Elam Shitembete Shiundu sat in his Kibera- Laini Saba home and carefully brushed his regulation issue boots. It was the third time he was doing it on the afternoon. He carefully removed the shoe laces first of the left foot and thereafter of the right foot, he then sponged them clean with a wet rag before liberally applying a coat of spit black polish and brushing them lovingly with a hard shoe brush. Not that he noticed it; this old routine had become second nature to him making him happy in some strange way, it was also the best way of re-collecting his thoughts.
Elam Shiundu is a former Administration Police corporal (AP) but now employed as a security guard in one of the private security companies existing in Nairobi. Four years earlier he had been a model AP Corporal standing six feet in his AP regulation woolen socks. He was immensely strong and people were naturally afraid of his domineering height and imposing personality. His associates were also afraid of him because of his unbending attitude and incorruptible stand when enforcing the law. Then, he had believed in law and order in a curiously innocent and naïve way; Law and order were after all the magic from which he derived his power, individual power which he cherished as all men cherish the domination of other men. But then it had also taught him to resent the public which he constantly served. He had developed a kind of smoldering resentment against the public considering them to be ungrateful, demanding and full of guile.
It was this unbending attitude and a collision with a cantankerous but powerful member of the public that had made him lose his secure job as an AP corporal at the age of forty four. A sensitive age, too old to start a new career but also too young to retire. But then he ruefully had to admit that he had gained much from the police service. He had visited places he had never imagined existed, he had garnered experiences enough to last several lifetimes. And he had witnessed life in the raw seeing the worst of humanity and the best too. The job had also given him so many opportunities and adventures.
Elam smiled as he recalled his stint at the north Eastern province of the country when he encountered the forebears of the dreaded Al Shabaab. The Islamic Courts union (ICU). That had been twelve years ago, twelve years bar one week. Ten years ago at the prime of his AP career, commanding a border outpost a dangerous posting but curiously also very fulfilling. Elam remembered, It had been the best of times…it had been the worst of times…
46662 Administration Police Corporal Elam Shiundu is a worried man. Very worried, extremely worried. The challenges and loneliness of command, the isolation of responsibility, The lack of periodic flow of information from his superior headquarters and the just plain feeling that no one will really understand if things go wrong worries him stiff.
Shiundu is a section commander at an isolated chief’s camp at Damajale on the expansive Kenya –Somalia border. The village or rather shanty town with a population of about 500 sits about 3 km from the unmarked border crossing point. It is an active outpost with endless to and fro movements across the common border.
Neighbouring Somalia remains a failed state awash with weapons with ultra orthodox,Islamic extremists loosely bound under an armed coalition dubbed Islamic court union (ICU) controlling the capital and steadily gaining ground in the southern parts of the country. The Islamic Court Fighters (ICF) have distinguished themselves as fearless fighters with a brutal devotion to the cause of spreading their austere brand of Islam to all of Somalia. Their source of funding –and it is well funded –remains unclear, but the subtle hand of Al Qaeda is strongly suspected; wealthy Islamic Purists in the Arabic peninsula and suspected support from Iran also assures them of a steady supply of recruits and allies to advance their brand of Islam.
Corporal shiundu sucks on his cigarette, worry lines etched on his face. He looks up at the cloudless sky, the sun shines hard, unforgiving, unblinking, unconcerned –neutral. He looks at his 9 charges; 3 of them fresh from the recent controversial intake at Administration Police Training College (APTC). Shiundu scrubs a hand across his brow. Very new meat, Someday they will learn, he thinks, his eyes grow abstracted holding the weight and years of his experience as it follows his 3 new charges.Yes they will learn.
Yes they will have to learn.
A week before he had witnessed a surge of refugees numbering close to one thousand from Kismayu crossing over into the country to seek refuge from the marauding Islamic Court Union Fighters (ICU). The refugees spoke of the ICU being young men, very well armed, well funded and too indoctrinated and brainwashed to reason with any perceived anti Islamic stance. As one Sheikh put it-“Their roads are paved with the souls of their victims”.
But that was not Shiundu’s major worry.
A day before early in the morning even before the Miraa vehicles had thundered in to the centre. He had noticed that the town was restless and preparing to move. The donkeys and camels were being laden with the refugees and the town dwellers goods. No explanation from any quarter was forthcoming. The corporal had walked to the chiefs house-he too was busy packing. The corporal made his enquiries-“the Islamists are coming!” The chief had answered barely lifting his head from the packing.
“They are after the refugees this town is going to be rooted out!”He had added.
“How do you know this?” Shiundu asked barely controlling his anger
“Mimi Najua” (I know!)The chief had replied.
“What have you done about it,have you informed the DO?,have you……”
Shiundu had a dozen questions; the chief ignored him, finished his packing and zoomed off to nowhere.
In an hour the chiefdom was now almost deserted save for him and his 8 charges and few other civilians who for a reason or another had failed to trek out. His charges looked at him-the question unasked-why don’t we also move out? He was not in the AP force for glory –but then they too knew the answer –they had nowhere to go, they were here to defend the flag of the republic-tattered it was but still the flag. Always the flag.
“Musau!” He called out to his deputy “Make a tour of the town and give me a tally of any remaining people “
“Yes sir!”Musau dutifully answered.
“Make also a tally of all livestock and all other abandoned goods”
“Send scouts 400 metres away to be on the lookout and give us early warning”
“See that all the spare ammunition in the store are all in the Handakis and also see that everybody has been allocated his arc of responsibility in the “handaki”.
“Yes Sir ”
“Have my gun cleaned”
The “Handakis” are the fire trenches which provide a level of protection from flying bullets to the fighting soldier. Fighting from the trenches is normally the only option to the soldier who has the advantage of being in place or in military parlance-‘holding ground”. It is also the only option to the soldier who is inferior in numbers and outgunned. Shiundu was not worried about the IFU fighters routing them out. That was out of question; 9 patient soldiers holding ground are a formidable force and would require close to a hundred soldiers to oust them. The only hitch however was that he was immobile and apart from the chiefs office, he could not defend any other part of the town.
He also had no means of providing accurate and actionable intelligence to the DO as the only means of radio communication was dead. It also meant that the chances of his being reinforced or replenished with logistics were slim.
Let them come, he mused ,let them come with their fast driven “Technicals” with their heavy caliber machine guns, their drug crazed brute brains and unshaven beards, let them come-with their warped purist Islamic ideals let them come! He knew their normal pattern of attack. They would come in the early morning with maybe 5 or 6 of the technicals and swamp the village ,the mounted guns blazing away at nothing expecting any opposition just to wither away.
But he also knew how to counter this. His men would hold their fire in the trenches and wait until the fanatics were within the range of the G-3. And then he would give the order and then his G-3s would cough and splatter. A good G3 in your hand is indeed the best asset in the Handaki—a careful shot could sledgehammer a person right out of existence, in a wink, no pain, probably, if hit square. He knew the kind half baked recruits they were-would scatter and look for other easier targets.
But then he also knew that they were a formidable force. A force which is not tied down in defence has the advantage of speed, mobility and flexibility. Operating in small groups aboard the technicals also releases them from the bureaucracy of command –waiting for direction for the next move. The attackers also had the advantage of that precious commodity –time. They have the leisure of choosing a time most convenient to them.
But that did not dent Shiundu’s thinking, Let them come, he mused, Yes, Let them ransack any other towns But not his town, Not that of 42662 Corporal Elam Shitembete Shiundu-No sir!
It was idle to speculate, Corporal Shiundu took a long pull of his cigarette his hard face deeply lined, he looked and felt very old, and he sighed and ground the remaining inch of the cigarette butt thoroughly in the ground.
There was work to be done.