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Kenyatta, Kumar and the Nytil security guard

Kenyatta, Kumar and the Nytil security guard

 The Saturday Monitor brought news of Mr. George Muyomba, a security guard at Nyanza Textile Industries Limited (Nytil) in Jinja, who was fired because he did his job. 


According to the story, on May 6 Muyomba denied Mr. Vinay Kumar access to the Nytil premises because the latter was not wearing a face mask. Mr. Kumar’s naked face was a violation of a presidential directive that Muyomba was doing his part to enforce. 


Muyomba’s difficulties arose, not because he had enforced the directive, but because he had inconvenienced Kumar, the general manager of Nytil, a “big man” who was naturally above the law. According to Muyomba, the “big man, not in the mood to comply with a request by a lowly fellow, called the human resources (HR) department and directed them to fire the askari.

Ms. Joanita Nakawesi, the HR manager, considered the askari’s insistence on enforcing the president’s directive to be an act of insubordination.  


Accusing Muyomba of selectively targeting the Indian managers while being “lenient towards others”, her letter to the askari reminded me of Chinua Achebe’s Enoch, the son of the snake-priest in Thing’s Fall Apart, “whose devotion to the new faith had seemed so much greater than Mr. Brown’s that the villagers called him the outsider who wept louder than the bereaved.” 


While Nakawesi may have earned herself the approbation of her untouchable manager, her reflex reaction to Kumar’s irritation  revealed unconscionable disregard for the rights of an employee. Firing the askari, a very good one at that, was an overt endorsement of a common disregard of laws and regulations by the “big men” in the land. 


If enforcing the law or a presidential directive was cause for loss of employment, why should an askari intervene next time he sees a cabinet minister’s  Toyota Prado scratching Nakawesi’s smaller car in her company’s parking lot? Why, indeed, should the askari check a “big man’s” vehicle for guns and explosives when the latter arrives at Nytil premises? 


It is a slave mentality at play. The rules for the masses do not apply to the bwanas. The attitude is that presidential directives, like most other laws in the land, are to be ignored by the enforcers, unless the infraction is committed by one of the Wretched of the Earth or a member of the political opposition.  I bet you my cow that had it been, say, Kizza Besigye or Robert “Bobi Wine” Kyagulanyi who had attempted to enter the Nytil premises without a mask, the askari would have received accolades and a promotion for refusing to let them in. 


This selective application of the law was endorsed by Mr. William Okello, the logistics manager of Pan African Carriers Uganda-Limited, the company that actually employed the beleaguered Muyomba. Speaking to the Monitor, Okello said: “When the president said all factory workers should sleep on site and wear facemasks, I think Muyomba just got overexcited at the thought of implementing the directives. His case amounted to insubordination but as a company, we have resolved to reinstate him because he’s a good employee. We just don’t know what came over him to start harassing our neighbours’ manager.” 


Pause and reflect on that statement, Tingasiga. Enforcing the law is considered harassment of a big man. Sobering. 


The story reminded me of a similar incident that was reported to us just over four decades ago, this time involving a real big man, with a fascinating outcome.  The country, Kenya. The president, Jomo Kenyatta. The year, 1977 (I think.) The venue, Jamhuri Park, Nairobi. The occasion, a big national event, either independence celebrations or an agricultural show. I was living in Nairobi as a refugee. 


There were two main entry gates into Jamhuri Park. The day’s commanding officer had instructed a policeman to secure one of the gates and not let in any vehicle unless ordered to do so by his boss. All vehicles were to use the second gate. 


Presently, motorcycle outriders arrived at the closed gate, followed by several cars, escorting a huge black Mercedes Benz Pullman 600 that conveyed Jomo Kenyatta himself. Unperturbed by the display of power and luxury, complete with flashing lights and purring engines, the policeman kept the gate closed. He firmly refused to take orders from the fellows that emerged from the motorcade.


One of Kenyatta’s men called the commanding officer who had probably assumed that his man had understood for whom that gate was reserved. The commander gave the order and the President of the Republic was allowed into the park.


When Kenyatta mounted the dais to address the assembled crowd, he asked that the policeman who had detained him at the gate be brought to him. The president launched into a speech about loyalty, obedience and enforcement of the law. He directed that the policeman be immediately promoted to a higher rank. 


What Kenyatta did not need to tell Kenyans was that the policeman’s enforcement of his commander’s directive had not diminished his presidential stature and power. Indeed, his display of humility and fidelity to the law probably enhanced the esteem in which he was held by the majority of his countrymen.  It certainly impressed this Ugandan refugee, recently escaped from a land where such an action would have ended the life of a law-abiding policeman.


In the four decades that I have lived in Canada, I have encountered many incidents of humility by the politically very powerful, the financially very wealthy and other movers and shakers in this land. I have stood in queues with men whose familiar faces I have later discovered belonged to federal cabinet ministers. 


The allegation that Muyomba had targeted the Indian managers is hard to believe. The African’s natural tendency is to genuflect at the sight of an Asian or Caucasian person. A lowly African askari’s natural predisposition is to terrorize fellow struggling Africans,  favour those who are likely to offer him a tip, a commendation or promotion.


More to the point, Muyomba’s alleged racist enforcement of the presidential directive did not negate Kumar’s obligation to wear a mask. Indeed, the manager of such an establishment would have been expected to lead by example. 


Kumar can redeem his own reputation and that of his company by humbly apologizing to Muyomba and to President Yoweri Museveni whose directive he disregarded. 



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I remember queuing up at a Dry Cleaner’s in Ottawa with Herb Grey, Deputy Prime Minister in Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s Liberal cabinet! The egos of some of Uganda’s High Commissioners in Canada are crashed when they don’t get obeisance, especially among Ugandan Canadians who have learnt better.

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