The Chuka Tragedy-Edward Maroncha

 The small town of Chuka was gripped by shock. Indeed, the entire country was in shock. People were talking in whispers in salons and barbershops.  Even bars are subdued. Twenty people were dead.Hundreds were injured. Chuka Level Five Hospital was overwhelmed, as was Chogoria Mission Hospital. More people had been rushed to Embu Teaching and Referral Hospital, Meru Level 5 Hospital and St. Theresa’s Mission Hospital, Kiirua. A number had been flown to Nairobi Hospital and the Aga Khan University Hospital, but those were the high profile ones.

It is not just the numbers that were shocking, even though they were shocking in themselves. But the names of some of the casualties added to the national horror. The eighth governor of Meru, H.E Lizbeth Kathambi had died in the crash. Two members of the County executive and the Speaker of the County Assembly of Meru perished with her. The Governor of Tharaka-Nithi County, H.E Silas Mutwiri was in critical condition, as was the Vice Chancellor of Chuka University, Prof. Margret Kananu. Sirens were blaring across Tharaka Nithi County, as ambulances and police vehicles darted to and from the scene of the accident. The massive had crash occurred at 1pm, at the notorious Nithi Bridge.

The leaders’ convoy had been on the ascent, having crossed the bridge. A lorry had lost control while going down Nithi Valley and had rammed into the first vehicle of the convoy, and other vehicles, including the rest of the convoy, a school bus, three matatus and several private cars had piled up in the grisly accident.

The convoy had just left the Mugwe Hotel, a new ultra-modern hotel in Mitheru, a small market 10 minutes’ drive from Chuka town. Prof Kananu had just brokered a temporary truce between the two governors, so that they could jointly launch the Chuka University School of Aviation and the Chuka Airstrip. They were both her friends, and she wanted the both of them at the event.

The governors had been engaged in a bitter supremacy battle since the previous year’s election. Both of them were youthful lawyers. Mr. Mutwiri had been the Director of Public Prosecutions before contesting, and winning, the Tharaka Nithi gubernatorial seat. He had upset the favourite, a veteran known as Kamundi Muthee who had been the sitting governor. Mr. Muthee was the only governor to have served one term, since the first governor, Samuel Ragwa, was upset by the then youthful politician Muthomi Njuki decades before.

Ms. Kathambi was 39, and the founder of a prosperous law firm that had 8 branches across the country. She was also the first female governor of the county. The two politicians had been fighting for the control of the Mount Kenya region. Mr. Mutwiri had the advantage of having held a public national office before, and had the support of many Mt. Kenya region politicians and businessmen. Ms. Kathambi, on the other hand, was a close associate of the Deputy President. In fact, it was rumored that the Deputy President was grooming her to be his running mate. He hoped to use her to take a chunk of Mt Kenya votes. She would also appeal to the youth and women. The DP was an old man, and was a long serving Senator of Kakamega County before Mrs Makau picked him to be her running mate. Mount Kenya region was disjointed, and plagued by internal rivalries. But the rise of Mr. Mutwiri was threatening to unite it again. A united Mount Kenya region did not sit well with the DP, especially if they fronted a youthful politician to challenge him for the top seat.

The move to have Ms. Kathambi was also said to be quietly supported by President Salome Makau, who was said to be keen to have another woman in the Presidency after her exit.

President Makau had been a compromise candidate, one supported grudgingly by a section of Mount Kenya politicians and businessmen, to outdo a rival local boy. They had hoped to kick her out after one term, but she had proved to be shrewd and forged new alliances that won her the re-election. Their only hope to get rid of her deputy, who was the front runner in the next election lay in Mr. Mutwiri, the only politician in the region with a national profile. While they were busy grooming and supporting Mr. Mutwiri for the gubernatorial race, they had not paid any attention to the “small girl” running for governor in the neighboring county.

But the Nithi crash had sent all those plans into disarray.

***                ***                       ***

Chuka Police headquarters was in chaos. The OCPD, OCS and Traffic Base commander were huddled in the OCPD’s office doing strategy. They knew heads would roll, and theirs were on the chopping board.

They could blame the officers who had been manning the road block, or they could push the blame higher up. It would not take long to for the public to know what really had happened. Had the stupid politicians not been involved in the crash, they could have stifled any investigation. But they knew the DP was a coldly ruthless politician, and he would want to find the truth. Not because he cared for the dead or the injured, but because his presidential ambitions had taken a hit in that accident. Ms. Kathambi was dead. His hopes for gaining the presidency were pegged on her.

Pushing the blame on the juniors, led by Sergeant Stella, would be an easy way out. But she would squeal on them. And the DP would certainly love to have the scalp of senior officers. Pushing the blame upwards would take the DP off their backs, but their lives, and those of their families, would be in danger. The men higher up were hardened criminals in police uniform. And the three officers knew that too well.

***            ***

Sergeant Stella was in her house at the police line, traumatized. She knew her goose was cooked. No doubt about. She had let him pass, even though it was obvious that he was drunk. The other policemen had barely looked her way. It was well known that lorries belonging to Mutethia Stores were never impounded, for whatever reason. The owner, Benjamin Kaaria, was a corrupt local thug who paid huge bribes to the local police to avoid arrest.

Officially, he was a wholesale trader. But everyone knew that he controlled a criminal business empire, from manufacture of illicit brew to running brothels with teenage girls to illegal logging. Those were the reasons he bribed the police. In fact, the controlled the police in six counties: Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Embu, Isiolo, Kirinyaga and Laikipia. Neither Stella nor any of the junior officers saw the money. It was shared by the senior officers in the station, and she suspected that officers higher up got a share too.

She had impounded one of Kaaria’s lorries when she was newly posted, and the Base Commander had casually mentioned that Mandera was having a shortage of police officers. She got the message.

She knew she would be the obvious scape goat. What she wasn’t sure was whether she should tell on her seniors. On the one hand, she knew the Deputy President would not be satisfied with the conviction of a sergeant. He would want the guys higher up. Of course he could make all of them disappear, but he was a calculating politician. He would want to turn this to his political advantage. And the best way to do it would be to have senior policemen hauled off to prison then holding press conferences about his seriousness in fighting corruption. A mourning country, especially the Mount Kenya region, would stand with him on that. Stella knew that was what the DP would want to do.

The only problem with that was that once they were hauled to prison, they would activate their networks in the criminal world, people they had been giving protection, and she and her family would be butchered.

Yet, if she did not give in to pressure from the DP’s people to squeal, she would certainly die in prison. His people would make sure of that.

She started having a migraine. As she was looking for painkillers, there was a knock on the door. She instantly knew without being told that the beginning of the end had come. Way sooner than she expected.

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