watch neighbor turn against neighbor just because politicians who have armed bodyguards protecting them and their families flown out of the country issued a command to have their supporters drive out anyone perceived to be a foreigner. I went back to school about three weeks late after some sense of sanity had been restored in my beloved country hoping that was the end of the blind hate having witnessed the amount of destruction it caused. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
This was just the beginning of my tribulations. Three teachers made it their mission to take out all their anger and frustrations that their favorite candidate didn’t win in the highly contested elections. To them, I represented the Former President Mwai Kibaki. I was canned countless times, tasked to up-root tree stumps, accused of being a drug peddler, called a terrorist, thief, murderer and Mungiki. I was perplexed because my family is not part of the political class and have no connections whatsoever with the ruling elite. The closest I have been to the presidency is walking past Statehouse yet they thought by victimizing me it would hurt the former president.
At first, I would laugh it off whenever they called me Mungiki but with time it got to me. I remember this one evening back in my hostel room, my friends and I were shooting breeze when I said, “If the administration continues to introduce punitive rules, students might end up rioting.”
The very next morning the infamous business teacher calls me to the staff-room claiming he has information that I had purchased five liters of petrol and convinced a couple of other students to raze down the school that night. Lucky for me the school principal didn’t buy it. I was one of the top students and had won a National Science Congress award making the school proud so he had a soft spot for me.
One of the prefects who sympathized with me let me into the secret. Two guys whom I thought were great friends of mine were actually spying on me at a fee of Ksh. 800/month thus had to come up with various accusations to justify their payment. This revelation broke my heart considering I had always thought of them as my brothers and even shared my little pocket money whenever they were broke.
Brainwashed into thinking I was actually a Mungiki and a killer I skipped school that evening, went to the nearest shopping center and bought a dagger in preparation for the night.
I hid behind a huge tree in a dark stretch near one of the school corridors named Osama Street waiting for one of the guys who had betrayed me. He usually left class at 10:30pm. A few minutes to the ten, I called my mother requesting her to make arrangements for a lawyer before the next morning because I was about to commit a heinous crime and I didn’t want to go to prison for the rest of my life.
She convinced me to hold off whatever I was about to do to the next day so that she would have lawyers ready to defend me. Smart woman. The very next morning she came to school and talked me out of it. She spent the next couple of months counseling me until I was completely deradicalized and over the Mungiki ideology. I owe it to her that I’m not locked up at Kamiti Maximum Prison. God bless you mother!
Having lived in the coastal region for most of my life I considered myself Mpwani, however, during election periods I would be reminded that I’m a foreigner. Whenever I came to Nairobi to represent my school, other students would look down upon me because in their minds anyone from Coast is lazy and less intelligent. Hated by both worlds I developed a disdain for politics, got rid of my coastal accent and was ashamed of my ethnicity to the point I stopped speaking my mother tongue . Now I cannot even construct a single sentence in Kikuyu.
I don’t want my brothers, future kids, and fellow Kenyans to lead a life where you are hated, victimized, denied opportunities or evicted from your home every time there is an election just because your great grandparents came from a different county.
As 2017 draws near, I beseech politicians to desist from flaring up tribal tensions and you the common mwananchi from blindly following tribal chiefs, hating on your neighbors, killing and destroying their property over political differences. Kenya is bigger than any individual, lets spread peace message.
Written by Mark Maish