(I originally wrote this story in 2018 as a short story for a competition. I will be expanding it this month so that is becomes our January series and ultimately, the novella that you can all buy at the end of the month.)
Karwitha is lost in deep thought as she drives up the Gianchuku road. The road is miserable, especially now that it has rained. The most common means of transport for residents in this area is bicycles, and more recently, motorcycles. Neither can make it in this muddy terrain, and local folks either have to walk or wait until it is dry for them to travel.
The few that have vehicles have small sedans that will also struggle in the mud, more often than not getting stuck and taking hours to be pulled out. Karwitha’s four-wheel-drive pickup truck makes light-work of the terrain, but she is aware of the struggles of the local residents.
Roads such as this one are one of the reasons she has decided to vie for the position of the Governor of Tharaka Nithi State. Governor Charles tried, but he was frustrated at every corner by State cartel which calls itself the Tharaka Nithi Business Caucus and was eventually impeached to pave way for the current Governor. The current Governor is corrupt to the core and is a puppet of the Caucus. Karwitha knows that her biggest battle will be dismantling the network of the Caucus.
The election is only a day away, and she is challenging the incumbent Governor for the position. The election is dominating her thoughts and time, and right now she is heading to a meeting at her farmhouse. She has 30 acres of land in Gianchuku, where her tea estate sits. The farmhouse is on this estate.
Like the small-scale farmers in the area, she sells her tea to the Federal Tea Authority (FTA), an agency that was once a private entity but which is now controlled by the Federal Government. But due to enshrined corruption at the FTA, she has been thinking about establishing her own processing plant, then selling the tea directly at the auction as the large-scale farmers do. For the plant to be profitable, however, she may have to increase her tea acreage or convince the small-scale farmers to sell their tea to her instead of FTA.
At 37, Karwitha is an accomplished engineer and businesswoman. She runs an engineering firm and agribusiness enterprises. Besides the tea farm, she has a poultry farm in Kiereni where she rears chicken, geese, ducks, turkey and guinea fowl. The eggs and meat from these birds are largely used in her husband’s restaurants in Chuka, Kathwana, Embu, Runyenjes, Nkubu and Meru towns. They agreed early on that her husband’s restaurants would buy the products at market prices to ensure that both businesses are professionally run. Her husband also buys more eggs, milk, meat and fresh fruits and vegetables from other Tharaka Nithi residents.
Karwitha has another farm in Ciakariga, a dry region of the State, where she grows sorghum, millet, green grams, maize and cassava. It is there that her Ciakariga Millers stands, and it processes flour from the cereals and cassava from her farm, which she supplements with cereals and cassava that she buys from locals. She sells the flour from Ciakariga Millers to retailers within the State and neighboring States.
Although her business interests have made her very popular in the State because she and her husband contribute directly to the livelihood of hundreds, she knows that it will not be easy to capture the Governor’s office. The current Governor, Joshua Kijamba, is a thug. He became Governor through the backdoor. After the last elections, he was elected as the Speaker of the State Legislature. It is alleged that his wealthy backers bribed the State Legislators into electing him as Speaker.
Governors have become more powerful since the constitution was amended to make Kenya a federal state, with the former counties becoming semi-autonomous states with more control over domestic affairs within their boundaries.
The last Tharaka Nithi gubernatorial election was won by a popular old man known as Charles Kanga of the Federal Democratic Party (FDP). The FDP was the most popular party in Tharaka Nithi State and in the entire country at the time, having won the Federal Presidency and the majority in both the Federal Senate and the House of Representatives. Rumor has it that Deputy President Ephraim Ogutu was uncomfortable with the popular Charles because he thought he would challenge him for the FDP presidential ticket in the coming election. Governor Charles was popular within the party, and was becoming even more popular as governor, and not just in Tharaka Nithi but in most of the States in Mount Kenya region. So the DP decided to undermine him. President Leonardo Swazuri was serving his final term, and the DP naturally wanted the top post.
But more importantly, the Tharaka Nithi Business Caucus was getting tired of Charles. Its members thought he was becoming a nuisance with his anti-corruption campaign. They succeeded in frustrating him by bribing State Legislators to reject his proposals, but they needed someone more compliant. So when the DP’s people came asking for an alliance, they agreed, but after ensuring the DP gave them several tenders in the Federal Government. The Caucus does not pass up an opportunity to make a profit in any deal.
It is alleged that the DP had manipulated the party nominations to rig out Governor Charles but his choice Kijamba was so unpopular that Charles won both the party nominations and the General Election anyway. But with the help of the Caucus, Governor Charles and his Deputy were impeached by the State Legislature. The Federal Constitution, after an amendment was approved by the Federal Senate and the House of Representatives earlier that year, states that the Speaker will take over the Governor’s Residence for the remainder of the term if the Governor and his Deputy simultaneously leave office through death, resignation or impeachment. So Kijamba became Governor without an election.
Governor Charles was deeply hurt and disappointed by his party’s betrayal and announced his retirement from politics. That is, until Karwitha approached him earlier this year.
Karwitha is the third born child of Aphaxard Miriti, a peasant farmer from Karaa, a village in the upper region of Chogoria Location. Mzee Miriti’s first-born, Kirimi, dropped out of school in class seven after playing a cat and mouse game with his father and teachers for seven years.
Mzee Miriti was furious. He had wanted his children to succeed and therefore impressed on them the need for education. But his son Kirimi chose to play truant instead and while away his days at Chogoria market, chewing khat, drinking alcohol and chasing women.
The second-born, his daughter Gatwiri, made it to high school. But she dropped out of Chief Mbogori Girls High School in form two after getting impregnated by a teacher from the neighboring Kamara village. Mzee Miriti reported the incident to the Chief, but the teacher bribed the chief and the matter went nowhere. Miriti went to the State police but they too did nothing to apprehend the teacher. The Federal Guards said they did not deal with local matters. Being a poor farmer, Miriti did not have any options left. Besides, Gatwiri insisted that she wanted to get married and so moved in with the teacher, even though she was underage. They have been living together since, and have three children.
While his first two children broke Miriti’s heart, his third did him proud. Karwitha topped the State in the national primary school examination and got admitted to Kenya High School. Her secondary school education was sponsored by a local NGO, thus enabling Mzee Miriti to focus on his two last-born children, who were also showing a lot of promise as far as education was concerned.
Karwitha excelled in high school and got a scholarship to study Civil Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She came back to the country after graduation and secured a job with the Federal Department of Roads and Public Works. She worked for three years and quit, opting to start her own private engineering firm, Karwitha Construction Limited.
That decision set her upon the business path and she never looked back. Once the firm became steady and started getting regular work, Karwitha started buying land in Tharaka Nithi State, thus laying the foundation for her agribusiness.
Besides being a brilliant engineer and suave business lady, Karwitha is charming and exhibits a genuine love for people. She has thus become very popular in Tharaka Nithi State. Many people called upon her to vie for a political post, but up until now, she has resisted the urge. She did not think she was psychologically ready for the challenge that politics would present.
But now she is ready.
Kijamba’s first shot at Karwitha on the campaign trail related to her marriage. He alleged that she should not be allowed to vie in the State because “her home State is Vihiga”. Karwitha’s husband, Bob, was brought up in Vihiga State.
He was a Medical doctor based at Meru Level Five Hospital in the nearby Meru State but quit to venture into business. He lives in Tharaka Nithi State with his wife Karwitha. Although they own a home in Chuka and have lived there for the last nine years, Bob is still considered by some to be an outsider. It doesn’t matter that he now speaks Kichuka, one of the four Kimeru dialects spoken in Tharaka Nithi State, fluently.
Bob was also dragged into Kijamba’s cheap politics, as the governor made jokes about his being “domesticated”.
“What kind of a man follows a woman into her home instead of taking her to his?” the governor crowed in one rally. “Did he bewitch his people and was chased away from his home state? Tell him we do not need witchcraft in this state. Let him go back to Vihiga and take his wife with him.”
Bob has ignored the insults and goes about his business as if nothing is happening. He supports his wife by tending to her business interests and assuming full control of the home and the children while she focuses on the campaign. He also helps to finance the campaign.
Kijamba’s mudslinging has only helped to increase Karwitha’s popularity. Her campaign meetings always throng with people. In a fair election, she would beat the governor hands down. But she knows that many elections in the country are hardly fair.
The powerful and influential Caucus is keen on stopping her from taking over the Governor’s office. They know that Karwitha is tough as nails, and will not be cowed by impeachment threats. They know that she is crafty enough to thwart any efforts to remove her from office prematurely, so their best bet is to stop her from assuming office in the first place.
Karwitha knows that while she has largely won the hearts of the constituents, her first major battle will be on Election Day: ensuring that her victory is not snatched by vote-rigging. Karwitha is running as an independent because she was rigged out of the FDP party nominations. Governor Kijamba and the party hierarchy rigged the nomination process. They somehow managed to stuff ballot boxes with ballot papers marked in the Governor’s favor.
FDP has 150,000 registered members in Tharaka Nithi State. According to the official results released by the party, the governor had won with 60,000 votes. Karwitha had 40, 000 and the other four candidates got 30, 000 votes between them. There were 40, 000 spoilt votes. Karwitha quickly realized that in addition to the extremely high number of spoilt votes, the math was not adding up and so she went to court. She won and the party was ordered to repeat the exercise. The party leadership waited until one week to the deadline allowed by the law for parties to present their party lists to the electoral commission to announce that because of time constraints, they would not be doing nominations, but would give a direct ticket to the sitting Governor.
Karwitha saw the trap. They wanted her to go back to court and push the time past the deadline. There was no guarantee that she would prevail because while the court had ordered FDP to hold repeat nominations, if the matter went past the deadline, courts might be guided by pragmatism to uphold the direct ticket. Her advisors urged her to for it as an independent candidate.
There is no doubt that she is the most popular candidate. But can she protect her votes? She has no idea how she will accomplish that. This is what she is thinking about as she drives up to her farmhouse.
Karwitha’s farm has a beautiful farmhouse that she and her family use when they need to get away from their busy routines. They also use it for staff meetings and staff parties. The farmhouse has been converted into the campaign headquarters and she is going there to meet her election agents.
All her agents are her employees and her husband’s employees. She has picked her best and most loyal staff members who support her to be her eyes in all the polling stations. She has made it clear to her staff members that politics will not affect their jobs, and a few do openly support Kijamba, and some have remained neutral. The majority, however, are solidly behind her.
She parks near the house. The activity in the house indicates that her team is already in place. As she enters through the door, they erupt into cheers. But the euphoria is not emphatic, it is nervous. One can still sense that while they are trying to be brave, they remain conscious of the job that awaits them. They are only too aware that they failed to protect the votes of their boss in the nominations even though the voters delivered overwhelmingly.
Karwitha assured them that it was not their fault. That they had done their best and she was proud of them. But still, there is that gnawing feeling of guilt. Worse, it is coupled with a sense of helplessness. It is true that they did their best during the nominations, but that means they do not know what to do tomorrow to protect Karwitha’s vote.
They have rallied Karwitha’s supporters to help in protecting the votes. The idea is that after voting the voters will stay around the polling stations. They feel that crowds hovering in the sidelines of the polling stations will deter rigging. It is a long shot though because Governor Kijamba is a certified thug.
“Guys, guys!” Karwitha shouts, calling the meeting to order. Everyone settles down.
“I think we are basically ready for tomorrow, except for a few minor details. Sheila, are the name tags ready?”
“Yes, they are. We have already finished making tags for all the agents.”
“Jesse, do we have enough water and meals for the agents?”
“Yes, we do,”
“Good. Anyone with any other idea?”
“I do,” a young man says.
“I think we should have flashlights. I don’t think there will be any problems in the voting. The problems occur in the counting. I think they stuffed the votes in the boxes when the lights went off. If you remember, lights went out in almost the entire Chuka constituency, and I believe that is when they stuffed the ballots because we lost only in Chuka constituency,”
Everyone nods. Why hadn’t they thought about that before? Even though Governor Kijamba comes from Chuka, he is not that popular in the area.
“I wish we had thought about this earlier in the day. Can we be able to purchase the lights tomorrow and distribute them before dark?”
Simon smiles and winks at another woman.
“Simon shared the idea with me and I liked it. We convinced Mwiti to give us the money, and we bought the lights. Three for every polling station,” the woman says. Her name is Sarah, and she is Karwitha’s campaign manager. Before the election, she has been Karwitha’s personal assistant for several years. Mwiti is the campaign treasurer and the senior accountant at Bob’s chain of restaurants.
Karwitha smiles. She is pleased with the initiative displayed by her people. No wonder her businesses are succeeding. She formally ends the meeting and food is served. The mood is more relaxed as they eat and laugh.
Karwitha leaves at 8 pm, after urging the rest of the team to go to bed early to prepare for the election.
Karwitha starts her car and drives down Gianchuku Road. She has one more trip. She needs to go and see her running mate Charles for one final meeting. Charles has spent the day meeting supporters in Tharaka constituency, but they had agreed to meet at Godka Hotel for one final meeting before the polls.
As she joins the tarmac road at Majira, she finds a roadblock.
Weird, she thinks. These rural roads hardly have police roadblocks.
“Madam where is your driving license?” a rude officer asks, while his colleague inspects the vehicle.
She hands him her license, and he scrutinizes it under the low light of his dim flashlight.
“Why were you speeding?”
“I was driving at 70 Km/hr. The limit for this road is 110km/hr. How could I have been speeding?”
“Step out of the car,”
Karwitha suddenly feels vulnerable. She is a lone, unarmed woman against two men, whose only claim to be police officers is the uniform.
“Let me see your official badges first,” she says her mind running fast. That is a line she heard in some American movie. Do local police even have badges?
The police officer suddenly yanks her car door open and pulls her out. She screams but he quickly covers her mouth. The other officer comes from behind and ties her legs, which she has been using to kick furiously at her captor. They tie her hands behind her back and then cover her mouth tightly with a piece of cloth. They throw her at the back of her own pick up alongside the spikes they had been using as a roadblock. They hop into her car and speed away.
After what seems an eternity, they branch off the main road and head towards a coffee ranch. Inside the coffee ranch, they remove her from the vehicle, untie her legs and strip her, leaving only her mouth covered so that she cannot scream. They take turns raping her, and then they beat her up with crude weapons until she is bleeding and unconscious. They drive off, leaving her for dead deep in the coffee farm.
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See you all on Friday.