The art of betrayal in combat culture

Prigozhin could learn a lesson from history on folly of defying your master

In Summary

• Anecdote in Tanzania speaks volumes on what the Wagner Group chief attempted

Image: BBC

There is an old saying among the Agikuyu to whom I am related through my mother. War is not porridge. The war in Ukraine has been a theatre of international curiosity even among Africans. Last Saturday, Kenyans went to bed as Kremlin and Moscow faced danger from within Russia.  

Yevgeny Prigozhin and his paramilitary organisation of private warriors called Wagner almost attacked the heart of Russia. A mercenary, he had decided to attack his bosses on the pretext that they authorised fatal raids on his men of war. Betrayal?

An old code in military culture goes like this: never betray the master, no matter what, where or when such a chance arises!


Flashback. Picture this: a hill the size of the head of a medium-sized giant. On it like hair shrubs, bushes hither and thither. Ragged rocks rise suddenly left and right like danger. The hilltop, as is often so, is balder.

At the foot of the hill, a pincer attack is shaping up. The slithering bodies are German. Behind their ranks are Swahili Muslims. Some are new converts and as black as the two surrounded men on top of the hill. The target. The moving target now cornered. 

After instilling heavy losses to Berlin earlier, the old warrior and master of these parts, is now at the edge of the world. He has aged rapidly since last year, when he was among the last to desert his formidable fort of Kalenga outside Iringa.

Suffering from the shame of losing men with maxim guns to warriors with amulets and arrows, Germany had sent a more erect column to the old chief's fort and laid it to waste. Most kids had been smashed on the fort walls with their feet used as swingers.

Their mothers had been bayoneted in more ways than one. The Hehe who chose to fight to the last had gone down in rivers of blood like the men they are. Ask history.

As the pincer movement completed formation and steadily inched up the hill, I still see with eyes shut, a black bird of prey circling in ever widening gyres five miles in the skies of here. The old chief looked at it and sighed.

The guerrilla warfare had bought time but now it bought naught. He looked at his last man standing next to him. He was young. He saw the jugular raised as his sinews strained from the bag of sorcery and charms and bullets of his master.

Their eyes locked. The slave and aide de camp was not afraid. Neither was the old chief Mkwawa.

He looked at the vast land of Uhehe and mountain ranges that sang his name once. He sat on a greying rock then stood up. He looked at the youth. He told him. They are not here for you. Go. Silence. They know me. They will let you go. Silence. 

He then gave the lad his freedom by giving him the old musket. The boy hesitated. Slaves know the rules of master and servant in that era and in this culture. How to touch the weapon of the master?

Mkwawa told him not to fear. Take it and shoot me. It is better to die by your loyal hands than from the foreign barbarians. The pincer inched closer, tighter, higher. Time was the bird in the sky in ever-widening gyres.

The slave spoke. Master, I am not fit to take away your life. But I will not live after you die. You are my father. You are my world. You are I. With these words, he declared his will to turn into the bed of the king so that in their death that had arrived, he would still be of service to Mkwawa. With this, he swiftly picked the Arab dagger from the waist of his Liège and slit his own throat! 

As the blood of the young brave gushed crimson under the skies of Iringa here in central Tanzania, Mkwawa the last of the bravest chiefs of here in the old century, took the musket. The muzzle and his old lips formed the kiss of death.

The captain from Berlin leading the nearby attack heard the single shot! It is said it was heard as far as Zanzibar. The birds of the area maintained silence. The ants, too. The ridges were alert and silent, too.

The captain raised his fist in a sign of stop. The men slithering froze. History died on that hill that day. So did the old code of loyalty.

The captain would later in retirement write in his memoirs in mother tongue of the decent burial they gave the slave before decapitating his master. The skull is still somewhere in Germany.

I have sat once not far from it, with a boy with blue eyes, and waited for a bus at a bus stop.


Wagner is a lost cause.

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