It is said that dead men tell no tales. But that is a culturally relative statement for, in Africa, the dead do not go away. Not just like that.
They torment those who may have been unfair or unjust to them while alive or bless and protect the living. Often they remind us if neglected. Probably that is why we need to remember David Sadera Munyakei.
Brave and patriotic
The story of this brave and patriotic son of Kenya as told by Billy Kahora is worth reading for many reasons.
The True Story of David Munyakei: Goldenberg Whistleblower may not be true as its author/recorder claims. But in a world where truth is so relative as to render all claims to it subjective, probably we should just read Munyakei’s story for the same reason that we would like to tell others our own stories.
It is a kind of social history and act of memorialisation of the “small” man or woman’s achievements that we need to start appreciating as society.
The story of David Munyakei is one that will probably get a footnote mention when the history of post-colonial Kenya is written. It will be marginal because he was not a political figure but a mere clerk who spilt the beans about a financial rip-off of significant proportions for Kenya’s economy in the 20th century.
The Goldenberg scandal, in which false exports of gold were made from Kenya, is rated as major probably because it was the first to be publicly exposed and generally known in and out of Kenya.
It was, and remains, a scandal that Munyakei simply faded from the public limelight and died from a simple infection in the countryside.
So what is new about David Munyakei in this biography? And why should anyone be interested in his biography beyond the fact that he was the Goldenberg whistleblower? And didn’t the Anglo Leasing scandal that followed overtake the Goldenberg rip-off?
The True Story of David Munyakei does not offer answers to these questions. It also does not seek to portray Munyakei much beyond what is generally known.
However, it does achieve one major feat: it tells us who David Munyakei was, thus rendering, metaphorically speaking, the stories of many others like Munyakei whose lives will never appear on the pages of history.
As the major character, Munyakei’s character is a complicated one. A child of a single mother, Munyakei grew up as a mix of Maasai, Kikuyu and cosmopolitan urban Kenya in which the tribal tag can so easily disappear.
The “missing” white father, Maasai grandfather and a Kikuyu grandmother, Bajuni wife and conversion to Islam meant that Munyakei represented a collage of post-colonial Kenyan (racial) profile: black and white; Kikuyu and Maasai; Christianity and Islam; hinterland and coastal; urban and rural.
The collection of several identities and affiliations meant that Munyakei was never able to claim a singular identity.
Consequently, when he escaped from Nairobi to Mombasa running away from the monster that he had released into the lives of Kenyans, he apparently was able to “fit into” the coastal society because of his paler skin.
He could switch from the “point five” identity that Kenyans casually tag on those born of interracial relationships into an “acceptable” coastal citizen. To fit in even better, he converted to Islam and then married a local girl.
Was this Munyakei’s way of “leaving behind” the Goldenberg ghost? And what do these attempts tell us about what awaits whistleblowers? The tragedy of Munyakei’s life is that he never shook off Goldenberg; the ghost was tenacious and vengeful. Munyakei’s death in Narok in July 2006, supposedly from pneumonia, is a stark reminder of the irony of life.
He lost his job ostensibly saving Kenya billions of shillings that would have been carted away yet he died because of lack of medicine, that would easily have been bought if he had been compensated for his heroic deed.
In other words, does it pay to sacrifice one’s little comforts, peace or security for the common good? Can action such as Munyakei’s really be compensated? Was it worthwhile for such a lowly employee to have sacrificed his career in the hope that his action would halt theft of public property?
It seems that the tragedy that Munyakei’s life became suggests that at best an individual’s sacrifice is only in the interest of that individual; for the society can be unforgiving for breaking with the norm.
Betrayal, both by the individual and the society, is what Munyakei lived through to his deathbed. His friends abandoned him, the government branded him a criminal so as to intimidate him, those whose cause he helped, such as the anti-corruption non-governmental organisations, dropped him when his value receded and, by the time he died in his hospital bed in Narok, it was a lonely, personal departure from this world.
Survive as a nation
Other heroes have been born and may possibly survive longer than Munyakei. But the one significant lesson from Munyakei’s story is that the personal good still needs to be subordinated to the collective good if we are to survive as a nation.
Munyakei turned down financial offers to keep mum; he refused to lie low and down. He spoke out against theft of public money and, although he died poor, his singular deed will remain a mark of rectitude in a society that is morally besieged.
Munyakei may not have come back in the guise of a biography to haunt those implicated in the Goldenberg affair but he is back to remind us collectively that each one of us has a role to play in retaining sanity in this country.
Dr Odhiambo teaches literature at the University of Nairobi.