Issues News Personalities publishing

How publisher almost ruined dreams of two writers

Kinyanjui Kombani and Stanley Gazemba have a number of things in common. They are both writers who first put pen on paper at the turn of the century. They also landed on a one-man publisher, based in Nairobi, who upon seeing their evident potential, promised them heaven on earth.

Soon, each had a book out. Gazemba’s book The Stone Hills of Maragoli came out and promptly won the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature in 2003. Kombani’s debut novel The Last Villains of Molo, came out around 2004 to rave reviews in the media. This young writer, still a student at Kenyatta University had finally tackled the ogre of ethnic cleansing and election violence in Kenya.

Kinyanjui Kombani

As the two were basking the glow of adulation, they discovered, to their dismay, that copies of the books were not available in the market. Readers went to bookshops but couldn’t find the books. Meanwhile, the publisher was taking them round in circles.

They were almost on the verge of giving up on writing altogether, somehow they persevered and submitted manuscripts to different publishers, who thankfully published their books, mostly children’s stories.

Kwani? came to the rescue of Gazemba and re-issued Stone Hills, but I gather there were still issues. This however did not deter him, who has gone on to blossom with a number of titles to his name.

For Kombani, help came in the form of Betty Karanja, then working as publishing manager at Longhorn Publishers. Longhorn reissued the book and it is doing well in the market. Kombani, who combines writing and banking, has now found new home in Oxford University Press (OUP), where his books have gone on to win literary awards.

Stanley Gazemba

Betty is today the Publishing Manager of OUP East Africa.

“His first novel The Last Villains of Molo, was published by Acacia Stantex Publishers, two years after finishing the manuscript and signing a contract. The author has stated in interviews that he did not earn any royalties from the book for ten years. It was not until Longhorn Publishers released a second imprint in 2012…” reads an entry on Kombani’s Wikipedia page.

Gazemba’s Stone Hills, has since been published in the US as Forbidden Fruit. Other notable books by Gazemba include Dog Meat Samosa, a collection of short stories, Khama, and Callused Hands.

Other books by Kombani include Den of Inequities (Longhorn), Of Pawns and Players (OUP), Finding Columbia (OUP), which won the prestigious Burt Award for African Writing in 2018.

Moral of the story. Publishers can break you; they can also make you.

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Miguna’s book: Nothing new so let the readers decide

This is what I wrote on June 6, 2012. I trust is makes sense…

When Raila Odinga advisor turned-bitter foe, Miguna Miguna announced that he would write a book, which among other things, would reveal the Prime Minister’s ‘dark secrets’, it generated a lot of debate among Kenyans.

Expectedly, and like anything mildly controversial about the prime minister, the reaction to the announcement was split down the middle. On the one side, there are the PM’s supporters who strongly feel that the book should not be published at all, as it would complicate his chances, seeing as we are headed to a crucial election, where he is contesting the presidency.

Then there is the other group made up mostly of the PM’s detractors – read enemies, as this is Kenyan politics – who are rubbing their hands almost in malicious glee, hoping that contents of the book will be ‘damaging’ enough to derail his quest for presidency.

Miguna Miguna

From the reaction alone, it is quite clear that Peeling Back the Mask – shouldn’t it be Peeling the Mask? – is one highly anticipated book, by Kenyans here and in the diaspora. Even foreigners will be itching to catch a glimpse of the book; such is the nature of international profile the prime minister has cultivated for himself.

I am sure even the people who are opposed to the idea of the book will be among the first people wanting to lay their hands on the book, if only to seek to counter the ‘bad things’ that have been written about their hero.

It is therefore quite clear, from the foregoing, that aside from the politics and personal differences between the PM and Miguna Miguna, what makes the book such an ‘attractive’ prospect is the seemingly larger-than-life status of Raila Odinga.

Though he might be loath to admit it, Miguna knows that even with Kenya’s notoriously poor ‘reading culture’, his book might get a ‘good’ reception just because it is on Raila Odinga. And he might get good returns out of it all.

Whether by design or by default, the prime minister is the most talked about politician in the country today -never mind that most of it might not be positive.

To be sure, the PM, is President Mwai Kibaki’s biggest nightmare; you only need to look back at troubled 2007 presidential election, and the enforced coalition to know this.

Retired president Moi does not exactly have warm thoughts about the PM, seeing as he joined his party Kanu, only to ‘wreck’ it from within. Yes, it is largely Odinga’s efforts that put paid Moi’s desires to have Uhuru Kenyatta succeed him as president in 2002.

And were it not for stakes involved in the forthcoming presidential elections the PM would be enjoying himself seeing all the ‘serious’ presidential candidates ganging up to deny him the much coveted seat. All this points to his potency and influence.

With such a background, now you see why the book is likely to be a ‘hit’.

Politics, controversies and intrigues aside, Miguna’s book begs to be looked at from a purely artistic point of view. Since its selling point is Raila Odinga we can safely say that it falls under the genre of an unauthorised biography. And whenever you talk about unauthorised biographies, Jerome Corsi’s The Obama Nation easily comes to mind.

Among other things, The Obama Nation was intended at derailing Barack Obama’s first attempt at the US presidency, like he did with his earlier book Unfit for Command, which is said to have contributed to the failure of John Kerry’s attempt to challenge George Bush in his last term as US president.

Yes, The Obama Nation, is the book Corsi attempted to sensationally launch in Nairobi, when the Kenya government unceremoniously sent him packing.

So to answer you, what Miguna is attempting is perfectly in order.

Still, on Obama, today, the American president is the subject of a lot of unauthorised biographies in the US, and they enjoy prominence of space alongside Obama’s autobiographical works, Dreams of My Father and The Audacity of Hope.

Closer Home, and in South Africa, David James Smith, in 2010, released a controversial book titled, Young Mandela: The Revolutionary Years, which was basically an unauthorised biography of South Africa’s first post-apartheid president. The book, among other things, detailed alleged sexual immorality and infidelity by Mandela. It also alleges that the South African icon had a child with his one-time secretary, and who is reported to have contributed to the breakdown of Mandela’s first marriage.

Tiger Woods, who underwent a rough patch after allegations of infidelity cost him his marriage, also became a ripe target of unauthorised biographies. His former coach Hank Haney, early this year released a ‘brutally candid’ account of Wood’s indiscretions in a book  titled The Big Miss. In his defense an unapologetic Haney said: “Tiger Woods didn’t have an exclusive on memories, so I wanted to share them. It’s an insight into Tiger that most people wouldn’t be able to enjoy.

“When you’re around greatness, like I was for six years, you’re asked about it and you want to talk about it. That’s what I have done.” No doubt, those are sentiments Miguna shares in private.

We also have Kenyan examples of unauthorised biographies on famous personalities. Journalist Ng’ang’a Mbugua wrote Mwai Kibaki: Economist for Kenya for Longhorn’s Junior Biographies. He followed it later with Catherine Ndereba: The Marathon Queen.

Early last year former Bahari MP, and who was Vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka’s confidant caused a ripple when he published Politics of Betrayal a book that painted the vice president as a selfish, scheming politician, who will not hesitate to undermine a friend when he stands to gain something.

And with the impending launch of Miguna’s book, the former advisor to the PM takes the cake in terms of controversy, not forgetting its sheer nuisance value.

Maybe its time Mbugua thought of upgrading his book on Kibaki…


Interestingly, When John Githongo’s book, Its Our Time to Eat, written by Michela Wrong, came out, the man instantly became a hero to some and a traitor to others. Now that Miguna Miguna’s book Peeling back the Mask is soon to be launched, the people who considered Githongo a traitor now think Miguna is a hero. On the other hand the people who said Githongo was a hero now feel Miguna is a traitor. Still, each of these groups will point an accusing finger at the other calling them tribalists and anti-reformers…

Events Issues News Reviews

The first review

Following the release of my book Henry Wanyoike: Victory Despite Blindness I am glad to announce that it has received its first review, mostly positive, in the Sunday Nation of October 25, 2009. The review was done by Ng’ang’a Mbugua, a journalist with Daily Nation. He is also a published author with several titles to his name. They include Mwai Kibaki: Economist for Kenya, Catherine Ndereva: Marathon Queen, among other. His latest offering is Terrorists of the Aberdare, a novella, which he has self-published. I hereby include an excerpt of the review.

Ngunjiri’s book, however, is distinguished by the fact that he is among the authors in the series who wrote his book with the full co-operation of their subjects, which cannot be said of some of the earlier biographies. And for that, the book is rich with insights that would otherwise have never made it to the public domain.

You can read the rest of the review here.

Remember, you can order it here

Events Issues News Personalities Releases

Shape of things to come…

Friends, I have waited for this moment for a very long time (sounds rather cliched eh?) Ok let me rephrase it; I’ve always longed to be a published writer and the dream is almost coming to fruition. My very first book a biography/autobiography – someone tell me what to call it as it is written in the first person – of the celebrated blind athlete Henry Wanyoike ,Victory Despite Blindness (Sasa Sema/Longhorn), should be out today – that is what the publishers told me – and I can’t wait to lay my hands on my copy, er, copies.


They however sent me an image of the book cover, which I am sharing with you. If all goes according to plan, the book should be on sale during the Nairobi International Marathon on Sunday – remember Wanyoike is an ambassador for the race – I will also try my hand at running the 10 kilometer race, purely for selfish reasons.

You can grab yourself a copy from next week at leading bookstores and online on

Now the Swahili have a saying to the effect that Kinyozi hajinyoi – loosely translated to mean that the barber cannot shave himself – I can’t review my own book. I am looking for someone to review it for me to be published here. Any offers?

Events Issues News

Kwani? Litfest is the place to be

The Kwani? Literary Festival (Litfest) kicks off today in Nairobi. This is by far the most prestigious literary event in the country, which attracts celebrated international literary luminaries, who mingle with homegrown talent.

The festival starts today and runs up to August 15 in Nairobi and the coastal town of Lamu.

The festival will be in the form of a series of workshops, symposiums, book launches, discussions, retreats, travelling and networking. Participants will also have a chance of developing their creative writing skills, with an emphasis on how stories can help society to see itself more coherently.

One of the star attractions of this year’s event is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian, who has variously been described as Chinua Achebe’s literary daughter. And it is not for nothing. Chimamanda has written two highly acclaimed novels, Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun. The book won the Orange Prize for Literature in 2007.

Chimamanda was one of the participants
Chimamanda was one of the participants

Another personality who will also be coming down for the festival is Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier in Sierra Leone, whose book A Long Way Gone has caused enough controversy, in the literary world with groups of writers vigorously contesting is authenticity.

There is also Doreen Baingana, a Ugandan, whose book Tropical Fish: Stories out of Entebbe, won a Commonwealth Prize in 2006, among others. Her stories have been nominated twice for the Caine Prize.

Another Ugandan is Monica Arac de Nyeko, Winner of the 2007 Caine Prize for her story The Jambula Tree.
Aminatta Forna, will also make an appearance. She is a writer of non-fiction and fiction. Her critically acclaimed memoir of her political dissident father and her country Sierra Leone, The Devil that Danced on the Water was runner-up for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2003.

Dayo Forster, a Gambian based in Kenya will also be there. Her book Reading the Ceiling, was short-listed for the 2008 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize Best First Book for the Africa Region.
Most of these foreign authors will be conducting a series of writing workshops

The festival will also be teeming with local talent, ranging from journalists, poets, writers to movie-makers. Toping the list of local stars is the other rebel, the mercurial Tony Mochama, otherwise known as Smitta Smitten.

Now, Mochama is not your everyday journalist. He is a gossip columnist extraordinaire. He also likes calling himself a vodka connoisseur, for his well-publicised escapades with the demon drink. He is also a poet and a trained lawyer.

Late last year he wrote his poetry anthology titled What if I am a Literary Gangster? which earned him the moniker literary gangster.

There is also Muthoni Garland, the founder of Storymoja, which has taken Nairobi by storm with its stimulating storytelling sessions. Muthoni is also the author of Tracking the Scent of my Mother, which was nominated for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2006.

Another Kenyan in the faculty is filmmaker and writer, Simiyu Barasa. He wrote and directed of the Feature film Toto Millionaire (2007) and has written for numerous Kenyan dramas like Makutano Junction, Tahidi High and Wingu la Moto.

Going the example of the Litfest, there can be no denying the fact members Kwani? Trust has what it takes to keep the literary flame ablaze in Kenya for a long time to come. Ever since they happened on the scene about six years ago, they have been growing bolder and better. And lovers of the written word have been taking notice.

It all started when Binyavanga Wainaina, then virtually unknown in the country, won the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing with his short story Discovering Home in 2002. He chose to invest his prize money in promoting writing in his country.

This came at a time when the Kenyan literary landscape was experiencing a fallow period, still smarting from the effects of Prof Taban Lo Liyong rebuke that East Africa was a literary wasteland.

Binyavanga had a plan for reigniting the now cold literary fires, and he had to do it his own way. For one he broke with conventions, and embraced individuals who conventional literary types would not have touched with a ten-foot pole.

Binya, as he is fondly known, took in his wing the Ukoo Flani Mau Mau, a hip-hop community based in the slums of Dandora. And to cap it all, he founded the Kwani? Journal, which even featured graffiti art. And to ruffle the establishement types even further he celebrated Sheng, that bastard street language, that is much reviled for its corrosive effects on proper English and Kiswahili.

In the Third edition of Kwani? there was a short story written in Sheng! The conservative types were not prepared to take Binya’s, brave and different style lying down. They called him all manner of names and he gave back as much as he got.

To cut the long short, Kwani? has today become a movement. Even those initially opposed to them today find themselves honored to appear in their functions.

Form the Open Mic, monthly poetry reading sessions, to Sunday Salon, monthly prose reading sessions, the Kwani? gospel is slowly but surely winning followers.


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Reformed drug trafficker’s book is all the rave

Judy Akinyi, or Saga MacOdongo, if you like, is the latest sensation in the Kenyan literary scene. Every one now seems to want a piece of her. Well, I will not deny her the right to be feted by literary enthusiasts. She has earned it. Her book Deadly Money Maker is currently the talk of town. The book was written while she was serving a jail term at the Langata Women’s Prison, for drug trafficking.

A former lecturer at the Kenya Polytechnic, Akinyi fell to the lure of quick money and plunged into the underworld. Her dream of overnight riches evaporated into thin air when on coming back from her maiden trip as a mule, she was arrested at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

The drug queen, who had introduced her into the illegal business left her to her own devices, and that is how she found herself cooling her heels at Langata. It seems odd and cruel that she would be arrested even before she tasted the fruits of her “work”. Well, word on the ground has it that, she had been set up as a pawn. She was earmarked to be a sacrificial lamb. This theory goes on to further suggest that drug lords and drug enforcement officials sometimes work in collusion.

The plan, it is said, is to have an unfortunate mule arrested, after a certain period of time, so as to show the public the war against drugs is alive and well. Thus, poor Akinyi found herself in the middle of a complex web and suffered the consequences

As fate would have it, it was not long before she got her chance to exact revenge.  The drug queen, who sold her short, was finally arrested and was to be tried in the US. Akinyi was only too willing to testify against her. Akinyi’s testimony was all the justice system in the US needed to finally put the other woman behind bars.

Akinyi had not finished her sentence when she was released courtesy of a presidential pardon. Shortly after her release, Kwani? featured her in their monthly prose reading sessions, the Sunday Salon in June. Storymoja were waitinng in the wings and no sooner had Kwani? finished with her, they snapped her up with an even bigger and more elaborate schedule.

The readings kicked off on July 5 at the Wheels Restaurant along Ngong Road, followed by another one at the Das Restaurant in Westlands, the following day. On Saturday July 12, they were at Choma Vision along Thika Road. Their next event takes place on Sunday, July 27 at Tea Pot Restaurant, along Koinange Street from 2p.m. to 6p.m. The host will be radio personality Valentine Njoroge.

This is on top of the numerous TV interviews she has made in the intervening period. And Maisha Yetu reveals that a movie project, based on the book is in the works. Watch this space for developments. All this hype will definitely do a lot of good to the book, which might boost its sales. Hopefully then, she might not be tempted to go back into crime.

One thing though, all this hype risks getting into her head. Before you accuse me of sour grapes let me explain; Soon after her release, a journalist with one of the leading papers in Kenya called her seeking for an interview. After taking him round in circles postponing the interview, she finally asked him if he would pay her! To cut the long story short, the interview eventually did not materialise.

And how come her publishers, Paulines Publications are not getting any mentions? Could it be that they are just content to have their book marketed for them?

Issues News Personalities Reviews

Hotel Rwanda: A work of fiction?

The Movie Hotel Rwanda might have done a lot to sensitise the world on the 1994 Rwandan genocide, but not many people in Rwanda are happy about it.
So much such that there is nothing in or around Hotel des Mille Collines that says that this is actually the hotel that was famously depicted in the movie.
One naturally assumes that the huge publicity generated by the Hollywood movie, directed by Terry George and starring Don Cheadle, might be taken upon by Rwandan authorities to promote it as a popular tourist destination.
The movie tells the story of Paul Rusesabagina, acted by Cheadle, the manager of the hotel, at the time of the genocide, and who is credited with saving the lives of more than 1200 refugees, who had camped there.
Now, the name Rusesabagina is spoken of, not with fondness, but with contempt, by certain quarters in the country. In fact, government officials want nothing to do with Rusesabagina, a Hutu.
The Rwandan government, comprised mainly of Tutsis and moderate Hutus, and who were on the receiving end of murderous Hutus during the genocide, are angry that the movie depicts Rusesabagina as a hero who saved people’s lives. They say that is not the case.
While at some point, following the release of the movie in 2004, Rusesabagina carved himself a high profile career, in Europe and the US, giving talks about the genocide, he is currently faced with tough questions back at home.
Authorities in Rwanda are deeply angered by the fact that Rusesabagina, courtesy of his high profile, today goes around the world allegedly trying to absolve the genocide masterminds of the crimes they committed.
So concerned, about Rusesabagina’s alleged portrayal in the movie, and what he is doing with the recognition, that a book has been written to specifically challenge his story in the movie.
Hotel Rwanda: Or the Tutsi Genocide as seen by Hollywood, co-authored by Alfred Ndahiro and Privat Rutazibwa was launched on Thursday, March 13 in Kigali. It was launched at Hotel des Mille Collines, the very place Rusesabagina was supposed to have carried out his heroic deeds.
Speaking in halting English that rainy evening, Bernard Makuza, Rwanda’s current prime minister, expressed his disgust with the movie and particularly the Utalii College-trained Rusesabagina.
The Prime Minister’s anger is perhaps informed by the fact that at the time of the genocide he was among those who sought refuge at the hotel.
He narrated how, during the Screening of the movie at the Serena Hotel in Kigali, he actually averted his gaze from the screen during the whole time the movie was being screened. “I only attended the screening of the movie out of protocol, as a government official. Otherwise there was no way I would have gone there,” said a fuming Makuza.
Apart from the prime minister, there were other persons who were at the hotel then, and who gave their testimonies, all of them saying that Rusesabagina was anything but the hero depicted in movie.
Serge Sakumi, who was 14, at the time recalls how a relative brought them to Hotel Mille Collines, only for Rusesabagina to turn them away for lack of money. He had turned out at the hotel with nine of his siblings.
All the while, armed Interahamwe militia were roaming the road waiting to pounce. “I was about to be killed in front of the hotel because I had no money. Rusesabagina does not have a human heart,” he charged. “How can he call himself a hero if he had no mercy on children.”
The book is filled with testimonies of how Rusesabagina harassed those in the hotel for payment and threatened to throw out those who did not have money.
“Many other Rwandans who took refuge in the hotel have publicly declared that the heroic acts attributed to the character of the film bear no resemblance to the reality of events there over that three-month period,” says the book.
It adds: “it should also be pointed out that the hotel manager, unlike the saviour portrayed in the film, initially prevented the refugees from procuring food from the Red Cross because he preferred to sell them the hotel supplies.”
Among other evidence book reproduces a copy of fax sent to Rusesabagina, from the hotel owners in Belgium, instructing him not to charge for food that was acquired for free.
In the movie Rusesabagina is depicted as a resourceful person, who persuades the architects of the genocide to spare the refugees by bribing them with cigars, alcohol and a little money.
“… General Bizimungu and his cohorts were not poor wretches that could be bribed with goodies…they were the cream of the genocidaires, that is, hardened killers with everything they could desire at their disposal, who had the power of life and death over almost everyone,” writes the authors.
In any case, the book argues that these genocide plotters were Rusesabagina’s friends, and that they would constantly drop in at the hotel for refreshments. It adds that through his ‘useful’ contacts with Georges Rutaganda, the Interahamwe vice-president, Rusesabagina was able to have a steady supply of alcohol at the hotel. “Not surprisingly, the senior officers of the Rwandan Armed Forces needed a quiet, safe place where they could quench their thirst and organise their next move after a killing spree,” says the book.
However, in his book Shake Hands with the Devil, LGen Romeo Dallaire acknowledges that Rusesabagina’s act of giving alcohol to the genocidaires contributed in a small way in saving the refugees in that hotel.
It should also be recalled that Rusesabagina’s wife, a Tutsi, and their children were also camped at the hotel, thus he had an obligation, if only to his family, to ensure that Tutsis in that hotel were out of harm’s way.
If as the book claims that Rusesabagina did not save the refugees from the genocide plotters who used to frequent the hotel, then how come these people did not come under attack?
Among other things the book owes the people’s safety to the UNAMIR, the United Nations peace keepers in Rwanda. It also says that expatriates, UN and other NGOs personnel, as well as international journalists were housed there, “which was enough to deter would-be murders from the wholesale massacres that were going on in the rest of the country.”
Rusesabagina’s credibility was dealt a further blow when Valerie Bemeriki, who was a presenter with the infamous Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines, (RTLM) and who is currently serving a life sentence in prison, for her role in the genocide, told researchers for the book that Rusesabagina used to pass on names to RTLM. “…I also know that if you reported anyone, like I used to do on radio…you put them on death row. That’s what he (Rusesabagina) used to do; he gave us the names we broadcast on RTLM,” Bameriki is quoted as saying.
It would appear that authors of the book put in quite some work in researching for the book. They even unearthed information to the effect that Rusesabagina at some point, while still working Hotel Mille Collines, in the early ‘90s, used to spy on Tutsis for the Rwandan Intelligence services.
And in what appears to be an obsession with the man, they have traced his every move. They are well aware that Rusesabagina formed the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation (HRRF), and whose registered directors are Rusesabagina, his wife and his two sons-in-law.
The authors also know that all the monies raised by the foundation actually goes into Rusesabagina’s personal account. Perhaps their real reason for hounding him, is the fact that “he used his newly-acquired fame, thanks to Hollywood to indulge in petty politicking that exposed his ethnic and revisionist tendencies.”
At some point Terry George, Hotel Rwanda’s director found himself in the thick of this controversy. In an article he wrote to the Washington Post in May 2006, seeking to clear his man, he suggests that the fact that Rusesabagina intends to form a political party, is causing the Rwandan ruling elite anxious moments. He nevertheless concludes that Hotel Rwanda 2 “is a sequel I never want to make.”
Suggested reading Shake Hands with the Devil by LGen Romeo Dallaire, An Ordinary Man, by Paul Rusesabagina, A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide by Linda Melvern.


Literary Gangster: Smitta’s poetry book

Saturday, November 10 was a big day for Tony Mochama. He was launching his book What if I am a Literary Gangster? – a collection of poetry – at the Goethe Institute in Nairobi.
With such a defiant title, you almost guessed what is contained between the covers of the book. Well, one thing you are assured of is that this is not going to be your ordinary goody goody conventional poetry. You also know that such a book will not find its way to a classroom, as a school text – the guys at the Kenya Institute of Education (KIE) would have recurring nightmares would such a thing happen (but I am sure they would love to read it in private.)
Having said that, let us now examine the logic behind the title. Apparently, the title was inspired by Dr Egara Kabaji, who teaches at the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, in Western Kenya. Writing in the Literary Discourse section, in the Sunday Standard, Dr Kabaji dismissed Tony Mochama as a “Literary Gangster, whose godfather is Binyavanga Wainaina.”
To some extent I agree with Dr Kabaji, but without the Binyavanga rider. To me Mochama is a literary gangster of a different type. The product of his “crime” is one that really appeals to my literary buds. And for sure he shoots from the hip.
Sample this:
When I run out of poetic tricks
I shall commit syntax
Ferry my body in a verse
And bury me, in the symmetry

Witness how he effortlessly plays around with the words syntax/sin, verse/hearse and symmetry/cemetery. That verse is picked from the poem titled The Poetry Police.
Now, Tony Mochama is not your everyday writer. To me, he is the very exemplification of the title wordsmith. At the Standard, where he writes, Mochama has about four columns, the most celebrated being Scene at, in the Pulse Magazine, which comes out every Friday.
As a journalist, I will tell you that maintaining just one column is hard enough. Writing four columns week in week out is a different thing altogether. And he still spares time to write poetry, and drink some Vodka, lots of Vodka!
Speaking of Pulse, I think I will not be contradicted when I say Mochama, who writes under the name Smitta Smitten, is the very pulse of that magazine. It is not very difficult to see his wicked and wacky sense of humour, in most sections of the magazine, even without seeing his byline.
I came to know Mochama in the late nineties. Then he had a terrible afro hairstyle and still he was a poet. His fans called him The Mad Poet – what else did you expect?
Later he would be a contributor in the earlier edition of Expression Today (ET), published by the Media Institute. He later wrote the arts for Daily Nation, but it was not until his former boss at ET David Makali dragged him to Standard, that his star really shone. At the Standard, Pulse to be precise, he was given the freedom, nay latitude, to bring his latent talent to the fore, and it has shone ever since.
Pulse in itself has been a revelation in Kenyan journalism. It dispensed with the status quo kind of journalism long practiced in the country and brought out an explosive mix of bold and exciting entertainment reporting that really appeals to the targetted audience, the youth.
Simply put, it has been a breath of fresh air.
And did I mention that Mochama was once denied entry into Russia? Perhaps the first African to enjoy that rare “honour”. What crime did you commit against the Russians Smitta?
Back to gangster poetry. Well, a lot has been said about poetry being difficult, elitist and that kind of stuff, but Mochama in his book brings it down to the level that it can be enjoyed by every person.
The topics are as varying as the world is big. In the poem titled Trading Places, the poet takes a mischievous shot at the social, political and economic differences between Africa and the West. It also addresses the double standards employed by the West when dealing with Africa.
But coming from Mochama, it has to be different. In his poem, the tables have been turned. Africa rules the world and the West comes begging for aid.
And Libya invaded America to
topple George Bush
“the tyrant,” and “restore
democracy and freedom to the long-suffering people of
United States of America!”

From war to freedom and love, to the philosophical musings of life and death, Tony Mochama addresses these topics with the same happy-go-lucky manner that is the hallmark of his writing. His poetry is full of mischief and is in many instances fired off from a cannon loaded with irony.
That the gangster is also capable of being soft, reveals another side of his pen not many are aware of, partculary in the piece, Whispers.
Laughter and your stories, lingers,
Like a silver cobweb clings
On a broken wall lit by silver moonlight

The poem is dedicated to the late Wahome Mutahi, another wordsmith, of the humour variety.
I was especially intrigued by his pieces on love and heartbreak. They are refreshingly real and could only come from someone who has been through such emotions and trust the Smitta to have gone through all those.
However, careful editing of the book would have taken care of some annoying typos occasionally appearing in the book. Maybe that has to do with the fact that it was published in Russia.
Well, a literary gangster? The “celebs” who are always on the receiving end of his pen every Friday would rather use the word terrorist.
The book is Published Brown Bear Insignia
What if I am a Literary Gangster is distributed by Suba Books and Periodicals based at Hazina Towers


Book on Kalembe Ndile out

I have always been fascinated by the outgoing Kibwezi MP Kalembe Ndile, who is also an assistant minister in the Ministry of Tourism. His modest education aside, the politician has a way of putting his points across, that I think makes a lot of sense.
Take the case when he told off envoys attached to Kenya, when they were calling on President Kibaki to reappoint Samuel Kivuitu, whose tenure as the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) expires on December 2, for the sake of fairness in the December 27 elections.
Mimi sijui Kivuitu wa Amerika, ama wa Uingereza,” – I don’t Know Kivuitu’s equivalent in the US and UK – he said. He went on tell the foreign envoys that Kenya is a sovereign state, and other countries should not interfere with the way it conducts its elections. He also added that it would be unheard of for a Kenyan envoy, say in the US, to tell President Bush who to elect as the head of their electoral body.
Now, if that is not common sense, tell me what is. At the risk of being accused of leaning against one political side at this crucial moment of the political campaigns, let me stick to the mandate of this blog. Books. Well, Kalembe, in spite of his modest education, has done what Kenyan politicians rarely do, and that is producing books.
Kalembe Ndile: My Squatters, My Struggles, My Dream, is a book written by journalist Peter Thatiah, and seeks to have the reading public know the politician better.
book1.jpgKalembe might not have written the book, owing to his well documented inadequacies, but it nevertheless provides Kenyans with much needed details that might not find their way into newspaper pages, and which allows us to better understand and appreciate our country. Leaders, or politicians for that matter, by virtue of their positions and interactions, tend to influence decisions, and thus can be reagarded as depositories of a country’s history.
The book tells of how Kalembe’s parents emigrated to western Uganda where his father was then working at the Kilembe Copper Mines. And it is from the mines that Kalembe got his name. Apparently, when they got back to Kenya he could not tire telling people,about that “wonderful” place in Uganda.
So the name was amended to Kalembe as Kilembe was found to be too big for his small stature then. Note that in most Bantu dialects, which Kalembe’s Kikamba belongs, the prefix ka denotes small while ki is associated with something big. After the murderous Amin regime kicked the Ndile family out of Uganda, they found themselves back to Kibwezi in Eastern Kenya to a life of squalor and landlessness.
It is under that life of squatterhood that young Kalembe found himself struggling to get education. According to the book he had to burn charcoal to pay his fees at Emali Secondary School.
Having been brought up under such dire conditions Kalembe cultivated an burning desire to fight for the rights of fellow squatters, who incidentally are the majority in Kibwezi constituency. And what a better way to articulate this than in an elective post, he reckoned. He contested Nguumo Civic Ward in the 1997 General Elections and won. He was also elected the chairman of Makueni County Council the same year.
His term as a councilor was informed by waging battles with well-heeled and well-connected individuals, in the then Kanu Government, against land grabbing, a thing that earned him many enemies, including stints in police custody. At some point Parliament spent quite a considerable amount of time discussing his tribulations in the hands of his tormentors.
Still, such drawbacks could not extinguish his burning ressolve to fight for the rights of squatters. And they reciprocated by giving him their support during the 2002 General Elections, when he was elected as the Kibwezi legislator. At some point Kalembe was accused, in Parliament of being a highway robber in an earlier life. The book has not shied away from that, as well as his well publicised altercation with the ODM-K presidential candidate Kalonzo Musyoka, when he was ejected from a cultural function in Mwingi district.
In the book, Kalembe reckons that event contributed to Kalonzo’s dwindling fortunes in opinion polls.
Although the coming up with the book is commendable, the fact that it is self-published explains the rather lucklustre cover design, binding and quality of paper used. Still Thatiah’s command of language almost makes up for the shorcomings in quality.
I also got the feeling that the author dwelt a bit too much on some details, that are outside the main story of Kalembe’s life. Those details are okay when one is writing a big book, as they provide the useful background information. But for small book like this one, it is just too much. The reader for example misses out on how Kalembe met and married his wife, a thing that should not miss out on a biography or an autobiography for that matter.
In most parts, the reader gets assailed with too much of the author’s opinion, what with his showy and pompous use of language, at the expense of the story at hand. And on that note, I would not be surprised if the book attracts a libel suit or two, from some parties who might feel aggrieved by what is contained in the book. Whether the book is a campaign tool for Kalembe, only time will tell.


Anyang’ Nyong’o’s New Book

Former Planning Minister Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o launched his new book A Leap into the Future: A Vision for Kenya’s Socio-political and Economic Transformation, at the Grand Regency on Wednesday October 10.
A Leap into the Future is a collection of speeches, essays and articles compiled during Prof Nyongo’s tenure as minister in the Narc government, and soon after. In the book, the author examines the challenges of development of development, analyses how Pan-African and global partnerships could facilitate development.
Prof Nyong’o also projects his vision for socio-political and economic transformation of the Kenya society in a bid to formulate an economic strategy capable of transforming the country to First World development.
The book is published by African Research and Resource Forum, with WordAlive Publishers as the consultants. Prof Nyong’o, who is currently ODM Secretary General, believes that if Africa is to lift itself from the current situation of economic stagnation, then African countries have to learn from the East Asian countries.
The book is in the form of essays Prof Nyong’o, presented over a four-year period (2002-2006), including when he was Planning minister.
Politics aside, Prof Nyong’o is considered to be one of the toughest thinkers to have come out of the African continent, and A Leap into the Future proves just that. While being incisive and convincing his arguments betray the fact that sufficient research and thought went into their crafting.
The book contains information that the author believes if followed to the latter would transform Kenya into an economic success. Finance, governance and economic students will find the ideas packed in the book to be of invaluable help.
With admirable insights, Prof Nyong’o proceeds to shatter some long-held myths as to why African countries lag behind in development. He also takes on global bodies like the UN, which on paper are mandated to help end suffering in the continent, but are instead pursuing policies that continuously subjugate the continent, while miring it in debt.
He however does not lose sight the fact that African leaders are to blame for the economic mess African countries find themselves in. The common denominator in all the essays is the fact that good governance is key to faster development.
And for good governance to be there, then a country’s politics have to be put in order. And on the local front, he gives a valuable peek into what went into the crafting the now famous MoU, which was disregarded by the Kibaki, once the Narc Government came into power in following the historic 2002 General Election.
On the subject of corruption, Prof Nyong’o sheds some light into what some figures in the Kibaki Government refer to as “The Scandal that never was” – Anglo Leasing.