Thursday, November 30, 2017

Amateurs!

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.
It's an old joke but in it is a lesson that we all eventually come to learn, some the hard way and some not so hard. There are many young people who watch the effortlessness with which TV characters solve problems and achieve their wildest dreams, from attractive spouses to unimaginable riches , and who delude themselves that it is possible to simply come into the skills witnessed on TV without hard work. Practice is something they stopped doing when they finished secondary school because, as I have been reassured by many, "degree ni mchango".

I may never find out what motivated university students to hatch a plan to rob a bank and I will not subscribe to the self-serving cop-out by one of the thieves' father that his son robbed the bank because society has normalised theft. I, however, have an explanation of why the thieves were caught: this is not what they did for a living. They were mere amateurs, unpracticed in bank robberies and getting away with the crime.

It is only normal for "right-thinking" Kenyans to have a dim view of the "criminal underclass".  After all, they have rejected the norms of honest living, hard work and communal trust for the high risk, high reward world of crime. Every day amateur criminals are arraigned before magistrates, having tripped up on their way to cashing in on their ill-gotten gains. A basic truth often escapes them: to successfully live a life paid for by the proceeds of crime, practice makes perfect.

It matters not whether the crime is bank robbery, purse-snatching, chicken theft or fraud - practice, practice, practice and you will make it to the Carnegie Hall of a successful life of crime. Our intrepid bank robbers came up with a caper that captured the imagination, an echo of successful TV bank robberies involving tunnels and unsuspecting coppers. It turns out that this was the easy part. The hard part was getting away with the crime; fifty million shillings might be a piddly sum for many successful fraudsters in Kenya, but for young university boys, it is a headache that almost always develops into an unmanageable migraine. It is probably only after they had the money at hand that it occurred to them that disappearing fifty million shillings is not easy. This is where the "practice" part would have come in handy.

Knowing who to deal with when "washing" fifty million is not information that is offered on street corners and dimly lit bars. Only the known members of the criminal underclass have access to this kind of information and you only become a member of the criminal underclass by having proven yourself time and again by doing what criminals do: rob, cheat, steal. It would help that you have been a guest of the Government on at least one occasion to build up your rep as a proper criminal. We all now, but cannot prove, that there is a vast network that is capable of turning fifty stolen millions into untraceable assets and the only people who have access to it do not include ambitious university students with a plan.

Of course, a simple question should have occurred to them to ask: why had no one before them pulled off such a caper? They were not the first ones to have come up with the brilliant idea of tunnelling into a bank vault in Kenya. There is a reason why in Kenya the preferred mode of taking banks' monies almost always were either inside jobs involving bank tellers and their managers or violent assaults on cash-in-transit convoys that almost never ended in death or bloodshed. Kenya's criminals are not fools: the one-third of the national budget that goes missing every year should tell you that it is not to be trifled with. So there is a reason why banks haven't had their safes tunnelled into from the outside. That they probably didn't ask this question almost guarantees that they will be convicted and sent to prison. Amateurs!

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