The townsfolk at Marsabit were, on the whole, very friendly people, but there are black sheep in every community; one event that stands out vividly in my mind is the attempt of our local butcher’s brother to ‘get rid of me’. The reason? Well, during the DC’s absence on safari one evening, and at a time when there was no European District Officer stationed at Marsabit, I handled, as you will have already read, many of the jobs which would otherwise have come under his portfolio.
It so happened that when Victor Fernandes and I were returning home from our usual evening walk, we were approached by his Meru cook/houseboy who told us that a local Somali by the name of ‘Dalab’ (a notorious criminal), had broken into Victor’s house and attempted to steal a bottle of gin (having drunk some of it himself). Dalab was a Muslim and as such not allowed to consume alcohol. The taking of liquor is strictly prohibited among this sect. Dalab had, however, travelled out of the district, lived in Nairobi and other Kenya stations for a long time, and had naturally been ‘contaminated’. His family were well aware of this and had fact disowned him. He had brought much shame on them previously. Victor’s cook seemed quite frightened when relating the sequence of events to us.
In the absence of the DC, I felt it was my duty to see that the culprit was caught and apprehended. I was told that Dalab had escaped in the direction of the Kenya Police staff quarters: We quickly ran in that direction; and on arrival found that there were quite a few policemen gathered in the compound. Some were engaged in a loud conversation which sounded more like an argument. I asked to see the Sgt.—Major i/c., a stocky and likeable Nubian (from the Sudan). In no time at all, Sgt.-Major Ibrahim had appeared, and in his customary well—disciplined manner, saluted me smartly with the words, “Ndio Effendi” (Yes, Sir). I explained the crime that had just been reported to me, and asked that the culprit be arrested and locked up for the night in the main prison and not in a police cell. He seemed to sense that there was some reluctance on the part of the Somali policemen (who belonged to the same tribe as Dalab) to carry out my order, and immediately ordered a Nandi constable to arrest Dalab; the whole operation was completed very quickly. There were a few murmurs from the crowd which by now had grown enormously — but that was about all. Meanwhile I made my way to the prison gates to warn the Corporal i/c to expect trouble. The Corporal was a stout headed Kikuyu(Wainaina s/o Keriba) who knew Dalab well from previous encounters. A long procession of men (mostly Somali) followed the arrested man as he was being led under escort from the Kenya police lines to the prison. At this stage, I was already in the prison compound talking to the Corporal and the two Meru warders. When Dalab was led through the prison gates, he was furious at seeing me there. I could also sense that he had consumed a fair amount of alcohol. He tried to tear himself from the policemen who were restraining him; eventually, he managed to throw himself to the ground, and while I attempted to control him while he was being handcuffed, he kept kicking his feet in the air in a rather violent fashion and managed to land one on my thigh, very narrowly missing my testicles! I immediately asked the prison Corporal to isolate Dalab from the rest of the prisoners, since I was not prepared for any disturbances in the prison itself, and also arranged for the prisoner to be given a meal for the night. Later that evening, I received a deputation at my house from the local Somali Chief, Yusuf Sugulle. I knew Yusuf well and he always respected me. I certainly didn’t want to fall out with him. The deputation had called to ask whether they could be allowed to take some of their own food for Dalab as they did not want him to be given the local African prison diet. Not wanting to hurt their feelings and since I did not want any further trouble, I readily agreed to their request.
Having acted in a manner I considered right at the time, I was rather surprised to receive a note from the European Works Supervisor that same evening. In it, he tried to explain that he had had a lot of experience with the Somalis in the past, and wondered whether the action I had taken in locking up one of their number during the DC’s absence, was the right course. I sent a polite note back telling him that I accepted full responsibility for my action, and would be making a detailed report to the DC. I am pleased to record here that when I did report the incident to the DC, Mr. Wild strongly endorsed my stand and even thanked me for the manner in which I had acted. I was immensely satisfied that the decision I had taken was the right one, even though I realized that some individuals must have been upset in the process. The accused (Dalab) was duly charged at a later date and released on bail while a record of his previousconvictions was obtained from Nairobi. It was during this term on bail that he attempted to strike me while I, in the company of my colleagues, was walking through the main township one evening. Fortunately, the local Somali Chief, Yusuf Sugulle and some of the Elders succeeded in restraining him. I received information later, through some of my Somali friends that Dalab’s motive was to capture and murder me. Several meetings were held with his henchmen, and a ‘secret’ plot was hatched. The intention was to ambush me during one of my daily walks through the township, and then get rid of me: Subsequent information I received suggested that there was disagreement among his aides. The majority were not in favour of carrying out this plot and did not want to be a party to it. There was even some talk of one of his men leaking the details of the plot to me. I was naturally upset with what had happened and all that I had heard too, especially since my relations with the Somalis in the town had always been very cordial. The following day, I immediately reported the incident to the DC, and when Dalab was eventually sentenced to nine months imprisonment with hard labour, “he was transferred to Nairobi prison. I was greatly relieved, but later heard that he had written to his friends and family telling them that as soon as he was released, he would make sure that I was ‘done’ .(I am pleased to say that such an opportunity never arose, since I had already left Marsabit for Kisii much before Dalab’s release from prison). I also got to hear that he had served more than the nine months in Nairobi.This was because he had assaulted a fellow prisoner while in gaol and lost all his remission in the process. I was not sorry!
This was the only unfortunate incident during my entire stay at Marsabit, but not one that has clouded the many happy memories of the place I still have. I should also mention that Dalab’s aged and greying father, a grand old man, called at my house one evening with a gift of a dozen eggs.
Why these, I thought especially since I was responsible for having his son imprisoned? The old man’s thoughts were quite different however. He had come to thank me for having his troublesome son locked away, and also to apologize over the plot to kill me — adding that he was no party to it. Knowing the man as I did, there was no reason to doubt what he was saying. After this unfortunate incident, life carried on as normal and I tried to put the whole episode behind. In any case, I was too young at the time to worry unduly over it. There was a feeling of great embarrassment and shame whenever I met some of my Somali friends, notably Chief Yusuf Sugulle and even some of the stock traders. I assured them that l held nothing against them and would continue the co-operation they had enjoyed in the past.