By C A Luanda Magere
There was a railway line running into Nzoia Sugar Company (I was about to say “when I was a child” then realised it was just the other day). It was very busy. Goods trains (we called them “Bogi”, I don’t know what that meant) would come in regularly to pick up goods. Sugar, Molasses…even Bagasse. There were trucks from everywhere in long queues to pick up products. The factory fed millions. From farmers to sugar traders. Thousands of employees to third level beneficiaries like Saccos. When it closed for a month every year for annual maintenance, hundreds of companies would descend on it to spruce it up, from America’s Arkel International to local welding firms owned by random Wafula and Wasike.
Like similar factories around Nyanza and Western, the local township relied entirely on the factory. Just like Muhoroni, Awendo, Miwani, Chemelil, Mumias and the paper one in Webuye, these plants were the lives of the people there, and their dependents spread over miles. Farmers were paid. The outgrower cooperatives like NOCO were so powerful that future MPs were hardened in their ranks. Schools readily accepted cheques drawn by sugar companies, their Saccos and the outgrower Saccos. Heck, even Muhindi cane transport contractors were believable people and their word was their bond! On payday at Nzoia Sugar, all trading centres within 20 kms radius of Nzoia Sugar had their market day! Bukembe, Sikata, Mabanga, Mwibale, Mechimeru, Sang’alo, Nandolia. These factories were powerful. And this was replicated in all the factories across Nyanza and Western.
Then we heard rumours that these plants were being looted. That people were importing cheap sugar and ours couldn’t compete. Slowly, we could tell from the faces of our parents that things weren’t going so well. People were harvesting their sugarcane then planting something else. Before long, we were old enough to know the truth. Especially because we saw cotton disappearing too. Previously, every five kilometres of road in our land had a place called “Store Pamba”. There was a plant called Kicomi in Kisumu.
In the summer, you could stand on the road and the plains would be pure white from Kibigori on the foot of Nandi Hills, to Onyuongo Store Pamba, on the banks of River Awach, deep there in Nyakach. Then we heard of a word called “liberalisation”. We were told we couldn’t compete with Gikomba. Our cotton went. Our sugar was going. But we could still look across the river and see Ahero Irrigation Scheme. My people called it “Regesen”. In my childhood, it was the only place with electricity in the neighbourhood, so we used to stay out in the dark to watch its shining beauty. Then it died too!
Benga legend, Owino Misiani, did an emotional song called “Nam Rumo”, which translates to “the lake is becoming extinct”. In it, he bemoans the death of all industries in our land, then tells community leaders that now that we had lost everything, they should not let us lose the fish! That our fish was now our last frontier. Even though we were producing the fish but the fish processing factories were all in Thika! What do you know, now ships are docking in Mombasa bringing Chinese fish! Then they hit the road to Kisumu. Our fish, our last frontier is staring at its death bed too!
You know something else, nobody spoke for us as all these happened. Sometimes I see River Nyando flowing just behind my home and I am surprised nobody has diverted it into a private dam upstream! Corruption and official looting are easier to understand when you look at them from a tribal angle. Now, we Luos and Luhyas, whose factories have been looted dry, what more can anyone steal from us. Our children now sit their Form 4 exams and head to Kibra and Kawangware to look for manual jobs. We are so poor that when the NCPB Kisumu Edition of the scandal was exposed last week, all the players in the team were Kipthis and Kipthat! The granary is bang in the middle of our land, but the products kept in it, plus the keepers and the thieves, came from elsewhere. How about that! Those Coastals who are squatters in their own ancestral land, what more can you loot from them? Their sugar at Ramisi died. Their cashewnut died. Even their pweza, the Chinese now hunt with trawlers!
We have been looted so dry that we can only watch nonchalantly as the next tribe gets eaten. When KCC was dying, I kept wondering; how does an enterprise collapse when its raw material is in every square inch and the market for its finished product expands by the hour? They didn’t see it coming. Now their maize is up next! Soon you will hear “let’s plant avocado, maize is hasara!”. We were there 30 years ago. We were told cotton and sugar were bad, that we should plant pepper (apilo) and amaranth (ododo). Erowa.
Poverty is the greatest tool of slavery. On one episode of NCIS Los Angeles, a man whose family has been kidnapped so that he can give gangsters the formula for a secret military weapon, says “they first take away your choices, then they control you”. Our choices were looted away. They are coming for your Tea, Maize, Coffee and Milk! Then you will all be like us.
My contribution, and that of millions of others, was to go to the ballot five times to elect someone I thought would overhaul the entire system. Someone who would recalibrate the governance style and give us a fresh start. Across the isle, others went to the ballot to affirm their faith in the exact system that babysits this looting. I have done my part. I will not speak up anymore. I would like the whole country looted dry so that we understand each other. Then maybe we can have a discussion as equals. I don’t think the “hardworking tribes with money” will understand our needs, we poor people from lazy tribes. I don’t think the resignation or sacking of two people can remove an evil system that has shown its uncanny ability to move from one regime to the next like a virus. So I won’t speak up, just like nobody spoke up when my people gathered their belongings and crossed the river from Miwani as the boiler smoke died away.
The books I read tend to say that an entrenched system is almost always removed by only three methods;
1. A popular uprising that removes the entire ruling class.
3. Military coups.
None will happen in our country, so let’s wait for the more predictable death of all industries so we can have a national discussion.
Meanwhile, people of the information age think looting started with NYS. Looting started as soon as the white man lowered the Union Jack and the blackman screamed Haraaaaaambeeee! Those huge tracts of fertile land, the 80% of our elephants poached, 95% of our rhinos, the billionaires created within ten years of independence….you think that was work?
But I don’t care!