Clobbering Teacher Ben:An Unfortunate True Story

CLOBBERING TEACHER BEN: AN UNFORTUNATE TRUE STORY

On the 26th of January 2020 at approximately 4.00am, an off-duty police officer and his three friends, descended upon Mr. Ben Keli with all manner of items intending to injure and to harm. “If I had my gun, I would have shot you!” The brief but vicious attack was only disrupted by the Maasai guard who had come to Ben’s rescue. How dare he? The gang of four turned on him to teach him a lesson he would be hard-pressed to forget. It is this distraction that allowed Ben room to escape back to the safety of his house, bleeding from a deep cut in his head for which he would require stitches. Mr. Ben Keli reported this matter to the police and initially, it looked like something was going to be done but lately, the officer has been speaking with the conviction of the impecunious: the conviction of one who knows there is nowhere you are going to take him.

I write this so that we can collectively tell him, and show him that there is no such thing in Kenya anymore. No more in Kenya will those in authority abuse the power given to them by the people, to turn back and oppress, harass and disadvantage the very people who’ gave them this authority in the first place. I write this because there are numerous voiceless, ordinary people, subjected to all manner of inhumane acts and violence, illegally and for no crime at all, by those entrusted with the role of offering protection. I write this because, I have no doubt in my mind that had the policeman been in a “leafy neighbourhood”, there is no chance he would have assaulted anyone or attempted what he was doing in Hamza that night. You see, we categorize our people as important or “not important” based on how rich they are. A lot of “unimportant” (read not rich) suffer at the hands of the kind of stupidity that cannot be cured by the highest levels of formal education. Most importantly, I write this because as a country, we have to take a stand and pass the message that Kenya is changing and the citizenry is taking it’s rightful place in LEADING this country to better place where we demand and see to it that accountability is achieved.

Before we get to the details of the incident, let me tell you about the victim of this attack. Ben Keli is a young man in his twenties. We think that it is only old people in this country who can bring progress: we’ve done that for decades and only ended up with limited progress, zero progress or retrogression. Failure upon failure. See what this young man has done.

A year ago, Ben Keli was featured on KTN’s Shujaa wa wiki for what he does. (Click HERE to watch the YOUTUBE VIDEO)

Ben lives in an underprivileged community in Nairobi’s Eastlands area. About two years ago, he was returning home at night at about 1 am. He passed by a late night shop and found a boy aged about 9 years old sitting outside the shop. Initially he passed him but then turned back about 10 metres on, coming back to the boy.

“Why are you out here at this time?”

“Nothing”

“You can tell me”

“Sina penseli”

“You are sure a pencil is what is keeping you here at night?” It sounded incredulous.

The young boy nodded.

“If I buy you a pencil, will you show me your house?”

The boy nodded again.

And so Ben bought him the pencil and the young man, true to his word showed him his home. This is when Ben discovered the reason behind the boy’s plight: a broken home ladden with poverty and alcohol. The mother was nowhere to be seen. The father drunk. In his drunkeness, he was eating: ugali and what looked like the water derived from boiling a pinch of sukuma wiki in a litre of water. That was all that could be counted as supper that night. It is not reported whether the boy had eaten or not.

“Thank you for buying my son a pencil.”

Rather than be satisfied with one random act of Kindness, this one incident caused Ben to go from house to house, door to door and ask people their stories and the stories of many other underprivileged children who would end up in the cold, and in the night for “lack of a pencil.” To truncate this story, the result of this was that Ben ended up starting an initiative called Jukumu, in which he regulary hosts 200+ children of all ages, gives them meals, shows them the latest movies, allows them to play games, teaches them the Word of God, and shows them that there is love in this world. In short, Ben Keli is the kind of citizen whose impact in society is greater than several politicians and old appointees combined: the kind of person this country needs, and it is this initiative that got him recognized in KTN’s Shujaa wa Wiki.

And so it turned out that this day in January 2020, he had come back from work at about 4.00am and was trying to get some sleep. Unfortunately, some neighbours seemed to be having a late (or early), loud party. At some point, it sounded like one of the neighbours who had a car had gone down to the car and turned on music at the highest volume. Song after song played. Sleep couldn’t come and so he opted to go down to ask the team to turn down the volume so that they could sleep. What he forgot was that, one, he was neither rich nor was he in a rich neighbourhood, and two, he was neither a politician nor famous yet. Without these two qualifications, who did he think he was, at least in the eyes of the four, to interrupt a mighty public “King” who was having his way, with the help of the amazing Mr. Alcohol?

The gang of four beat him up and let him know what would have happened to him had they had access to a gun. In Kenya, that threat is a real threat. The headlines of people shot in a bar by police officers keeps recurring as if being copy pasted yet they are all new stories.

Physically beaten but the spirit not broken!

A day later, his Afro was shaved and he had his stitches.

What the policeman didn’t know is that for powerful young men like Ben (you see, true power is in the spirit), you can’t intimidate them into silence. Their passion for social transformation burns stronger than anything you can conjure up in an alcoholic stupor. And so when most victims of such attacks would normally retreat in silence and in pain, Ben took the challenge head-on and reported the policeman to the police.

Initially, the perpetrator was actually concerned and shaken. He reached out to his victim hoping for resolution. But then as time went by, and certainly as he learnt of support from a few people in authority at his station, he became emboldened and convinced that the case is headed nowhere. And therefore, the latter responses have been arrogant and urging Ben to proceed with the case. His OCS in particular, by not acting promptly and decisively in this case, has not done service to the police or the public.

Here is the thing: the majority of professionals in public service, including the police, are actually good hearted and well intentioned. However, there is a minority that acts as the officer did in this case: the doctor who accepts kickbacks to do unecessary tests, the teacher who defiles his student, the civil engineer who approves the work of an incompetent friend leading to the collapse of a building. It is this minority that is the greatest enemy of the professions they belong to. Each member of those professions should therefore strive to rid themselves of these vices.

One month on, this case has not moved. It seems apparent that the OCS is not keen on allowing his charge to be held accountable. Yet accountability is what, as a leader, he should have been promoting.

Is there recourse? Is there hope? Will justice be served? What message can the new Kenya send to those “wenye tabia kama hiyo?”

In a way it’s a good thing (please forgive me for this Ben) that it happened to Ben, because few would have the courage he has, nor the story he does. Perhaps through this case, we can make strides as nation towards the respectability of our people.

The true test of a Nation is in how it treats the least in society, not the highest. Respect is valuing the innate dignity of a person regardless of social standing. In the trending spirit of ending Ujinga, can we also accept that greatness is not established by the amount of money one accumulates but by the impact they leave in society? In that regard, Ben Keli is a great Kenyan citizen.

Oh, and why is he Teacher Ben? Mr. Ben Keli is also a Sunday school teacher: to my daughters and many others. He sings, acts and teaches the children drama, up and above the other things. He is great with the children. They simply adore him and it is they who call him Teacher Ben!

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