At dawn, when the air was still cool and the dry-season sun had yet to broach the horizon and blast the land, the elephant fell. Kiptoo Kiplanat, who protected the sleeping, emaciated goats from tribal raids, had seen it passing in the distance and called the men to the hunt. The elephant had run when the first arrows pierced its skin that evening, and the hunters needed all of their cunning and speed to keep pace. The young men chased it over the uneven rocks of the parched riverbed while the others attacked it from both banks. On open land the bravest sprinted ahead to slash the beast's flank with their panga knives.
With time the blood ran free from a thousand wounds, and the elephant slowed. The hunters slowed too and kept a distance, wary of a final struggle. The elephant no longer stepped but dragged its feet forward, and it stumbled. It only found its balance when it stopped, and three hunters threw and stuck their spears into the beast's backside. The elephant made to surge, but its strength had drained down its legs and soaked into the earth and dust. One of its great tusks broke when it fell. When the elephant rolled, its sides heaving, a cry of celebration went up amongst the band of hunters.
A boy climbed atop the elephant. Lomurion Kakwa, who had traveled as far as Nairobi, had advised against the chase. He had not believed they could bring the creature down, the first to cross onto their tribal lands in a lifetime. He had said only men from the cities with enormous guns and trucks could kill an elephant. He had said the men would only waste their energy and lose their arrows. Now the boy danced wild steps in pride and in anticipation of his first meat in weeks.
“Kopus,” his father called him. “Bring your mother and sisters and all the women. There is work to do.”
Kopus Lomada jumped down. He had carried neither panga knife nor spear nor bow during the hunt. He was young and only ran to learn to kill. Some had worried he was too young and would tire, but Kopus had not fallen behind. Now he had an important task while the hunters prepared for the butchery.
“The elephant has fallen,” he sang when he ran through the village. “Bring sufuria pots. There is work to do.”
Kopus had only time for a single swallow of gritty water before all the women were prepared. With the entire village following, he ran again. It was still early. The sun had not yet been in the sky more than two hours, but the heat was already punishing. Kopus' legs burned from the chase that night and the run that morning, but he did not stop or slow. There was work to do.
An hour from the kill Kopus' foot slid against a loose stone. He threw up his arms to protect his face as he skidded against the rough ground. When he finally stopped, Kopus had to breathe deeply before he could stand and wipe the blood from his eyes.
“Just tell us the way,” Kopus' mother said when his first steps were made delicately. “We will run ahead.”
There was a road nearby, two weaving gouges in the infertile soil from the rare truck. They could follow it. It was longer than cross country but passed near the kill, and they would see the elephant's bulk.
“No.” Kopus spit the dirt from his mouth. “Follow me.”
It hurt, but he sprinted ahead until only the strongest and fastest women could stay with him. The others followed by the clouds of dust the leaders left behind.
When Kopus and the first women arrived, the sides of the elephant still rose and fell but only in trembles, no longer great heaves. Slabs of meat drawn from the legs lay in careful piles. The women ululated in joy and offered water to the thirsty butchers. The women built fires as Kopus brought branches broken from the scattered, dead scrub. Kopus worried as the elephant's blood pooled on to the ground, wasted and not collected to mix with ugali, but his mother assured Kopus he would not be hungry for it when all the meat was cooked. With this meat he would not be hungry again until the rains returned, she said.
When the sun was at its peak, Kopus' father called a break in the butchery. Women made covers from their kangas and sat underneath them with their husbands and sons. The girls collected the finished meat and offered it first to the men who had brought the elephant down and then to the women who cooked it before coming to the children.
Waiting for his piece, fat and juices dripping from cracks in the charred flesh, Kopus heard the distant sound of a low rumble. He climbed on top of the elephant and saw the brilliant glare off metal and glass approaching on the road. A truck. He rushed off and to the side of the road to see it close when it passed. It was not long before the others heard and joined him.
The truck stopped before the crowd, and a woman came out, followed by the government-appointed district chief. Kopus never saw the district chief more than twice a year as he rarely left his stone home in the market town, but Kopus' attention was only for the woman. She was the first mzungu woman that Kopus had ever seen. Against the pale of her skin, he could have seen the slightest mote of dirt if there had been any to see. There were no scars on her arms and no sores on her legs. She wore bright, clean clothes that no one had worn before her. She was like something from a story sung around the night fire.
Kopus' father tried to greet her, but she passed him without noticing his outstretched hand. The others pulled away to form a passage, and she walked through, straight to the elephant. She put her hands and forehead against an unbloodied patch. At her pressure the elephant gave a long, low moan, and a final tremor passed from its head through to its back. Its ears which had flapped weakly throughout the morning collapsed against the skull.
A tremor ran through the mzungu woman's body too. She woman spun and yelled words Kopus did not understand. She pulled free a panga knife left in the elephant's side and threw it into the ground so that it broke. The crack was not so loud as the heaving sobs that made her face ugly. The district chief rushed to her side, and Kopus heard him apologize again and again. The district chief guided her inside the truck and gave her a bottle of the clearest water Kopus had ever seen. Kopus' father came forward again, and the district chief shoved him away.
When the district chief carefully closed the truck door behind the woman he turned to face and yell at the people.
“Why did you kill this animal, you fools? This woman wanted to build us a new school, but now she is upset that you are eating this animal that she loves. Now she thinks you're savages! She thinks we don't deserve a school!”
The district chief grabbed the meat that Kopus' father still held and threw it to the dusty ground, kicked it.
“Get rid of this meat. Get rid of this animal. Bury it, and maybe the woman will forgive you. We will come back this evening, and I don't want to find any trace of it, or I'll hold you all responsible for this loss.”
The district chief stormed back into the truck and slammed the door so that everyone flinched. The truck moved away faster than even the elephant. Behind him Kopus heard the men and women scrape the sufuria pots against the ground to make a shallow grave for their meal.
His father called him to help, and Kopus ran. He ran between the truck's track, the dust still settling from when it passed, and cried the loudest curses he knew. Kopus ran until he collapsed and then threw stones, wishing the mzungu woman and district chief had turned back.
The People's Party of Kenya, the ruling party, called the contested election and its aftermath spontaneous riots, a matter best managed by local police forces. The Kenyan Democratic Union, the opposition party, called it a civil war though they could identify no armies. The international press, unwilling to take a side, called it post-election violence and civil strife.
Kopus watched the international reports from a pub in Oxford.
“What's wrong with your country, John? How many times has this happened now? Four?” asked Natalie. She was a Jew from America and was studying for just the year at Oxford. She and his other friends in England called him John because he had never told them his given name. When his parents gave him to the Catholic sister so that there would be one less child to feed, she took him to the boarding school in Nairobi and gave him his new name. She said it would prevent conflict with the children from other tribes if their heritage was obscured. Kopus performed well at that school, and his teachers conspired to find him this scholarship. Kopus told them he would prefer the University of Nairobi, but they insisted Oxford provided the best outlet for his intelligence.
Kopus was taking a sip from his pint when Natalie posed the question, and he couldn't answer, but Bernard said, “These conflicts are the natural consequence of a colonial history. The British built no infrastructure and did not adequately prepare the people for independence because they were afraid Kenya could become a competitor. They wanted Kenya to be weak and hobbled it for generations.” Bernard was Kopus' friend from France, but he was black, not white, and an atheist.
“Of course I make no apologies for what my government did to the colonies, but we're making up for it now,” said James, Kopus' white friend from England. “I don't know any nation on this planet that is more generous in aid or that operates more NGO's in developing nations. You can't blame us now. We're doing everything we can, and things aren't getting better.”
“Then what would make it better?” asked Natalie. “If there's been these decades of aid and civil strife is still the result, what will work?”
She looked toward Kopus, but he remained silent. He had no idea. The reporter announced that there were mass migrations away from contested cities to tribal homelands. The people traveled cross country on foot because militias beheaded families that stopped at their highway checkpoints.
“Perhaps,” James said, “more extreme measures are necessary. If Kenya can't govern itself then someone else should.”
“That's so racist,” Natalie said and laughed.
“I'm completely serious,” James said. “The Kenyans don't trust a different tribe to rule the nation and treat them fairly, and why should they? The country is riddled with corruption. The powerful do whatever they want and fear no reprisal. Ordinary Kenyans deserve a leader who cannot be bribed and whom everyone trusts. They should officially ask a foreigner to act as prime minister. Just look at Hong Kong. It was governed by the English, not the Chinese, for over a century, and it prospered when mainland China struggled. It could be the same for Kenya”
“I don't believe you,” Natalie said and laughed again.
The conversation turned to sustainable development or gender issues or something. Kopus wasn't sure. The blood rushed in his ears, and he could hear nothing else. He liked them, Kopus told himself. He appreciated that James, Natalie and Bernard were willing to spend time with him. James had bought Kopus his first bourbon and Bernard introduced him to the films of Werner Herzog, things he would never have known in Kenya. Kopus held his pint glass tightly to keep his hands from shaking and didn't trust himself to speak until well after the report on Kenya was finished.
A month later, when a delegation from the United Nations brokered a power-sharing deal between the People's Party of Kenya and the Kenyan Democratic Union and regular commercial flights returned between his homeland and England, Kopus took a sabbatical from his studies and flew home.
“Kopus!” the Chinese mine director cried, running into his office. “There is a mob outside. They have knives and bows and arrows, and our workers are preparing to meet them in kind.”
“Of course they are,” Kopus cursed. “They can never let a good thing happen.”
He threw the stack of production reports he had been studying against the table and strode out of the office, the manager hurrying to keep pace. In negotiating the rights to mine the gold vein on his tribal lands, Kopus had made his position as assistant manager contingent to the deal. The Chinese had willingly agreed when the riots at their Zambian mines had received international attention. They had intended to only keep Kopus available for the press, but the mine director had come to rely on him in handling all communications with the local workers until the mine became one of the most productive in Africa.
At the entrance to the office building, two Chinese guards had their shotguns drawn but aimed only at the ground in front of them, wary of the crowd of workers who stood between them and the approaching mob. The mine workers and Kopus' tribesmen were armed with hammers and any mining tool with an edge that could be carried by hand, and they pushed against the fence, jeering at the tribe outside.
The blood was rushing in Kopus' ears. It drowned out the insults called by his people and returned by those outside. Kopus jerked away the shotgun from the nearest Chinese guard and pushed his the crowd until he reached the fence. The Chinese mine director and guards stayed near the office building and kept the door open.
Kopus shot a shell into the air. Hammers and spears were turned toward him.
“Sit down,” Kopus yelled in their language. He shot again, and they sat.
“What are you doing, you fools?” His blood pounded. Kopus felt it in his arms and legs. It made him feel strong. “Do you know what they say about us in the West? They say we are savages, that we are not fit to govern ourselves. They call us goats and imagine themselves as our goatherds. I didn't believe them. I came here to show them that we need no one, that we need no one. This mine was the beginning. Now we have paved roads and jobs. We dug sinkholes and have water. We have electricity and stone homes. We are growing stronger, but you want to prove the West right.” Kopus glared at the tribe outside the fence. “You cannot stand the possibility that we could profit and better our condition because we once stole your goats. You decide that it is better that none of us have anything. You hold our nation and our people back, not the West. Let something good happen to us. Leave.”
Kopus spit and walked back to the offices. The Chinese manager directed the workers back to the mine. Much of the intruding tribe remained, and the men on the edges drifted away.
The next day the Chinese mine manager brought with a man some years younger than Kopus, little more than a boy, in a stained and torn shirt to Kopus' office.
“This boy has sat outside our gate since yesterday. He refuses to leave until he has spoken with you,” the Chinese mine manager said.
Kopus remained in his seat and only looked at the man. He said nothing. The man looked to the Chinese mine manager who did not look back at him.
“My name is Joseph, sir,” the man finally said to Kopus.
“What do you want?” Kopus asked when Joseph paused.
“Forgive me, sir, for saying this, sir, but you do not understand us. Sir, we are glad the mine is here. We travel on the roads and use the electricity as well as you, sir, and our lives are better for them, but it is not all better, sir. We have no sinkholes for water, and the mine takes all the water in the river since the rains returned. Our goats have nothing to drink, and they are dying. The smoke from your refinery settles on our maize fields, and kills them dead, sir. Without our goats and crops, we have nothing. Sir, we need your help.”
Kopus looked toward the Chinese mine manager and asked him, “This mine is the greatest in Africa, yes? In the coming months we will dig new shafts and will need new men for them, yes?”
The Chinese mine manager nodded.
“Then I would like all of those new men to come from this tribe. If their goats and maize die then they will have jobs with us and buy their food. They will work in crews alongside our workers now, and they will be foremen as well. Together they will be the foundation for the new Kenya and the new Africa.”
“Yes, sir,” the Chinese mine manager said.
Kopus stood before another crowd. They were armed with cameras and recording devices. He carried a pair of gold-plated scissors.
“When I cut this ribbon, it will signal the opening of our newest high-energy coal plant. It is the last needed to power Salama, Kenya's own technocity. Salama is the future of Kenya, East Africa and the entirety of Africa. Kenyan innovations will reach a fever pitch here where all the latest technologies for research and testing are brought together. It will create a community of developers and inventors that will only mean the best for our nation. It will rival Silicon Valley of the United States and Bangalore in India and allow Kenya to take its rightful place among the great nations of the international community. But what good are words? Let us show the world what we Kenyans are capable of.”
The assembled audience broke into wild applause and cheers. A team of engineers and technicians walked into the plant. It began to hum, and thick, black smoke poured from its towers. The cameras of the international press flashed. Video was captured from every conceivable angle, by official sources and by those who wanted evidence that they were there at the beginning of the new Africa.
Making his way through the crowd, Kopus was congratulated and thanked in every possible language. One accent caught his attention, and Kopus recognized James from Oxford. The crowd pressed tight against them, but in that brief time James elicited from Kopus a promise to see him that evening.
James was waiting in the lobby of the Grand Salama Hotel when Kopus arrived late from his interviews, and they went together to the hotel bar.
“Try this,” Kopus said and pushed a drink toward his old friend. “It is chang'aa.”
James took a careful sip. He immediately began to cough.
“Very,” James said with a chuckle and took a smaller sip.
“Not long ago you could only buy it from the gangs. A few years ago, though, entrepreneurs began to open chang'aa distilleries, and our people invested in them. Now Kenyan distilleries are famous throughout East Africa. It will not be long before you find chang'aa in Oxford and all quality European pubs.”
“I'm impressed,” James said, his eyes fixed on Kopus. “I've been in this country for nearly a decade now, and I've seen so much change in just this little time. Of course I heard the name Kopus Lomada and that he was behind much of it, but I never imagined it was you. I saw your picture in The Daily Nation this morning and still wouldn't believe it until I heard your voice today. Why did you always tell us your name was John?”
“What have you been doing here these last ten years?” Kopus asked.
“Working with non-profit organizations. I started with ClearEyes, which provided free eye exams and donated eyeglasses to children in Kibera, Mathare and the other slums, but that ended when you started to open those clinics and hospitals. There was the chance to move to a new ClearEyes center in Nicaragua, but I didn't want to leave. I just fell in love with Kenya. I cannot remember ever feeling so wanted or needed before in my life. I honestly have no idea why you ever wanted to leave to study in Oxford. Since ClearEyes left I've done some fundraising work with a few different environmental groups in the Central Highlands.” James took another sip of chang'aa and didn't cough.
“Kenya is a good country full of good people, yes,” Kopus agreed.
“I was in Nakuru before I came here. I was making much better time than I thought I would, so I passed through Kibera for old time's sake. I couldn't recognize the place. I had to ask someone to make sure it really was the same Kibera I worked in. It was clean. There were no dirt tracks anymore. It was all tarmac. The children all wore fresh, clean school uniforms. I felt completely safe. If I had my way, I would award you the Nobel Peace Prize for that alone. I didn't think anything could ever change it.”
“Thank you,” Kopus said. “It has been a long road, but we have done it. The transformation of Kibera began very simply. An American company opened a call center, the people had money and stability, the local economy grew with local entrepreneurs, and it just grew from there to the city you saw.”
James turned his glass of chang'aa a few times on its bottom edge against the bar.
“I'm sorry to tell you this, but this isn't entirely a personal visit,” he said. “The environmental non-profits I've been with asked me to speak to you in an official capacity. First, we want to extend our gracious congratulations to you in turning this nation around. We were afraid for the worst after the post-election violence, but it has been nothing but good news since then. Many of us were prepared to offer assistance when those storms tore apart the ports in Mombasa, but you managed the emergency response and rebuilding entirely yourselves, better even, perhaps, than we could have done.”
“Thank you,” Kopus said again.
“We have only a small request. Be careful with your growth. That coal plant you opened today was the twentieth already this year after eighty-three last year. We don't think you fully understand the impact they can have upon the environment and air quality. Along with all the mines and personal automobiles, you could be doing irreversible damage to the environment. Just look at the Trans-East African Highway. It cuts twice through the migration routes of wildebeests and zebras between Kenya and Tanzania, and your drivers have killed thousands of animals. They can't be replaced when they're gone. We don't want this to become another China.”
“You cannot be serious, my friend,” Kopus said. “That highway has been the source of so much good, not just here in Kenya but all East Africa. Safe, efficient roads have transformed our economies and allowed us to share our growth with our neighbors. I do not disagree with you that animals have died, but is it not worth it when measured against the increased quality of life for the millions of East Africans?”
“Please listen to me, Kopus. I'm not asking for just Kenya and East Africa. Other nations have seen your growth and want the same. You and Kenya are role models, and we want other countries to grow in a conscientious, sustainable way. Use sustainable technologies. Practice moderate, safe growth. If you do it, they will follow.”
Kopus carefully set his chang'aa glass down and stared full at James.
“Let us be plain with one another. What do you want from me? Want do you want from Kenya? Do you want us to close all of our coal plants and rely entirely on hydro and wind power? Do you want us to walk to Uganda and Tanzania?”
James didn't look away.
“Yes. Close down every plant that depends on non-renewable resources. Encourage public and foot transportation. Start from the beginning to assure a better life or any life at all for your children and grandchildren.”
Kopus did not look away either.
“I cannot do that. I will not do that. You would put us back decades and return Kenyans to the slums. Alternative power is not enough. We tapped all of them to the fullest decades ago, and they did not even our basic needs then. Coal power and the Trans-East-African Highway are our right. We Kenyans now enjoy basic luxuries like universal indoor plumbing and consistent electrical lighting, the same luxuries you have enjoyed for over a century. This is what we have spent the past years working for. We deserve meat at every meal. We deserve air conditioning and heating. We deserve our own cars. We have dreamed of them for decades, but now that we have them, you are telling me that we cannot keep them. We have the industry to compete with Europe, and you would still tell us what we can do, but we will not listen.”
Kopus walked away from the bar before James could say anything more.
“Kopus Lomada, also known as John Lomada?” the white man asked. There were six of them. There was the white man and another man just behind him on his left side, one man standing guard on either side of the room's only door, and another two men who had taken positions behind Kopus when he rose to greet them. They were all colors, but the white man had confirmed Kopus' identity. He had an English accent. It could only be deliberate. Kopus wanted to laugh, but he had only one part to play now, and he wanted to play it with dignity.
“Yes,” Kopus said.
“The International Criminal Court in The Hague has charged you with crimes against humanity for your continuing construction of coal-burning power plants and other acts of unsustainable growth in direct violation of the Shanghai Treaty. The Security Council of the United Nations has commissioned us to assure that you appear before the court, and we ask that you come with us peacefully.”
And that was it. Kopus had heard reports from Brussels and New York City intimating this action nearly a year ago, and he immediately had gone underground, no longer publicizing his upcoming appearances. He never doubted the reports' veracity. Since Kenya had entered the G-20 and forced out Italy, the casual talk in the West of a Nobel Peace Prize for Kopus had ended and serious talk of the Ascendant Africa and its attendant economic and environmental threats began. When the definition of crimes against humanity were expanded to include environmental destruction as the extermination of future generations, Kopus knew he had little time remaining. He began meeting in secret with elected and military leaders throughout Africa. Kopus had spent the last months in close talks with the prime minister of Morocco and president of Egypt to lay the last pieces. When the African Union announced Kopus as the unanimous choice for President of the Pan-African Parliament, the plan was well in motion. The only action remaining was to fly to South Africa and await his fate. Kopus' location would be publicly known. The West would arrest him, but it was done. There was nothing the West could do now.
“Of course,” Kopus said. “If the Security Council wills it, I am their servant.” Before he left with his captors, he said to his single assistant, “Please give my apologies to the parliament. I am sure they will understand my absence.”
Walking in the center of the team of six men through the halls, Kopus imagined his assistant speaking before the assembly and explaining his arrest. The leaders would inform the appropriate people, and the next step would be made. The African Union military forces sent to quell the manufactured riots in Morocco and Egypt would turn against Europe. By the end of the week, bombing runs against the continent's major military centers would be complete and the invading armies would have established bases of operations in Spain and Italy. Kopus could not imagine a credible European response to the organized African force.
He was not sure of his own fate. Perhaps his captors would execute him when the invasion began. Perhaps they would hold him as a bargaining chip for peace negotiations. Maybe bombs from African fighters would destroy wherever he was held. It didn't matter to Kopus. Europe would know that Africa was for Africans, that they had the same right to meat and clean water as them.
Outside and pushed into a massive, black sport-utility vehicle, Kopus thought he could hear applause from inside the parliament. He wanted to dance with all the pride he had atop the elephant all those years ago but contented himself with a smile.
2 years ago