• Shopkeeper has to be rescued by police after government undercuts market forces
With Wa Munene, Chief’s son, now behind bars for murder, and to yours truly restored the full privileges of my job and all its trappings, I return to Jiji Ndogo to find a crisis afoot.
It begins with a strange woman who comes stumbling into the police post. She’s of Indian descent and dressed in a proper sari.
“Askari,” she says, “wewe lazima kuja na mimi.”
“Where?” I say. “What’s the matter?”
“Watu ingine iko taka ua bwanangu. Kuja haraka.”
“To Serve and Protect”, so even not knowing who she is or what predicament has befallen her, I follow her lead and we head to the shopping centre proper. There we find a crowd — nearly all Jiji Ndogo residents, I presume — gathered outside Dr Selitol’s shop.
What has the bloody merchant done this time? I wonder as my escort disappears behind the shop. If you’re not familiar with Dr Selitol, he’s our resident everything-goes trader. Legend in Jiji Ndogo is you can get anything from Dr Selitol if you speak the right language, and the only language our so-called doctor speaks is money.
“Make way!” I push through the throng.
A woman shoves an elbow into my solar plexus. “Hakuna kukata line. Ngoja turn yako.”
Wind whooshes out of me like a balloon subjected to a pin.
“I am the police,” I say, although I doubt she, or anyone else present, for that matter, comprehends a word I say or cares to comply.
Realising I’m out of my depth, I take out my pistol and fire in air. Promptly, the crowd disperses and I gain entry in Mla Chake Shop.
Dr Selitol cannot be happier to see me. “Afande, wewe fanya mizuri sana kuasili. Hii watu ni customer yangu lakini hawa taka ua mimi.”
“So that was your wife who fetched me?”
“Lakshmi hapana toka nje mara kwa mara, lakini leo iko bidi.”
“What’s the problem, Selitol?”
“Ni hii serikali naleta shida sana kabisa.”
The crowd has crept back. A woman shouts, “He’s selling unga at Sh200. The government said on TV that it should be Sh100.”
I turn to Dr. Selitol. “Do you have the flour?”
“Hapana kabisa. Mimi stock yangu iko kutoka mwezi mbili. Nanunua unga mia na ninety-five. Iko uza mia aje?”
I can understand where the poor merchant is coming from. Jiji Ndogo isn’t the kind of place that sees regular motor traffic. Like everyone else, Dr Selitol has to order in bulk and squirrel away for the future.
After several tries, I manage to calm the crowd to a reasonable decibel level. “Citizens, I know life’s been hard for all of us. I mean, who’d have thought ugali would surpass chapati as a luxury, huh? But you have to understand, Dr Selitol is a businessman, not a government agent. He cannot sell at a loss, so—”
“Serikali ilisema soo moja,” someone shouts.
“I’m aware of that, but every trader can only—”
“Kama serikali imepeana unga,” says another, “inafaa iuzwe bei amesema.”
“Sir, the government isn’t distributing flour. And if it was, it wouldn’t be at a shop. Once Dr Selitol buys the flour cheaply, I’m sure he’ll pass the savings to you. Isn’t that so, Dr Selitol?”
“Isn’t that so, Dr Selitol?” I repeat.
“Haan yah hai.”
My gunshot brings Inspector Tembo and Sergeant Sophia to the scene.
“What’s happening?” Tembo asks. I explain, and they assist to disperse the crowd. Then Tembo turns to Dr Selitol, a hundred bob in his hand. “The others are gone. So, where is it, huh?”