Friday, August 15, 2014

A Walk through the Criminal’s Underworld

It is one thing to commit a crime but it is a totally different thing to confess to having committed that crime. A reader’s interest is thus greatly aroused by a text that boldly declares a writer’s indulgence in crime. This trend commonly features amongst Kenyan criminal writers.
John Kiggia Kimani’s Life and Times of a Bank Robber is testimony of the persona’s engagement with and about crime. It is the story of Kimani’s life from a time of innocence in his childhood to his experiences as a criminal in teenage and adulthood. The autobiography reconstructs Kimani’s early life experiences and shows how these sow a seed of a life of iniquities in him.
As a young boy, Kimani confesses to having been thrust into adulthood responsibilities without his consent: “I was forced by circumstances to go to Nairobi when I was barely twelve”. Because his father gets captured along with other Mau Mau members, Kimani is obliged to travel to Nairobi to pick up his father’s property. This serves as a good reason for him to visit Nairobi a place that he has already fallen in love with: “I had made up my mind that the city was my place”. He is ensnared by the glamour and glitter of the city.
Unfortunately, the persona is not privy to the fact that beneath the city’s glamour lurks a world of unequal opportunities built around colonial discrimination and hatred for the Mau Mau sympathisers. When Kimani attempts to make ends meet in the city, he finds it arduous and he ends up being easily lured to engage in business ventures that drive him into crime.
One of the businesses he tries his hand in is a hawking business. It is reminiscent of the power games that hawkers and city council askaris engage in within Nairobi today. Although he later tries importing bananas from Uganda, Kimani admits that the enticement of crime money is more potent than any other source of income. Macharia, his “worthy lieutenant” not only initiates him into crime, but also tutors him to master the survival techniques especially dodging police dragnets.
Kimani gangs up with other criminals and although he starts off with petty crimes like selling stolen goods, picking pockets, and car break ins etc., he eventually graduates into a hard-core criminal. Thereafter, he becomes their leader and commandeers his gang to conduct bank heists. It is interesting to note that the transition from petty crime to armed crime is carefully described with an adventurous spirit that resonates with the reader and makes it possible for him/her to believe in Kimani’s story.
This is a story of a chequered past and a traumatic childhood exacerbated by colonial prejudice. It forms part of the rationale that Kimani uses to justify his deterioration into crime. Growing up and seeing the white settlers having everything in abundance whilst his people wallowed in abject poverty serves to fuel his prejudice against them. It is no wonder that the white people end up constituting a big part of his victims as he commits crime as part of wreaking vengeance against an unjust system.

However, it is Kimani’s spiritual reflections whilst in prison that helps him to transcend the shortcomings of crime and punishment. During his prison sentence, he realises that there are many more criminals in society like cruel prison warders. As a result, he develops a contrite heart and triumphs over crime. Thereafter, he emerges as a transformed man and reintegrates back into the society to lead his life as a redeemed soul.  
PS: This article was first published by The People Daily and is available here:

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