Anatomy of a theft: How a hardworking, honest Kenyan was unwittingly robbed

Anatomy of a theft III: Aiming the arrow at the soft target
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Two groups of people make ugly sums of money by employing small-time mental tricks, without breaking a sweat. One group is the tenderprenuers and the other, land dealers.

To rob big money from an unsuspecting Kenyan, you merely need to dangle the carrot of land. There’s an inexplicable affinity with land that smirks of either a curse or a disease. Or perhaps, it is a primeval connection with our final destination, the soil.

The naively trusting, the willing, the greedy (or is it needy) are easy prey to these prowling devourers, who sniff these ingredients from a mile and swoop like vultures massing for a fallen carcass.

This coincidental twist of circumstances found me, a trusting, honest doctor in the middle of a scam four years ago.

The vulnerability

A dashing doctor, relatively successful, in need of land to build a townhome. I met this old man, in his 70s, smart and always in a tie, driving perhaps the cleanest landrover in town. The 1970 machines, whose few remnants look like carts and croak like frogs, but are as hard as steel.

Once I knew he dealt with land, I quickly developed a rapport with him. I realized he was the chairman of his local church- just in the outskirts of the town.

“In case you hear of a good piece of land on sale, let me know,” I told him amid sips of well-brewed tea.

“What price are we looking at?” He asked. He sounded experienced in these matters.

“Anything between 1.5 to 2 million,” I answered.

“I will get you the best deal in town, and you will remember me and thank me for the rest of your life.”

The last statement proved prescient, for I got the best deal, which became the worst, and I bet I will never forget him all my life.

Within a week, he called me, sounding jovial.

The naive trusting

And just like she came, she vanished, with a wide smile and a stealthy gait that betrayed no ill, the kind that only experienced swindlers do.

The piece of land was a jewel. Flat, fertile, hugging the tarmac. It measured half an acre. In my mental calculation, the dream bungalow would sit on the far right corner, the majestic garden would occupy pride of place in the front yard, and a driveway lined with bougainvillea and roses would emerge from the tarmac to the garage.

We conducted a search in the ministry of lands, and it returned a clean bill of health. The parcel belonged to a 40-year-old lady who worked far away and was looking to dispose it so she could expand her business.

Heck, we even did due diligence and visited the area chief with the id card of the owner. Yes, he confirmed that she was the owner. In fact, she was the daughter of a long-time friend of his. We were literally flying- the broker and myself.

Whenever excited, the body switches off all warning systems and concentrates all effort on the moment. In medicine, we call it the dopamine bliss- dopamine in the brain surges and creates a feel-good effect.

I should have sounded the first alarm when the lady called and begged that the money shouldn’t be deposited in a bank. Ostensibly, she owed the bank huge loans and didn’t want them to deduct from the sale of the land.

At the lawyer’s reception, we exchanged niceties and discussed land deals like old friends. We were joined by two other men, also brokers. I later learnt that brokerage is a long chain, and is as strong as the weakest link.

The old man, I later learnt, had been informed about the land by one of the men. Bad luck happens in good coincidences- this man was my barber way before I joined the university when the price of a good shave was Kshs 10. He remembered me clearly and was elated.

This barber posed as the brother to the land seller. They seemed to be loving siblings, what with the banter they exchanged.

“Siz, I told you to dismantle that small house in that land,” he said.

“I have been too busy, you know,” she replied.

“You seem to be leaving this town for good.”

“No, this is home.”

This conversation would have convinced even the most suspicious that these two were brother and sister. They mentioned the names of neighbours, laughed, gave high-fives and shared jokes.

What a naive way to confirm if the name on the id card was hers: I sent 10 shillings on MPESA, and when it returned her name, I was satisfied.

My bag was bulging with money- more money than I had carried in my life. I had withdrawn 1.2 million shillings from my account. We had settled on a price of 1.5 million. I would give the balance to the main broker, the old man when the title had been processed to my name.

A twinge of fear cut across my heart, but I could not cross what exactly was wrong.

As is wont with lawyers, we signed several copies of the agreement, affixed our thumbprints and exchanged copies of pins, identity cards, and passport-size photos.

She didn’t confirm the cash. She said that I looked honest, and she was right.

She handed the three brokers one hundred thousand shillings and gave the old man an account where he would deposit the balance of three hundred thousand once I paid.

And just like she came, she vanished, with a wide smile and a stealthy gait that betrayed no ill, the kind that only experienced swindlers do.

Later that evening, I got what should have been the third warning. She called me thrice, asking how I was faring, and where I was. I didn’t question the motive, neither did it cross my mind to do so. From 8 p.m. her phone died, a permanent death.

It was a bright Wednesday morning the following day, just as I stooped to examine the abdomen of a patient in the hospital, when I received incessant calls from the lawyer’s secretary. She sounded frantic and asked that we meet at the police station.  A twinge of fear cut across my heart, but I could not cross what exactly was wrong.

Little did I know that I was now swimming in unfamiliar waters.


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