Dear Mr. Njoroge,
We haven’t yet met, but I attended the Imperial Bank depositor’s meeting that you called for in December. I remember looking at the lined faces that filled the room and thinking that if anxiety had a physical form, you would have had to wade through a swamp of nerves to reach that podium. And yet at the same time if hope had the ability to lift, KICC would be soaring towards the searing sun.
There were two things you said in that meeting that have stayed with me ever since, and even then I was struck by how unusual it was to hear them coming from a Kenyan leader’s mouth.
The first was an apology to the depositors for not engaging with us earlier. In that moment something shifted for me. You didn’t believe an apology was beneath you. But even more important than that is you didn’t think of us as just bank account numbers, but real people whose life’s work was suspended by a straining string. That you acknowledged our humanity may appear irrelevant, but in a country where the humanity of its citizens is regularly actively invisibled, it is an act of dissent, a fierce commitment to respect life.
The second started with an admission that CBK itself, either by virtue of negligence or active participation, had to have played a role in this scandal, which by your admission is even bigger than Goldenberg or Ango Leasing. Then, you said (and I will have to paraphrase here) that even though it didn’t happen under your watch, it is now your responsibility. And that for me was the turning point. In Kenya, responsibility is a word that seems only ever to be used when spectacularly ducking it, or throwing it at someone else to apply blame. Yet you claimed it. And my hope turned into belief.
I want to clarify here that I am not talking about the remainder of the money, though I do want to thank you for facilitating the release of a portion. Since you had requested for a grace period of March to communicate the next steps, I shall respect that. And even as you work on a recovery plan, everything you have said so far leads me to believe that you have every intention of going after all those that were involved in robbing 53,000 people of their hard-earned money. That’s what this letter is about.
This is not a letter from me as an Imperial Bank depositor. This is a letter from one Kenyan to another. It is not easy being a Kenyan these days. The newspapers are filled with the evidence. We are being killed. We are being robbed en masse. We are being de-humanised, disrespected, silenced. And whilst this is more acute amongst those who do not enjoy a level of privilege, nobody is immune, except for the political elite who enjoy a distance from the experience of being Kenyan.
But I’ve said it before and I will say it again. This is not the Kenya I want my children to inherit. So I am compelled to do whatever I can to agitate for better. Change starts with us. As Kenyans we have to acknowledge that we simply cannot go on like this anymore. It is destroying us in ways that we can’t even see or feel yet. We have to decide that as a country that there can be no room for this thieving at the expense of everyone else mentality. These are defining times.
A great person who I am privileged to call my friend reminds me that the most effective way of taking back your power is by influencing change in the spaces you occupy, in the communities you are part of and in the spheres of your influence.
Mr. Governor, you sit at the centre of a very large space.
We currently live in a country of no consequence. Every day people are exposed for fraud so mindboggling massive our brains can’t wrap itself around the enormity. Every day people are literally stealing the future from our children. And absolutely nothing happens to them. We shake our heads, crack a joke, start a twitter trend and move on. Yet inside we are screaming as we break apart. The effect that this sense of helplessness has on our psyche as a people is enormous. It steals from us more than our money. It robs us of any agency over our lives. It literally destroys our spirit. And it is happening countrywide.
Even without realizing it, it changes our values, and we don’t recognize the impact that this has on us. Let’s be honest, most people are proven correct in their belief that it pays to be able pay someone off. Yet this whole big mess we are in shows that in the end it costs dearly. None of this is news to you obviously.
But it is profound. It tells us that our hard work will not be protected. And that is very dangerous. Once honest people feel that there is no point in doing the very necessary work that builds, sustains and lifts, we will become a nation full of Emperors walking down the streets buck-naked.
It has emerged that there were several parties involved in the Imperial Bank fraud. Even more worrying is that If CBK are complicit in this one case, where else have they been on the take, and what are the implications of this on our entire banking sector?
So just know, whatever you decide to do, whether you like it or not, will send out a very loud signal that will be heard. The message will either be that it is no longer acceptable to steal and get away with it, or that impunity will continue being the order of the day. I do not envy you. In Kenya, even more than other places in the world, it has become difficult to do the right thing. Not only is it more lucrative not to, sometimes it can be downright dangerous.
But as the wonderful Audre Lorde said, ‘we can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired’. And we are tired. And we are afraid. And you may get tired. And you may get afraid, but know that the people of this country are behind you.
You are at the cusp of making history.
This is the reason I have written this letter to you today. To tell you that in the great Kenyan spirit of Harambee, if you call for justice, your voice will be strengthened by the voices of at least 53,000 people. When I wrote this piece, within 24 hours it was read by over 35,000 people, which is highly unusual for a little personal blog. Kenyans are listening. We are with you.
Godspeed dear Governor.
P.S. to my readers, I am loathe to turn Chanyado into an Imperial mouthpiece, so regular programming will resume next week. I promise.