“It is our culture as Africans when you visit a friend you should appreciate them for their friendship or what they have done for you,”
It is hot and bustling in Kibera as cart pushers with pineapples and coconuts crisscross crowded streets, touts shout their wares, matatus hoot and there’s general genial chaos.
My mission is to find lawyer Shadrack Wambui who is paid his fees by the Rastafari Society of Kenya in peanuts, peanut butter, honey and akala, or sandals made with car tyres.
The society wants to legalise smoking bhang as a form of worship and Wambui makes their case in court.
I caught up with Wambui at the Kibera law courts and he explained that those fees are the most precious he has ever received.
“My heart melted with joy for I know appreciation is better than silver and gold. This act of gratitude from the Rastafari Society of Kenya is the highest pay I have received since I started practicing law for a living,” Wambui said in an interview.
As a lawyer representing the less privileged, he said he doesn’t get to choose what he is paid as his clients are marginalised.
“I did not have the option of choosing peanuts, peanut butter, honey and akala. My clients are a marginalised community with limited income as they face stigma and sometimes open rejection,” he said.
“Nobody wants to be associated with Rasta. The government has declared illegal what would be a multimillion industry for these groups. I just accept what they are capable of giving me or us the members of Sheria Mtaani.”
He said his Rata gift reminds him of the Bible story of the lady who contributed a penny, all she had.
“Quite frankly, I was taken aback as I recalled Jesus’ story of a lady who contributed just a penny.
This is not the first time Wambua has received fees and gifts from clients instead of cash.
“I recall a client sending Danstan Omari and me a bag of lemons in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. The client in Eldoret wanted to be sure we were well equipped to fight the virus and safeguard her interests.
In 2019, another client bought him a fine Italian suit and leather belt.
“He (the client) thought money was not enough to demonstrate his gratitude for the long hours I spent on my desk for his sake and his interests. This is a feeling you cannot buy with money,” Wambui says.
For the Rastafari society, he is determined to give them their day in court and at the very least let the judge and Kenyans learn about the society plus their culture.
Wambui also runs a non-governmental organisation called Sheria Mtaani.
The organisation which is based in his childhood home of Mathare slums is meant to assist those who are oppressed and are financially disadvantaged.
Wambui said he doesn’t discriminate but gives both rich and poor a chance after considering the facts and circumstances of their case.
Wambui pursued law because of his dislike for the injustices visited on the people of Mathare.
He recalled how police would often raid their homes and pour out his mother’s illicit liquor (chang’aa).
“My mother sold chang’aa. The police would pour out our source of livelihood, beat us up, treat us with contempt and yet again, extrajudicially kill our friends and loved ones. I have a very disturbing past but I am grateful I came to terms with it.”
He describes himself as a project of young lawyers who volunteered to partner with him in achieving his vision for Sheria Mtaani na Shadrack.
Though they have done some work in terms of fighting for justice for the less privileged, there is still much work to do.
“Be that as it may, we are just getting started. We have about half a century to do what we have done in three years. Isn’t God great? Alhamdhulilahi,” he added.
After the interview with Wambui, we immediately arranged for an interview with his clients.
And after waiting for about 10 minutes at the Kibera law courts, we saw a tall guy with a turban approaching. He was wearing a kitenge mask.
He is prophet Wambua Mwenda. We exchange pleasantries and he walks us to their office in Kibera.
At the office which is a tiny space, we meet his fellow Rastafrian Ras Lujoron Jaden and two others.
They humbly offer me a seat. Immediately my eyes are glued to the big music speakers in the tiny room, the huge portrait of Haile Selassie hanging on the wall and many drums.
Prophet Wambua explains the gift they offered to their friend and lawyer Wambui.
Their decision to gift the lawyer is meant to show their appreciation.
“It is our culture as Africans when you visit a friend you should appreciate them for their friendship or what they have done for you,” he said.
“Money is not everything. Pesa naweza nikupe elfu kumi ziishe lakini zawadi ndogo inaweza dumu (one can even give somebody Sh10,000 and it may not last but a small token of appreciation ends up lasting).”
The pair of Akala shoes they presented to their lawyer was made by members of the society.
“We make these shoes ourselves and we do sell them but also give them out as gifts,” he added.
Ras Lujoron interjected and explained that part of the money they get from selling shoes goes towards environmental conservation.
As for the honey which they gifted their lawyer, he says it represents the sweetness of the world.
“We prefer honey over sugar and it symbolises the sweetness of the world. Every time you lick it you feel good,” Ras Lujoron said.