To the Shareholders and Directors of Imperial Bank,
Exactly one month ago on a cloudless morning, a message soundlessly snuck into our family whatsapp group. It sat there nestled underneath photos of the newest addition to our family – a floppy eared Alsatian pup with a vicious teething problem.
Imperial Bank had been placed under receivership.
Overnight we were rendered effectively broke. Just like that. You see every single shilling our family has is in Imperial Bank. Every single shilling. With only a few hundred bob in the wallet, we didn’t even have the money to pay our electricity bill. And it’s been like that for a month now, with no idea what’s going on or whether we will ever be able to access that money. In the last month entire families have had to beg and borrow money to put food on their tables and pay rent. Children have had to be recalled from University and businesses have been paralysed. To add insult to devastating injury, you have not deigned to issue a public statement, have not bothered to provide an explanation, hell you have not even offered an apology. You see our agreement was with you, the bank. So if you, putting it lightly, messed up, the least you can do is look us in the eye, acknowledge the gravity of the situation and recognise the enormity of the consequences.
But it has been one month. And all we have gotten in that one month is shrugged shoulders. I certainly don’t understand the complexity of the situation. But to me, this is akin to me handing over my money at a shoe store, and the salesman refusing to give me the pair of shoes I bought, but just muttering ‘Aki Woyishee’. So please, help me understand how my money has not been stolen.
You know, just under a year ago, armed men broke into our home, terrorised us and stole whatever we had in the house. It was a traumatic experience, but somewhere deep inside me, the violence of the encounter aside, I got that these were men were overcome with desperation and a sense of helplessness. They may have felt trapped in a cycle of despair, the kind which I cannot, by virtue of my privilege, understand. Our failure as a society to take care of these people had driven them to monstrous actions. That’s why they could do what they did in the way they did it. They didn’t see us as human because they didn’t feel like they were being seen as human. We had decapitated each other’s humanity. And they had to feed their children.
So what was the motivation here? A fancier car, a finer single malt, a more expensive pair of shoes, a bigger house? Greed.
And ignorance is not an excuse. Frankly, as directors and shareholders the buck stops with you. You are ultimately responsible and should be held accountable. I’d like to know, what are you doing about this? Of course, the Government has a role to play, and in some way did play a role. But our President has said we are fine, and we just need to work hard.
Work hard. We know a thing about working hard. In that Imperial Bank account is life savings of five members of our family, three generations, amounting to over 155 years worth of working hard. In that bank is 53,000 people’s worth of working hard. Livelihoods.
You know it is rumoured that a large percentage of our community has been affected. Let me give you some context of what that means. My forefathers left India, carrying nothing but steely determination. They came to Kenya and worked hard. Let me give you more context. One month after we finally moved into our own family home, I caught my grandfather standing in his room furiously turning his tasbih. My grandfather tears through tasbihs at a rate that wears away the thread and sends coloured beads frantically spinning across the floor like tiny little rain dudus that have lost their wings. He had a smile on his face. I asked him what he was thinking about. He said that when he was twenty years old, all he owned was a toothbrush. And now he can’t believe he was standing in his own family home.
Everything my grandfather has accumulated is in that account. His life’s work. What does life’s work look like? He tells me about how he used to wake up every morning at 4:00 am to drive through the misty winding ridges of the Ngorongoro Crater delivering bread. How he lost it all when in the 60s President Nyerere embarked on Ujamaa and his bakery was nationalised. How he stuffed the car with whatever belongings could fit in between the various family members squeezed into the little Volkswagen beetle, and drove off back to Kenya to start all over again. How he ended up in Mombasa and set up another bakery. In a chapter of his life which I call The Haunted Boflo Days, he would wake up in the morning to find the bread he had baked in the previous evening had green mould laced over the perfectly risen crust. Perhaps convinced that the djinns of Mombasa had acquired a taste for his baked goods, he packed up. And they started all over again.
This time they tried their luck with a cafeteria in Nairobi. My now arthritic fingered, silver haired granny would wake up before the sky blushed orange to make samosas. Every morning she would precisely mix the filling of spiced minced meat, dhania, chillies and onions. Carefully she would stuff each samosa, one by one, sealing the corners with the sticky home-made flour based glue so that they wouldn’t explode when fried. It was tedious, finger cramping work. The money in that bank came from my grandma making literally millions of samosas with her hands. And my grandfather would stand all day in the cafeteria, selling these samosas, one by one. Samosas that made them famous. Samosas that when fried had a crispy golden brown pastry that you crunched through to get to the hearty meaty core. And they were popular. Together they built a thriving business. Honest, humble, hard work. Until one year on boxing day, they were forcefully evicted. And they had to start over all over again.
That is just a slice of my grandparents story. I won’t even go into the decades of 10 hour workdays that my working class mother and father put in, with the hopes that now they are both retired, they could live a comfortable life. So you see, we are used to starting over again. But as my dad said last week, at 64 how do you start all over again?
We are fortunate to have a support network that has helped absorb the impact so far, but we are just one of the 53,000 families who have been affected.
It has been one month.
So tell me please, what are you going to do?