As our farm manager Celestino Sikuku drove home with two other workers last month a gang of bandits waylaid their vehicle. It was an inside job. Somebody had revealed that the car was carrying the payroll. At the first gunshots Celestino halted the car, slipped the others the cash and urged them to run. He predicted the attackers would pursue him, so he sped in the other direction.
They quickly caught him, frisked him and became enraged when they found his pockets empty. When Celestino recognised one of his attackers, the man, carrying a machete, yelled to his better-armed accomplices, ‘Shoot him! Kill him!’ They refused. ‘Money,’ they said. ‘Where is the money?’ They smashed Celestino’s face in with a knobkerrie. ‘In the house,’ he said, playing for time.
Thankfully, Claire and the children were at the coast, while I was in India. But Silas, the farm clerk, was in the radio room at home. On hearing the gunshots he managed to broadcast a mayday to our neighbours. Seconds later, the bandits swarmed in. They bashed him on the head and vandalised the radios. But the alarm had been raised and the neighbours were already racing to our aid.
Meanwhile, the bandits menaced Celestino, demanding to know where ‘the money’ was. He knew there was nothing but he said, ‘Try the bedrooms.’ They smashed the windows and ransacked the house. Now hysterical, they turned on Celestino. He might have died for his brave stalling tactics. But when my friend and neighbour Tom’s vehicle was heard approaching, the gang cut and run.
By now Claire and I had got the news and were making frantic calls. Hours later the police appeared. They lacked fuel for their cars, so were given supplies. Pursuit seemed hopeless. No arrests were made. We do not have a gun on the property, and this is a nation awash with illegal firearms. We pleaded for armed protection, but none was available.
Two nights later the gang returned, firing volleys of bullets. Helpless staff scattered into the darkness, leaving the bandits to break into the farm office, the stores and the house. Here they helped themselves to sundry goods: the stereo, agricultural chemicals, workshop tools, farm shop goods — even tins of mincemeat left over from Christmas pie-baking.
Once again Tom and the others raced over to help. Imagine driving through the dark, risking ambush, not knowing what they might find. The police arrived next day with requests for more fuel.
At last I was able to fly home. I worried about Celestino and our people. It was pure luck that nobody had been killed, given the violence of the attacks.
At Mumbai airport I received astonishing news. The police had arrested two men with the stereo and other stolen goods — former employees. I heard they had swiftly confessed. I was delighted. I hoped the others would be caught too. A third man who I think was the inside end of the job was also held in custody.
I landed in Kenya and raced up to the farm. One of the three men had been released for lack of evidence. This was OK. The two others were due to appear before the local magistrate and I eagerly awaited the result.
In Kenya these days one must expect almost anything, but on arrival home I was quite unprepared for the next piece of news. On the day prior to their court appearance the two accused robbers had ‘escaped’ police cells in a jailbreak, together with five suspects in a gang rape case.
This saga is not over. I have a good idea where the bandits are and we hope to see them re-arrested before they strike again. I do find times like this in Kenya sad and depressing. But I also look at it another way. For me, nowhere in the world could I find better or more loyal friends than Celestino, or Tom, or the others whom I do not name out of respect for their privacy but thank with all my heart.
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