Stealing from any person of Indian descent may not be a crime, according to some well-known traditions of Kenya. This is the fate which many Indians in Nairobi have to endure because while stealing is generally evil (except when done from or by the government), no one feels guilty when they steal from a ‘Muhindi’ and even the police to not consider it a crime.
This unwritten rule in Nairobi has made life extremely difficult for people of Indian descent doing business in Nairobi because they are on their own, and almost all their employees are always actively stealing from them.
The Old Normal
Take the case of Mutiso, a 46 year old man who has worked in a stationery shop owned by a Muhindi for the last 25 years. Despite earning a fixed wage of KShs 200 per day, Mutiso has never complained about the little wage and has never had a side hustle. He is not even interested in finding another job. Instead, Mutiso now has a three bed-roomed house in Kitengela and his children are in the best schools around. It does not take a rocket scientist to know how Mutiso makes his money.
Some of the people we interviewed argued that stealing from a Muhindi is very necessary and is a form of checks and balance because the Muhindi will slap you, make you (accountant) fetch water, and pay you nothing. “To retain your mental health in one piece, you just have to create a parallel income from the Muhindi and you will be happy forever.”
Although it started during the colonial times when stealing from anybody associated from the colonial government was not morally wrong, it did not come to an and end with independence. The Indians were associated with the government because it was the British who brought them to Kenya to build the railway line, and since then they have borne the sins of the colonial government.
Most of the Indians who have lived in Kenya long enough know about this rule and have the necessary precautions to reduce the steal. However, new ones who come to Kenya and settle down learn this the hard way. Many never learn.
When Rajveer recently emigrated from Punjab to Parklands, he hired a local driver to be taking his kids to school. The distance from home to school was only 12 km but the van would be out of fuel after the round trip, although it was always full tank in the morning.
When Rajveer questioned the driver, the driver explained to him that taking children to school consumes a lot of fuel in Kenya because the Kenyan curriculum is quite heavy. Rajveer consulted with other Indian families in Nairobi and they all agreed that the Kenyan curriculum is a little heavy, hence the reason why the van consumes a full tank. They had also experienced the same.
Luckily, Rajveer works at a top technology firm in Nairobi where he is paid six times more than his fellow Africans in the same position, hence he can afford a full tank every day.
Why does the government turn a blind eye to this crime? Because it does not affect the government. Indian communities have pressured the government to intervene but they are just a small minority and they don’t even vote.
Nobody is going to stop the steal.