After 9 years of service, my job at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital came to an end at the end of March 2018. I opted to liquidate part of my pension and use the funds to set up income streams to sustain me through the subsequent season. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the monthly payments had accrued quite an amount in interest. On this interest, I determined to pay my tithe to my local church back at home. I was quite excited to make this payment, imagining what it could be used for and how beneficial it would be to the church. I therefore set the money aside, in cash, before all else.
When I got home a few weeks later, one of the first things I purposed to do was submit the amount to the local pastor but alas, when I checked where I had put the money, 40% of it was missing! I searched everywhere but it was nowhere to be found. Where could it have gone?
The house I was staying in was largely locked. However, for a brief period earlier in the day, one of the two ladies hired to help my aging mum with house chores had been tasked to clean the house. She had been there by herself for quite sometime. This, to the best of our recollection was the only time the house had been unlocked and accessed by another adult. Turns out, this lady had acquired a dubious record with regards to accessing material things. There was a string of items that had disappeared over time that she had been suspected of taking and others reported to have been confirmed. After further inquiries, it became clear that she was the person most likely to have stolen the money from its hidden place. We went to find her at her house but only found her children despite it being night time. Where could she, or her husband have gone at such an hour leaving children alone? Somehow we managed to reach her on phone and demanded that she comes to our home, which she did, accompanied by her husband.
Of course, and as expected, whereas she acknowledged having cleaned the house by herself, she denied ever having taken or even seen the money. We confronted her with the past allegations against her and after quite sometime, she owned up to having taken some small kitchen items and some food occasionally but remained adamant that she had not taken the money. At some point the husband came in to defend the wife and stated that he was certain that his wife had not taken any such money. If she had, he would have known. He also owned up to the few items the wife had spoken of taking without permission earlier. Then my sister noticed it. In the dark. The t-shirt he was wearing had been hers. She inquired how he had come to be in possession of it. The couple was taken aback but then the lady regained her composure and explained that the clothing item had been rained on, and she had taken it home to dry (or some other unconvincing story like that about rain and drying). The husband on the other hand said it was the wife who had brought it, as Eve had brought the apple to Adam in the garden of Eden.
With this and the history, it was clear to everyone who the culprit was. People have been burnt for stealing items of much less value than the money lost that day. As you know, I am ardently opposed to murder in the name of “mob-justice.” (I consider it, and it is, evil several orders worse than theft). No one lay a hand on her, nor on her husband but we threatened to take them to the police, and had them enter a vehicle for this very purpose. All this while, despite the mountain of evidence, they pleaded their innocence and refused to confess. We probably would have forgiven them if they would just have owned up and returned whatever portion of the money they had not spent. Seeing that the police threat didn’t work either, we opted to let them go but that would be her last day as our employee. Meanwhile, I bemoaned the need to raise yet another amount to replace what had been stolen. In this instance, a cheerful giver I was not. I do pray for God’s forgiveness. I had no doubt in my mind that she was the one responsible for the loss. Nobody in the village doubted their guilt. I am however grateful that we did not harm her or escalate the matter to the police. I imagine that in some communities in Kenya today, despite the many relatives (or the very people) who engage in corruption and theft in their workplaces, these two could have been tortured, beaten till half dead, then set alight, all the while as the people, these self-righteous corrupt people who bribe or receive bribes so often, cheered.
My gladness that we did not do anything of the sort was multiplied a week later when I got back to Nairobi.
Going through my things, I found out that in my hurry to get home, I had purposed but failed to combine the two tithe monies into one as I had planned. Indeed, the 40% was right in the coat pocket where I had initially kept it and there it had remained, even as we dragged through the mud, the reputation of our “thief.” My heart sank from terrible guilt for what I had done. We had treated the couple horribly. All this while, despite what we all believed, the dishonest sounding pleas of innocence from the couple, despite the history, despite the t-shirt, despite the food items, were actually the truth and I…we… with our 200% certainty, were actually wrong. So with tremendous shame and guilt, I picked up the phone and started the difficult process of setting the record straight. I had to call her, then the husband, then all my family members whom I had involved in the incident, and in that low moment, I apologized and confessed what I had found. I must say, they were quite gracious in their response and were quite forgiving.
But why this story?
Have you heard of “thieves” burnt because “alionekana?” Have you heard of villagers gathering the day after incidences to flush out gangs and perpetrators, extracting confessions, and relying on “eye-witness” accounts? Have you heard of people lynched because the murderers in the lynch mobs took the words of people who were cork sure that the lynched were guilty? How about of witchcraft? Turns out, in criminology, the least reliable and most error-prone type of evidence is the eye-witness account. First, we shouldn’t be burning or lynching anyone. The murderous evil capable of this is not fit for societal integration, and forms the basis of an evil, brutal society that cannot prosper. Secondly, there is a reason why the legal process is in place. The Chicken thief too is entitled to his day in court. Let the case be proven beyond reasonable doubt. Let not circumstantial evidence, as compelling as it may be (and was in my case) be the reason to destroy somebody’s life. Let not our faith in our correctness and infallibility be the basis for the death of a father, mother, brother, sister, daughter, son, for one thing is for sure: we often make mistakes. Let us not be thieves, stealing the well-being, freedom, or lives of innocent people in our often vengeful quest to blame somebody.