All hail the chief
There are few times when I can accept media content as being the truth; yesterday happened to be one such day.
The Sunday Standard’s account of the life and times of General Lazaro Sumbeiywo was the closest I have come to an accurate human interest story.
I say this not to discount other great tales told by our rather robust media; I only tell this bit because of the little I know of the man that is authenticated by the said media piece.
Sumbeiywo and I happen to be neighbours back in the village; some 500 or so metres is all that divides us.
The one and only time I had a one-on-one encounter with General Sumbeiywo was when, as a trusted herdsboy of my granny’s, I accompanied her to meet Sumbeiywo’s farm manager.
She had a few cows I looked after in my free time from primary school.
Some transporter she and other small-scale farmers in the area relied on had become a nuisance; Sumbeiywo had been ferrying his own milk to the then vibrant KCC on his own, so such little players as my granny were wondering if he could take their milk too.
I’m not sure I knew the procedure, but I think she had brought me along because I knew how to count, read and write (three things she needed but remains clueless in to date).
Sumbeiywo’s farm assistant was all positive and for as long as the deal lasted, I do not recall my family or any of the others clashing with the general over milk transportation (though the service no longer runs).
On our way out from the manager’s, we met Sumbeiywo walking around on his farm; he was checking on his livestock as well as how his staff were carrying out their chores.
For an army man (and presumably with many enemies), entry into his compound had been and remains relatively easy.
We had some little chat (apparently he knew all his neighbours…not unexpected given his military intelligence background); we also had some tea at his place.
I saw little of him thereafter as I moved away from herding livestock to high school then campus, but would – during some holidays – often see military trucks driving in and out of his compound during festive seasons; obviously the soldiers were having a ball with one of their own.
All in all, two things endeared me towards Sumbeiywo during that time going forward.
The first was his sense of social responsibility in an area perrenially plagued with land and poverty questions; of all the major land-owners in my home district, I have found fewer individuals with a keener sense of such responsibility, even some sort of justice.
I have witnessed him dabble with ideas of a youth polytechnic, a high school and even a Church (where some of my friends and relatives actively fellowship to date).
With some insightful planning and foresight, I still see him continuing to exert a positive influence on local residents in the days to come (I possibly can’t say such of others in his league in the area in question).
Obviously questions persist as to how he and other senior figures from the Moi era acquired so much land among neighbours with so little, but I have no doubt in my mind he still commands our (the residents) respect.
Last week, some of my friends in the village – reportedly with his guidance – left for Southern Sudan to explore opportunities for eking a living in the emerging economy, what with increasingly tough times in our home area.
Listening to them, I had no doubt in my mind that in Sumbeiywo they had found someone who was more than a friend (my Sudanese buddies equally hold him in high esteem).
The second has to do with what many locals see as his decency and dignity in an area that is sometimes frayed with politically high-voltage ethnic sentiments; that he has been able to cut this image where others from his community (with probably the benefit of the same connections he has had) have failed is quite commendable.
At a personal level, I cannot fault him for how he has sought to live out his faith and convictions in a very trying age.
My first personal encounter with a military person occured in the early 1980s.
Some orphan boy my parents took care of in a remote part of this country managed to succeed in his school work and join the military.
For all his brilliance and success at work (he rose high quite fast), however, nothing could keep him away from women and wine; so he was among the first persons I later learnt had made our military’s sad statistics for HIV / Aids.
I miss him for he was something of an elder brother to me.