By Gloria Mwaniga.
I first read this winning story on august 1st 2012. Even then, it did strike me as a typical African story. This was because of two reasons; first, I August 1st was the 30th anniversary for the Coup attempt on the Moi government of 1982 and secondly Kiss TV was running a rather interesting series on the Nyayo house torture victims and focusing on the chief torturer; one James Opiyo.
The coup attempt is what is believed to have transformed the then Kenyan president from a cool president following Jomo Kenyatta’s nyayo to a wild and ruthless dictator who sent people to the cold, dark and quite frightening chambers of the Nyayo house if they dared to show open defiance or even when they were deemed to have hidden agendas. The Torturer in chiefs’ story of retirement and unceremonious relocation back to his rural home of Rongo; together with most of the the Nyayo house victims’ rather un-heroic existence till today sort of blend in with the Bombay Republic Short story.
The story starts on a rather optimistic note with the author introducing us to one Sergeant Bombay a veteran who had come back from the world war. He comes back to his district that is ruled by a District Officer who is white. At that point, I had expected that having seen the world and with a thinking outside the box, Bombay would end up swaying loyalties’ from the mzungu to himself and hence become an undisputed war hero who led his people to the paradise called freedom. I even dared to think that the story would turn out like the infamous Nigerian Biafran war where Ojuka starts a revolution against the incumbent leaders and either wins or dies (Forget the running off to another country bit).
However, the writer Rotimi Babatunde slowly builds up this character in the traditional heroic fashion when he gets posted to a combat unit and later promoted to a sergeant; strangely enough, the war suddenly comes to an unwelcome end even before our new hero gets a chance to prove his art of war. However, the reader is kept optimistic as Bombay has been exposed to the world and we watch amidst baited breath, for him to show his Moses-like savior traits.
Back at his home town, the air is full of euphoria with the nationalists getting bolder and criticizing the colonial government as they gathered in the evenings for animated discussions zealously quoting Gandhi and Du Bois. Bombay, who was expected to be a part of this revolution, was busy elsewhere telling jinni stories to wide eyed children. The strange man then moves to an old jailhouse where he is immersed in a utopia of his own making in his newly independent state of Bomby.
In a rather un-heroic ending of the story, Bombay is considered a sleeping dog that should be let to lie by his DC. The humor filled and unpredictable plot give this story quite an unexpected twist even as this man; who refused to pay hut tax because he lives in a stone house and not a hut; is described by one local columnist as Colour Sergeant Bombay, war hero and perpetual president who was loved by all the citizens of his Peoples Republic of Bombay.
The story leaves one with a sort of emptiness that is all too familiar in Kenya.
Having happily gotten our uhuru, we looked forward to the promise that the new learned wananchi would bring on the table.
These expectations were later to be shrouded as Kenyans watched incredibly as the same leaders assassinated each other, stole country resources and punished those who dared speak out.
Like Bombay, they speedily forgot the real reason they had an upper hand was to pull others out of the darkness but instead, the leaders engage in self-satisfying, get-rich quick corruption deals in a country where most leaders still hope to stay in office until death finally unseats them.
This they do as they brand themselves vijana and hopelessly try to tweet their way into the real vijana’s hearts.