Stories we Tell Ourselves

The ward manager (or how get elected and re-elected)

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Sometimes fate conspires to thrust an ordinary mortal into the limelight. Perhaps, gifting him fortune, fame or ignominy. Such a mortal was Jackson Kizengwe.

Before his fame, Jackson Kizengwe was just another face in the sea of humanity that is Plot Kijiji. This Plot Kijiji, a series of low-cost one- and two-roomed iron sheets shacks. The inhabitants? Construction labourers, market sellers, the fresh graduate tarmacking for a job as well as a few men and women of unknown trades who operated at night.

This Jackson Kizengwe, he had English of the nose. This is to say that he spoke English the way it ought to be spoken, like that of the Europeans who volunteered at the nearby street-children rehabilitation centre. Women said he was proud while the menfolk secretly admired him. They could tell that he would go far in life.

Now, the landlord of Plot Kijiji was this big-bellied ruffian. He spoke nice and he spoke rough, depending on which date of the month one’s rent was due. To his credit, let it be said that it was the only way he could collect rent from his slippery subjects. His name? Kibabi, meaning the wealthy one.

This Kibabi, his peers – tongues loose upon imbibing Wacera’s illicit gin – said he was a standard-four dropout. They added that he then became a pickpocket, graduated into mugging, opened a meat eatery, did a stint in jail before finally emerging as a slum landlord. And with his money came a horde of women to help him finish it. Namely, three wives and a paramour here and there. Said he was promoting the economy of Plot Kijiji and its neighbours as his women helped the shilling to go around.

Rather crude in how he said things, once you got past this, you could see the philosophy in many of his speaking. And it is this philosophy that had his friends and subjects urging him to run for the local councillorship in the coming elections. They argued that such a post could help him legitimise his landholding, plus allow him to get tap water and sewerage connection, said utilities being extended from Kibuti Estate, the relatively posh neighbourhood that was fenced off to keep unruly behaviours and unwanted persons that found refuge in Plot Kijiji. Their arguments made sense and so he had no recourse than to declare his candidacy.

As all elections go in this part of the globe, they were a mixture of crude, vulgar, lively, humorous, violent; the rule book long discarded and all protocols unobserved. To their credit, Kibabi’s people gave as good a hiding as they got and when it was all over, he was the new councillor of Kibujiji Ward- a conglomeration of the polished Kibuti Estate and the crude Plot Kijiji.

And he did not do a bad job at it either. He got his water and his sewerage alright. Plus, he upgraded some of his iron shacks into permanent houses now that he was properly titled, doled out education bursaries, attended funerals, lobbied for a tarmac road and build himself a mansion. Oh, and the Range Rover Sport that was the envy of Plot Kijiji and which carried many a bride to their wedding venue and reception. Kibabi knew the source of his wealth and he was not one to get haughty, considering that he would be seeking re-election. Or, the simpler explanation was that it was in his nature to do so.

Now, five years are nearly over and denizens of Kibujiji Ward will be required shortly to gauge the performance of their councillor. So, his worthy opponent from Kibuti Estate and whom he had displaced as councillor called for a truce. Kibabi heeded the peace call, rules of engagement were drawn (to the effect that Kibujiji Ward was greater than an individual or two) and numerous goats and sheep lost their lives in the process to celebrate this. Well, the matter should have ended there, but no. Kibabi fell sick. Seriously sick. As he was dying. To this effect, he summoned Jackson Kizengwe to capture his last thoughts in that English of his. The first wife was to get the matrimony house, wife no. 2 the car and so on and so forth.

News of Kibabi’s imminent death spread the width and breadth of Plot Kijiji and Kibuti Estate, with Jackson Kizengwe elucidating all the happenings leading to this in both circles. In effect, that foul play was suspected, but yet, that there was a God who was all-seeing.

Election day came. For Kibabi, it was a walkover. To show his appreciation, he appointed Jackson Kizengwe as the ward manager. He could use his impeccable English to communiqué with higher authorities in government and in his party as he had ambitions to be a member of parliament. Again, there was the small matter of keeping your friends close and your potential enemies closer still.

And that is how Jackson Kizengwe gained fame, power and influence and a portal to the governorship of the state in years to come. One step at a time, my brother. One step at a time. And of course, that a little English never hurt nobody.

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