We at aKoma are big proponents of telling your own untold story, of creative flare, energetic experimentation and we stand up and salute talent. We love "badasses" as my co-founder Chidi Afulezi would say. We believe that African stories of excellence, society and culture has to be showcased by ourselves and in our own unique voices to increase the understanding of modern day Africa. So, aKoma has partnered with the Ake Arts and Book Festival in Nigeria. We want the world to know more about the incredible and rich works and talented folks that are out there. We are offering two prizes of 20,000 NGN each for the best stories told on our platform about the festival. Winners will be able to buy books from the festival for the equivalent of the prize money. Go to akefestival.org for more
I'm a little shy about my creative writing, that ranges from children's book series to poetry to non fiction, to fiction to sitcom to a stage play (Yes, Jack of all genres, master of none!). But in the spirit of creative writing, the Ake festival and just putting yourself out there, here's a chapter from my years-in-the-works detective novel set in Kenya. Detective Lucy Onyango, DCIO Ongata Rongai is solving a murder. This is the introduction to the main suspect.
Chapter 3: The King is Dead, Long Live the King
As if one Mogadishu isn’t enough. There’s another one, in Kenya, only without the fighting, the burned shells of cars on the streets, the incessant bursts of gunfire, followed by howls of despair. It’s called ‘Little Mogadishu.’ One hundred thousand Somalis, refugees and smart, successful entrepreneurs dominate this area, Eastleigh, in numbers, cash and guns. Their power base here is tribal and it’s the clan networks that rule.
Omar bin Salim knew how much local Kenyans hated their guts, hated him. Talk to anyone in town, and they’ll tell you how Somalis like Salim have driven down the price of goods, so Kenyan businessmen can’t compete. Housing was through the roof because Somalis paid double the value, in hard cash. No way to compete here either. Local Kenyan residents packed up and moved to the slums.
Eastleigh was filled with poor neighborhoods with low-rise concrete building blocks. Clothes hung out of windows and balconies. Rows of blue corrugated iron shacks met unpaved roads jammed with constant traffic. The noise of matatu minibuses hooting loudly and incessantly competed with along with the large buses belching out exhaust fumes. When it rained, stagnant water flooded the streets with floating garbage. Busted sewage pipes oozed with excrement blanketed in flies.
Salim looked at his naked reflection in the floor to ceiling glass windows. A light sheen of sweat covered his tall chiseled body. He observed his lean, muscular frame, scars on his chest, his firm buttocks and his well-endowed, satisfied manhood. He ran his hand over his trim beard. Salim chuckled, as he sipped the last of his single malt. He savored the sensation of the ice against his teeth and burned down his throat. He drained the glass fast and threw it against the wall. He enjoyed hearing it shatter.
He inhaled the last of his cigar as he looked out the window to the heart of his empire, Isiolo Lodge. It was six stories high. Anything you wanted, from anywhere in the world, it was here, and thirty percent cheaper than anywhere else. In fact, businessman and middlemen from Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia came here looking to buy in bulk, and to clinch a sweet deal. They got it, but only with his blessings. He owned them. They owed him. It’s the way he needed it to be.
It wasn’t always that way. Salim had been a hunted man, with a bounty on his head after he had fallen out with powerful gang leaders back in Somalia. He fled to Kenya to reinvent himself ten years ago. Soon after Isiolo Lodge had been suspiciously burned down, he had galloped in to resurrect what had been a symbolic landmark in Eastleigh. He used his money and a calculated ruthless strategy to mow down anyone in his way. The dead, mutilated bodies of the Mafia-style Dons were a testament to his rise to the top of the pile. Omar bin Salim was the last man standing and he, the winner, took it all.
Salim controlled the entire business world in this area. He earned a percentage of all suburbs’ transactions. The dirty deals, the clean ones, formal and informal. Even big investments in hotels, transport and real estate needed his sanction. He oversaw a global trading network headquartered in Eastleigh, with links to Dubai, Hong Kong, New York and London. His kingdom stretched as far as he could see.
He gazed out onto the packed Eastleigh streets. Hundreds of women displayed their fresh vegetables, tomatoes and onions in red-netted sacks, potatoes and bright yellow bananas. White sacks of coal dotted street corners. Men were pulling large carts called mkokotenis, stacked high with jerry cans of water. The unassuming men on the street, the kiosk owner, the drug pushers, manufacturers of a popular cheap local brew called Changa’a were his eyes and ears. They were the network he relied on for information, clan disputes, and leaks. He exploited it all, to stay on top.
The kingpin looked down upon it all from his penthouse on First Avenue, the center of town. He stared at the orange glow of sunset. His mind drifted. He saw the rivers of blood that brought him here. He was brilliant at orchestrating the planning, placing the chess pieces in position, and operating under the radar. He had deep connections with law enforcement that would feed him information or warn him, and with the underworld that would watch his back, stay a step ahead of the blundering police idiots. He was tired of the bloodbaths now and in moments, like now, he questioned his mission, what he had accomplished, but he knew it was too late for that now.
Daniel Drake’s death meant he needed to move fast. One wrong move and it would all be over. At stake were his empire, the power, and the money, everything, including the latest master plan. He heard the faint beat of coastal Kenyan Taraab music coming from Club 1900. He needed to think. A long slow drag from his cigar and he watched the smoke trickle from his nose and fade into the air. It was almost time to make that crucial call.
Salim walked to the corner of the room where seven monitors showed seven different shots on his pet project. He picked up the radio and called the man known as The Bishop. The Bishop was ruthless and evasive. Salim hated him. The man thought too highly of himself and his power, which he wielded with relish and sadistic pleasure. He had killed too many times and forgotten how to flinch. At least Salim had the decency to look at the dead the moment before the light permanently existed their eyes and their body slipped into a muddy grave or ocean.
“Now is not a good time,” Salim said staring at the pictures on the various screens in front of him.
“We have to. It’s now or never,” responded the icy voice.
“It’s too dangerous. We risk exposing it completely. We must wait.”
“Until this dies down.”
“It won’t,” snapped the Bishop. “Every asset will be thrown into this. I know that for a fact. Every goddamn journalist is going to be sniffing around. We need to move. I can wait a day, two at the most.”
“I don’t take orders from you.”
“You do now.” There was a prolonged silence.
“I suggest you be careful Mr. Bishop,” said Salim. “This is a disaster and I’m not going down with your recklessness. My advice is to go dark, for now.”
“I’ll be in touch,” said the Bishop coldly. “Out.” The radio crackled and spat.
“Fool,” said Salim softly to himself. One day he would have to teach the Bishop a lesson though for now, Salim would have to play along. He could bid his time, he was patient, and when he unleashed his anger at a time of his choosing there was nothing that wasn’t scorched in his path. He could get to his place at the nearby Moi Air Base if he needed to, just north of where he was now. He had already checked in with his sources in all sections of Eastleigh, Jogoo road, Commercial Center and Juja road. Nothing. Yet.
His cover had been perfect so far. There were a few police raids and general harassment, but nothing too serious. They had bungled those attempts simply because the loyalty network here was too hard to penetrate, and the cops were every Somali man’s enemy. Many legitimate Somali entrepreneurs had gotten fed up and simply left to reinvest their millions of dollars back in Somalia denting the local economy. The Westgate mall terror attack in Nairobi had put the spotlight back on Eastleigh and its infamous sixth avenue. When would those bumbling law enforcement goons ever learn?
He heard a stir in the bedroom and a voice softly called him, “Baby I miss you. Where are you?”
“I’m coming my darling,” Salim responded thinking, that woman was going to be a problem.