Duel in the Savanna
By Wanjiru Waithaka
Copyright ©2015 All Rights Reserved
For much of 1990, Bola’s enemies were consumed with campaigns for the general election at the end of the year. This gave him a much needed breather which allowed him to focus on rebuilding the insurance company.
The judgement of the arbitrator in the remaining hotel fire claim was upheld by the High Court. The hotel owner decided not to appeal and Liberty Insurance paid out the claim. The same court ruled in favour of BRS on the tax evasion case. Bola filed an appeal in the Appeal Court of Bancushi which had yet to conclude the case.
The court case regarding the cash heist filed by Prudential Bank against Eagle Security in which the insurance company was enjoined, had not yet gone to full trial due to numerous injunctions and had been postponed several times on technicalities.
The BNP nominations for the December election proved to be chaotic. There was massive rigging and political giants fell like ninepins including Somangu the vice president, who after losing the party nomination, called a press conference where he bitterly criticised the primaries. “Even rigging requires some intelligence,” he thundered, to much applause from his supporters.
Dwanje sacked him the following day. The president swiftly rejected all appeals by losers of the nominations stating that the process was conducted “openly, fairly, peacefully and strictly in accordance with the democratic traditions of this country.” Politicians unhappy with the outcome of the nominations defected from BNP in droves straight into the welcoming arms of Akisa.
Many from BNP strongholds which Akisa’s NDA had been trying to penetrate without success got a direct nomination to contest the general election on the party’s ticket. NDA gained momentum overnight and began to bear a striking resemblance to a national party with grassroots support all over the country.
Akisa convinced Bola to join his campaign fully and he threw himself into the election preparations, mobilising his friends and peers to contribute funds, organising logistics for political rallies, planning the media strategy and kitting the army of volunteers at the grassroots recruited for door-to-door campaigns for NDA candidates.
Unlikely allies found themselves working together. For instance, Bola’s former client Titus Rabon, owner of Palm Beach Resort, was NDA’s point man at the coast, mobilising supporters from the region to vote for the party.
Although previous elections had seen their fair share of malpractices, Dwanje rigged this one on a scale never before seen in Bancushi. He won another term as president with 60 percent of the vote compared to Akisa’s 30 percent. Two other presidential candidates shared the remaining 10 percent.
Still, it was a significant achievement. The president had won previous elections with over 90 percent of the vote. Just like that, people began to believe that Dwanje could be beaten and the cloak of invincibility he’d worn for years cracked.
University students, civil society and media became bolder in their criticism of the government over rampant corruption and the stagnating economy. Dwanje’s government responded by banning political rallies, detention without trial escalated and many people critical of the president disappeared never to be seen again.
Media outlets that highlighted corruption or questioned the frequent arrests of civil society activists and opposition politicians were closed down. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and donor community suspended aid to Bancushi saying funding would resume when the government acted on corruption, opened up the media space and stopped human rights abuses.
To bridge the budget deficit, the government raised taxes, increased domestic borrowing and reduced spending by ministries. There were also rumours that it was printing money. The impact to the economy was huge. Interest rates went through the roof and high inflation sent the prices of food and other basic commodities sky rocketing. The slowdown in government expenditure led to many stalled projects adversely affecting the business community.
Bola held several meetings with business associates and the general consensus was that Bancushi could no longer afford Dwanje as president. The war chest was revived and this time donations flowed in fast and furious. Its new goal was to fund campaigns to remove Dwanje from power.
The former vice president had declared that he would stand for president at the next election. Akisa was expected to make another stab at the seat. Knowing that Dwanje excelled at the politics of divide and rule, Bola and several like-minded people initiated talks to try and get the opposition to unite behind a single candidate to take him on at the next election.
Dwanje was upset by Bola’s role in boosting Akisa and renewed attacks on his businesses in 1991, this time with a focus on Woodville. His minions employed one dirty trick after another in a bid to drive the Karengas out of business or get the City Council to shut down the hotel.
Bancushi Power sent a ridiculous power bill which was ten times the hotel’s monthly usage. When Tony disputed the amount, the utility cut off power to the hotel on the eve of a major conference with the hotel fully booked. After running on generators for two days Tony had no choice but to pay the exorbitant amount.
A month later the workers union called a strike demanding increase of wages by 50 percent. Tony offered 10 percent but they dug in their heels and insisted their demands be met. Patrick Lusebo, head of security did some investigating and found that the union leaders had been paid by Sudipta to initiate the strike.
He put investigators on their trail who recorded them making a deal with the crooked wheeler dealer to ground the hotel’s operations in exchange for Sh500,000. Patrick leaked the tape to the media. When contacted by journalists, the union leaders dismissed the tape as fake. The next day they called Tony and said they were ready to make a deal. They accepted a 10 percent pay increase and called off the strike.
Two weeks later Patrick received a tip from a friend in the police force warning that a search warrant had been signed on the grounds that Woodville was promoting drug dealing and prostitution. The warrant was to be executed the following day.
Patrick instructed his team to discreetly search all rooms the same night. A stash of drugs and drug paraphernalia including heroin, cocaine, marijuana and syringes was found in a cottage belonging to a guest who had just checked in. On interrogation, the man admitted that he had been paid to plant the drugs by people who promised that the police would only arrest him briefly and then release him.
Once Patrick explained that a drug charge could not be sustained without a witness, the man realised that he had been tricked and would most probably have been left to rot in jail after being blackmailed into giving false evidence against the hotel’s employees. When the police arrived the following morning and searched the hotel, they found no drugs. Both the stash and the man had disappeared. Patrick had taken care of it.
Next came an impromptu visit by the City Council Health Inspector who ordered the hotel closed on health grounds, claiming it had flouted some city bylaws. The hotel shut down for a month as the Karengas fought the order in court. Once again, Patrick found evidence indicating Sudipta was behind the whole thing.
Tony confronted the health inspector with it and gave him two choices – revise his ruling or go to jail. The inspector recanted his decision. The closure and bad publicity however hurt the business which lost several large corporate clients.
This would not have been so bad if not for the fact that parastatals and government agencies, a key source of revenue, had been ordered not to do business with Woodville. Getting sponsors for its golf tournaments and canoe races became an uphill task as many companies shied away, citing the bad press the hotel had received.
Tony and Bola were determined to continue fighting despite these problems. Word had reached them through the grapevine that if they agreed to sell the insurance company and Bola stopped supporting the opposition and publicly declared his support for BNP, all their problems would disappear.
Bola let it be known that he had no intention of giving up any of his companies. And he wasn’t Dwanje’s puppet to be manipulated. Soon after that, BRS slapped Woodville with a Sh7 million tax evasion claim (clearly they were running out of ideas at this point). Bola went to court in protest and the case had yet to be concluded.
There was a lull after that. But none of them made the mistake of thinking it was over. No doubt Dwanje was plotting his next move.
Tony never again discussed Sophie after confiding in Makena two years before, but she knew he had found a measure of peace after their talk. The excessive drinking and gambling stopped and he became more like his old self. In September 1990 he surprised the family by announcing that he was moving out of the cottage into a house he had purchased in Thatwa Ridge.
By then, Makena had noticed a distinct change in his social habits. He rarely partied, preferring to spend his free time playing golf or just hanging out at the cottage with Isaiah, Freddo and other close friends over a barbeque.
One time she asked him about it and he said bar hopping and cruising clubs no longer appealed to him. “They’re full of kids and the music is too loud. I prefer to go to a place where you can have a conversation without shouting.”
Makena had a different theory. They had all outgrown the singles scene. His two buddies had already taken the next step. Isaiah married Ruth in December 1990 and Freddo had a steady girlfriend. It was just a matter of time before Tony did too. He no longer changed women like clothes the way he’d done just after Sophie disappeared.
These days he could go for months without dating anyone and he seemed to be content just hanging out with family and his childhood buddies. Makena didn’t share her theory with him though. Tony could get prickly if he felt he was being psychoanalysed. She was just glad that he was finally happy again.