(I first wrote this story in March 2017 and titled it “Origin of the Rot”. I am rewriting it and expanding it into a novella).
Maxwell is frustrated. He has tried to call the Cabinet Secretary to no avail. The CS for Transport, Mohammed Abdulahi, is known to have the President’s ear. And Maxwell needs him now to persuade the President to change his mind. But the CS is not picking his calls or responding to his texts.
Maxwell is the Principal Secretary in the Department of Trains and Rail Network, and Abdulahi is his boss. Was, that is; because a few minutes ago President Mwiti went live on television and not only fired him, but also instructed the DPP to prosecute him. Maxwell knows that the whole thing is political, and that he has become a political liability. He is the most vulnerable target, and most convenient scape goat. Media houses have been running the story of the scandal in the Ministry of Vehicles and Trains for a while now. And Maxwell has become the face of the scandal, even though he did not steal any money.
Maxwell sighs. He looks around his office; his former office. Now he is a trespasser here. This office represents power; the power that his former office along 2nd Ngong Avenue lacked. Because of this office, politicians and business people have been bowing at his feet. But all that is gone now.
Maxwell rises from his seat and walks to the window of the 15th Floor office at Gari Moshi House. He has switched off his mobile phone because the media will not give him peace. He looks down at the street below. Everyone’s life seems to be going on as usual. How can they be so peaceful when his life is caught in a hurricane?
Maxwell knows that losing this office is the least of his worries; going to jail is what should worry him. He did not take any money for his personal benefit, but he signed the documents that approved the tender that has now come to bite his behind. The truth is that he was coerced by the President himself to approve the deal, but no one is going to believe that.
Maxwell knows that he should have refused and resigned. But he felt like a real man for the first time when he was appointed to this office, and he did not want to lose it. All his life Maxwell has been battling with imposter syndrome, and he knows that it all began with the cutting words of his father. To date he can hear the words ringing in his ears.
You will amount to nothing! Go and cook with your mother. You are such weakling. You will never be a man.
Maxwell has two brothers and three sisters. His father was an educated man, an educator actually, but he was still a traditional African man who expected his sons to perform traditional roles. The old man Aphaxard began his career as a teacher, then rose to become a head teacher and finally became an Education Officer. Although he had hired workers who tended to his farms, he still took time to go to the farm to help with the work; he fixed most of his car issues personally, without calling a mechanic. Generally speaking, Aphaxard loved, and still loves, manual labor. He is not the kind of man to call a technician, whether a mechanic, plumber, carpenter, electrician, etc., unless the problem required expertise he did not have. And if he called a technician, he would watch and ask questions, so that if it happened again he would fix it himself.
Aphaxard expected his sons to be like him, the same way his daughters were expected to master house chores. But Maxwell was different. He was obsessed with school work, and wasn’t as good at manual work as his brothers. Instead of encouraging him, Aphaxard took every small opportunity to tear him down. If Maxwell made a slight mistake, he would be criticized so harshly that he came to believe that he wasn’t as good as his brothers.
It didn’t matter to Aphaxard that his son was a star in academics, topping his class from class one to class eight. He still thought his other sons, who were average academic performers, were better because they had mastered “manly duties”. Maxwell therefore grew up with an insecurity about his manhood, and his worth as a person. He has always had a desire to prove himself. He scored a straight A in KCSE and became a lawyer. But then his brothers went into traditionally prestigious careers as well. Both of them had B+ grades in KCSE, and their father paid for them to study engineering courses through the parallel program. Robert, the older one, is a civil engineer. The other one, Alex, is an electrical engineer. Engineering is a manly course, according to Aphaxard.
The one time Aphaxard told Maxwell that he was proud of him was when he was appointed PS. Which is why he was willing to do anything to keep the job, including approving a deal he was not comfortable with.
He acted naively, that is a fact. And now it is coming back to bite him.
One afternoon, CS Abdulahi called him to his office to discuss a “special deal”. Maxwell enjoys a warm relationship with his boss, so he cleared his schedule and went. He can even remember what the CS was wearing that day: a navy blue suit, a light blue shirt and a maroon tie. He had that charming smile that he wears. Over coffee, the CS told him about the deal to repair locomotives belonging to Kenya Rails and Trains Board (KRTB), a relatively new state agency that had taken over the operations of all railway networks in the country. The parastatal, quite naturally, was under Maxwell’s department. The repairs would officially cost Kshs. 3 billion. The sinister thing about the deal was that the CS wanted Maxwell to sign the documentation without going through it.
“This is the President’s deal, Max. Even I have not read the papers.”
Maxwell refused. He told the CS that as a born again Christian, he was not going to engage in a corrupt deal. The CS laughed and told him that he had already told the President that. They chatted some more and then parted ways. The next day Maxwell was called to State House.
“You know Maxwell, I can see you are a bright kid,” President Mwiti told him. “I have been in politics for over thirty years and I know how this game is played. You still have a lot to learn. I want you to stop playing games and sign this agreement.”
There was a bundle of documents in front of the President. Maxwell was actually surprised, because President Mwiti fashions himself as a staunch Christian.
“With all due respect sir, my faith does not allow me to do…”
“That is fine son. What I need you to do then is to hand me your resignation before you leave these grounds. And I can promise you that you will not get a decent job in this country or even abroad ever again. You might practice law again, but as a village lawyer representing peasant farmers and getting paid in goats and chicken. But even that is not guaranteed, because I might decide to have your law license revoked. I will personally make it my mission to destroy you.”
Those are not the words that Maxwell heard though. What he heard was Aphaxard’s voice taunting him.
You will amount to nothing! Go and cook with your mother. You are such weakling. You will never be a man.
The President rose to leave, but the CS stopped him.
“Please sir, I am sure Maxwell will reconsider. He is young, just give him time.”
The President sat down again and pushed the bundle of documents in Maxwell’s direction. With a lump on his throat, Maxwell signed the documents. When weeks later the CS asked him where he wanted his “appreciation for the trains repair deal” to be deposited, Maxwell told him that he did not want anything from the deal, since it had corruption written all over it. A bunch of Americans got the contract, they repaired the trains and Maxwell forgot all about it.
But two weeks ago someone blew the lead over the transaction. It emerges that the trains were repaired at a cost of one billion shillings, and so the government lost two billion shillings. As the accounting officer of the department, Maxwell’s signature is all over the documentation, and so he has been on the receiving end. Everybody has been baying for his blood: the media, parliamentarians, civil society and the general public.
He has become the face of corruption in Kenya. The President, meanwhile, looks like a saint, especially after firing him and ordering his prosecution, even though he (the President) is the main crook behind the transaction.
Someone knocks on the door and enters. Maxwell turns around. It is the CS, with his signature sheepish smile on his face.
“You set me up Abdul,” Maxwell says bitterly. “I have tried to do my work here honestly, but now I go down as a criminal, because of your crafty works; you and your boss.”
“It is nothing personal, Max. Don’t worry, the President has assured me that he will make sure that you do not suffer in jail. You will get all the comforts that the state can provide: a good bed, a clean hygienic room, good food, you name it. Basically the only thing you will be denied is your freedom.”
“But I need my freedom. Why does it have to be taken away? Why do I have to go down like a criminal when I did not even touch that money? Why can’t the President ensure that I am not prosecuted?”
“You signed the documents, Max.”
“You and the President did not even let me read the documents!”
CS Abdulahi shrugs his shoulders.
“If you felt so strongly about reading the documents before signing them, you could have resigned instead of signing them. The President is facing a re-election battle, and he will not sacrifice a second term just to save you.”
“I am not going down alone, Abdul. I am dragging you and Mwiti down with me. After all, the two of you ate the money with the Americans. I did not touch even a single coin.”
The CS narrows his eyes.
“Have you ever wondered how people feel when their eyes are removed while they are still alive? When they are cut to pieces until they finally bleed to death? Have you ever wondered about those mutilated bodies that are retrieved from rivers and forests?”
“Are you threatening me?”
“Take it how you want. But think hard before you even imagine that you can mess with me or the President.”
Image by Free Photos from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/laptop-coffee-notebook-pen-glasses-1478822/
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