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Arturs? We’re all mercenaries here

The facts so far: two “brothers”, both calling themselves “Artur” arrived in Kenya some months ago. They were purportedly “investors” – something that was confirmed by senior government officials.

Later, we discovered that these “Armenians” seemed to have all sorts of amazing powers in this country. They appeared to have the freedom to do whatever they wished, for example: keep government vehicles in their Runda house; bear arms; enter the high-security areas of our airports at will; bring in containers of “electronics” and “generators” for “children’s homes” without needing clearance; carry badges identifying themselves as “deputy commissioners” of police; draw guns in highly sensitive places; and generally make as much of a nuisance of themselves as they wished.

You might have been forgiven for imagining that these were the new rulers of our land, and we were their willing and adoring subjects. But now the Arturs are gone, and we are referring to them as “mercenaries”. We have appointed a “commission of inquiry” and “parliamentary probe committees” to investigate the matter and tell us why we were, as a nation, in the grip of madness for the whole of the first half of this year.

Let us allow these august bodies to do their work, and not comment further on the “facts”. But let us at least stop to consider what this bizarre episode tells us about ourselves. To me, it says (nay, screams) this: the Arturs were mercenaries? Big deal! We are all mercenaries here.

You think not? Let us first understand what “mercenary” means. My concise dictionary, which came all the way from Oxford (not Armenia) tells me that its basic meaning is a hired soldier serving in a foreign army. But its wider import is to describe people who are “primarily concerned with making money at the expense of ethics.” You begin to see why I feel that every person involved in this sickening saga, and possibly every person in this country, is a “mercenary”.

Let us run through the cast of characters. Let’s begin with the politicians and government officials, because they’re easy and we don’t need to waste too much time on them. Clearly, the Arturs could not have done anything they did without the backing of some very, very senior people. Perhaps the investigations will reveal who those people are; perhaps they won’t. But no one can deny (though everyone will) that there is a festering sore at the heart of government. Those whom we vote in to be our guardians and guides seem quite happy to turn the country over to gun-toting foreigners. So we are clearly ruled by mamluki, but they originate from Kenya, not Armenia.

What of our local “businessmen”? Well, we are told that the foreign scoundrels first arrived on our shores at the behest of some our own business “titans”. Why? Because we are apparently involved in an insatiable search for “investors”. If we get the whiff of money anywhere, we try to bring it home to help our toiling millions. In this case, the Arturs introduced themselves as “cousins” of non-existent royalty, so it was easy to mistake them for the real thing. They also had a tendency to dump large sums of cash onto the table when discussing business options, so what is a poor Kenyan to do? Take the mercenary road, every time.

(An aside: here’s what a real “investor” looks like: IBM has just announced a US$ 6 billion (you might want to read that number again) investment in India. None of it was in “cash”. The company already has 43,000 staff (read again) in that country).

Once the royal cousins were here, more of our mercenary-folk began gathering, like they always do when money is being fluttered around. Our security forces appeared to just fall down at their feet and kiss them. Government officials opened doors and provided vehicles and protection. Like the imported dogs the Arturs brought in to protect their home, many apparatchiks appeared all-too-willing to bark for their supper and await whatever scraps were tossed to them.

Once the Arturs became a public phenomenon, the rest of us began to pile in. Starting with our “celebrities”, or “celebs” as they cutely like to be known. The cocktail of fame, money and notoriety became too much for famous Kenyans to resist. The Arturs threw lavish parties, and our “top” people queued up to attend. Claims that one of the Arturs was lavishing Sh 150,000 per day on his “girlfriend” appeared to be too much for our womenfolk: they lined up to be ravished, and were shown on TV cavorting with the imported “hunks”. Some enlightened folk even saw fit to invite the mamluki to celeb “bashes” and allow them to present prizes! It’s enough to make you faint with joy.

Now came the “journalists” or “journos” as they like to call themselves. The Arturs were given wall-to-wall coverage (hey, sleaze sells, because we buy it), and our “lifestyle” journos went to town. Some speculated in print what it might be like to sleep with the Arturs (a girl just can’t resist a “bad boy”, you know). Others were taken in by the unique dress sense of the Arturs – apparently unable to distinguish between “designer-ware” and the attire of cheap rapsters. Most claimed to be following the Arturs around out of a journalistic duty to tell us about their sofas and their parties. Sadly, we seemed to want to know…

The point, in case you’re still missing it, is this: the Arturs were no better than caricatures out of some evil cartoon. Yet we handed over our airports and our security forces, our eyeballs and our thoughts to them. This is an act of singular shame in the annals of our history. We can point fingers all we like, we can pass the blame parcel around until the next Arturs show up, but we can’t escape one damning fact. The Arturs come to countries like ours because we are mercenaries ourselves, all too willing to be turned into fools and flunkeys by the dangling dollar.

Do we have any pride at all in our roots and our heritage? Do we know and value our place in the world? Oh, we love to proclaim it and take false pride in ourselves. But the minute some light-skinned swindler shows up from far-off shores brandishing bank notes, everything goes out of the window. We become what we really are: people who take diamonds over decency, emeralds over ethics – every time.

Feeling angry? Well, good, because I wasn’t excluding you (or myself) from the list of mercenaries. You and I vote those leaders in; you and I offer adulation to those celebrities; you and I stand by as our officials sell us down the river; you and I shrug our shoulders and say: “Well, what can I do; this is Kenya.”

If that’s all we are capable of, then I have a proposal: until further notice, let us call every man, woman and child in Kenya “Artur”, as a mark of our shame.

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