I’ve only been conned once. By an old man. An old senile man. Not 60s old, older, that guy was really really old. By the time I realized I was the sucker in the transaction, he was probably on his deathbed, dying of natural causes.
But when that old man was younger (or still old, but not as old), Kenyans fell for many hoaxes. To their defense, it was the Age BG-Before Google. Still, even in the Google Age, we are still made of suckers and gullibility. Suspect Everyone. This is a sequel to this previous list.
7. The Facebook Phishing/MPESA hoax
One of the most ingenious hoaxes/financial cons in recent years, this one takes the cake for how fool proof it can be if you are not skeptical. It works rather simply; a Facebook friend starts a random conversation, he or she then asks you to send money to someone for them-always KES 5, 000, repayable the next day as KES 8, 000/7, 000-because they are in a fix. The appeal for first, friendship, and second, greed, is the very ingenuity of this hoax. You have friends and you are greedy because you are a human being like the rest of us.
The phishing component is often the first phase. You receive a random link to vote for someone or something of the sought that takes you to a dummy Facebook page where you need to enter your email address and password again to access. A day or so later, you can’t access your profile, and suddenly your Facebook friends are calling you asking you whether your friend got the money. You try to change your password, but nein! The fraudsters add an extra password recovery email address to your profile and it’s a game of cat-and-mouse between the two of you, battling for control. The name of the MPESA account is always something common, like Tracy Kamau, Stacy Kamau, Janet Kamau. You will never get your money back.
6. The Medical Adverts
There was always a sense in the Kenyan ‘spirit’ of Harambee that skirted the thin line between altruism and survivor guilt. Pure concern for others, it would emerge in later years when the ‘spirit’ was banned, is easy to exploit especially in a country used to throwing money at problems. Every disaster or accident is immediately followed by a call to fundraise, and no questions are ever asked about why the system doesn’t work. News reports on almost anything sad, even the death of a cat (hasn’t happened yet but who knows) are followed by a Pay Bill number for the sad reader to restore some hope to humanity (or its endless greed).
The medical adverts con is easy, and the epitome happened only two months ago. Two men walked into local dailies and paid for a medical appeal advertisement for a Master Cavlin Wanzila. It later turned out that Wanzila is not really Wanzila, but Laren Galloway. Galloway has creepy but intriguing blue eyes, most likely caused by a genetic disorder called Waardenburg Syndrome. Now you know that, but when the photo was published in local dailies in August, not many did and the hoax worked. With a small investment of about KES 50, 000 and remarkable ingenuity, our confidence team of two men and a woman just sat back and watched the monies roll in from gullible well-wishers who seriously wanted to help.
Ruth, the woman in the story, had received at least Shs. 1.7 million by the time the trio was made.
#5 Fred Achieng’, or was he?
By the time the British justice system sentenced this guy to four years imprisonment for fraud and theft, he had left a trail of bruised egos and bad debts. His greatest ruse was that he was the playboy son of Saudi arms dealer Adan Khashoggi, Mohammed Khashoggi. He used his ‘father’s’ name to win over favors which mostly included free nights in presidential suites at five –star hotels, all over. His ruse even managed to make suckers out of successful businessmen like Allen Sheppard, the proprietor of the Grand Metropolitan Hotel Group in London.
He was a big spender and an astonishingly talented pianist. That latter attribute worked well for him, winning him many nights in five-star hotels. At some point, he was a cabaret artist in a prestigious hotel. At another, he was swindling everyone who had money at the coast. Using his best ruse and at other times claiming he was the son of a Permanent Secretary, Fred (or whatever his real name was) really had a blast in Nairobi, Mombasa and London. The lowly porter with a knack for the keyboard pushed it too far by targeting five-star hotels, but since there was no Google then, it took sometime before his huge bills got him made.
#4 The Miracle Babies
There has only been one true miracle baby and he was crucified on a cross. Or so the story goes. Unless you believe your pregnant daughter too when she swears she was fertilized by nature, and not by a young man you can blast with the shot gun you will buy for just that purpose. But Deya and his wife Eddah Odera had 12 of those, the miracle babies, not the shot guns, between 1999 and 2004. At 56, Eddah was post-menopausal and her body should have shut down that business of churning out babies like a Coca Cola bottling factory sometime in the decade before. But she claimed it hadn’t. The entire system was simply machine-gunning out babies like it was being paid to do so. The Lord, through her husband and prophet, Gilbert Deya, had seen it fit to bring forth a new football team in five years (there are some teams in the EPL that can attest to this never working).
It was total BS. DNA tests showed no genetic link between the dozen children and their bewildered post-menopausal mother. No one seems to have thought of claiming that the foreign DNA was God’s. Wait, if we are theists, all DNA should be His, right? Logistics, logistics, you would think Nature or someone would make it easier. No one used the defense that maybe because a deity was simply making sperm out of thin air, maybe the DNA couldn’t match in the first place. One of the women who was jailed with Deya’s wife, Rose Kiserem, later confessed to the whole thing being a ruse to hide a child-trafficking ring. It was a face-saving confession, and it only came after Deya refused to ‘apologize to her.’ Wait, shouldn’t he be apologizing to all those womenwho lost their kids?
3. Kamlesh Pattni
Of course the Brother Paul had to be here. The story of Goldenberg is old, and tired, and Pattni is still rich, but it still needs to be told. In the early 1990s, the not-so-bright Kenyan government sought to mitigate the economic crisis it had created the decade before by encouraging exports. Local businesses were given an incentive that included a payback of every $20 for every $100 of products exported. Simple, yes, but there was no system of verifying volume, the entire process relied on the paper trail.
Pattni, young and ambitious, quickly opened a company and started exporting nonexistent gold to get the bonus. There was only one tiny gold mine in Kenya at the time, in Kakamega. The actual gold that was ever exported was first smuggled in Kenya from Congo and then forwarded to get the government bonus. He roped in the suckers and collaborators throughout the system; more later when he was almost caught and instead conviniently started his own bank, Exchange Bank Limited which made his system foolproof. Instead of the usual 20%, Pattni earned 35 percent for his gold and diamonds exports.
By the end of the mess, Kenya’s public coffers were $600 million short, and through a commission of inquiry and some lethargic prosecutions, Goldenberg would become a tattered rag of a story, and Pattni would become Paul, Brother Paul. Rich and blessed by God, a greedy system, an obnoxious judiciary, and apathetic at-least-he-did-not-steal-from-my-house taxpayers.
2. The Man who milked an Elephant
Unlike Brother Paul who seems to have emerged from his elephant-milking unscathed save for a bad reputation, Peter Baraza had the injuries but no milk. In a story headlined ‘Meet the man who milked an elephant‘ that appeared in a local daily in 1998, the 21-year old Kenyan farmer claimed that he had milked an elephant as she grazed with her calf. The irate mother, after letting him milk her a bit, then turned on him and gave him a proper ass-whoopin’! But it didn’t smash him or cause very extensive injuries-he had a dislocated shoulder, ‘other internal injuries’ and the shock of surviving with such an awesome story.
So, why didn’t he, like Nyaumbe (the man who bit and beat a python) make it to Badass of the Week. Because it was a hoax. One that everyone, including papers such as LA Times, went ahead and re-published. That article raises a poignant question about the original report that appeared in the Daily Nation, why Baraza, other than the reason that he just felt like doing it, had tried to milk the elephant.
The story was also insensitive to the elephant- it implied that she had only knocked him out when she realized that he was milking her, which was like a minute later (like her boobs are that numb, but who knows). This is an aside, but does anyone know whether elephants have nipples? If they do, they must be big. Baraza-crushing big. They are probably the ones that knocked him out. What search terms do I even enter into Google for this without looking like am researching for a fete of wildlife intercourse, pun intended?
But there was a major problem. The real Peter Baraza from Nyahururu had no injuries and had made no such claim. He, like the rest of us mere mortals, feared elephants for their sheer size and their ability to make a smudge out of our entire lives. Someone had made up the story, and when Baraza was done with Nation Media Group in a defamation case, he was KES 2 million richer. This time, he had milked an elephant for real, just not in the forest.
1. Eric Awori
They say you should never marry someone until you’ve watched them drive in reverse.
Image from www.getahead.rediff.com
Awori’s con was simple. Sometime in 1985, he made the ballsy claim that he had driven a car in reverse from Mombasa, through Nairobi, to Rongai (the Nakuru one, it’s further than the landlocked country past Lang’ata. You need a Christopher Columbus for this one) and then back to the capital city. Simple, right? Until you re-read the first sentence in this paragraph and notice the words ‘in reverse’!
Parallel parking an automatic car is hard enough as it is (someone said it would can be used to sort out who to sacrifice to the zombies first, I think that can work) but we have a guy here who swore by the gods of Motor oil that he had put his manual shift in reverse and driven about 650km (on bad roads, by the way) without his head getting permanently sore from looking at his driver’s mirror and without a single accident. There was no mention of a navigator, although that would have been confusing. It’s like when you are trying to direct your wife out the parking lot, and you tell her to turn the wheels to her left, and then she asks whether it is your left or hers, and then you sit and cry? Or one of those times when you have to do the writing motion to remind yourself which one is your right upper limb?
Awori claimed the world record was then held by Gerald Hoagland, and in the celebrity shenanigans that followed the king of reverse in Kenya, he even got a new Toyota Corolla from Westlands Motors. True, a Gerald Hoagland had driven 102 km in reverse “Fortunately for Hoagland and motorists in general, the event took place on a special track.” Because driving in reverse is disorienting and bound to get messy.
But he wasn’t done. He announced he was going from the city to Mombasa driving a 7-tonne lorry. In reverse! Clearly, all these reversing was growing the ballsiness of our antagonist here. The even crazier part? Car companies fell for it! The very people who sold such machines fell smack into the con! DT Dobie (you would think, you would think.) donated fuel, and a Mercedes-Benz lorry for Awori to guide with his back-of the head eyes all the way to the Kenyan coast. Car companies, mainstream newspapers (I see you, Daily Nation), and just about everyone else.
Of course he won! …and a ‘John Miller’, a supposed Guinness Book of World Records adjudicator, sent a telegram confirming that Awori had smashed a record. In reverse. He was putting Kenya on the reverse map and local dailies were buying the story like sponges. Once you win over everyone at home, the next step is New Zealand, right? Awori knew that, and according to his telexes, that was his next step, Auckland, for the “620-km Kiwi Auto Reverse Rally. ”He took the hoax too far by ‘winning’ that world championship too far, and before long, his Kenyan assembled bubble burst. When the cops caught up with him after the New Zealand High Commission called BS on the win, all the reversing that Awori had been doing was his swivel chair in an office in Mama Ngina Street as he shuttled between the telex machine and the coffee pot, periodically breaking into maniacal laughs while patting himself on the back.
No mention on whether he was jailed but if he was, you can be sure someone in prison made him drive. In Reverse. If you catch my drift…