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Kombani impresses in his latest offering

Title: Hawkers-Pokers

Author: Kinyanjui Kombani

Publisher: Longhorn

Reviewer: Mbugua Ngunjiri

Kinyanjui Kombani is back, this time with a thriller, whose twists and turns will keep the reader glued to the book’s pages till the very end.

The story is told through the eyes of Rocky Ada (Rada), hawker, who is the eyes (riitho) of fellow hawkers going about their business in the streets of Nairobi. To understand why a riitho is an important person in the hawkers’ universe, one only needs to reflect on the cat and mouse, often street battles between hawkers and City Inspectorate Enforcement Officers (Kanjo askaris), which can and routinely turns fatal.

Now, it is the duty of Rada and two other sentries to be on the lookout and warn fellow hawkers of any impending raid by the deadly Kanjo.

One day, while playing his usual cat and mouse games with Kanjo, Rada rescues a man he finds unconscious in a storm drain. Turns out that this man, Mike Thumbi, son of one the richest men in Nairobi, had a near-fatal encounter with the infamous mchele (drugging) babes.

Out of the goodness of his heart, Rada borrows a mkokoteni and takes the indisposed Mike to his shack in nearby Ngara, a decision he regrets later, but also has the potential of changing his fortunes.

Meanwhile, Mike is reported missing and suspected to have been kidnapped. One thing leads to another and a contingent of crack unit personnel drawn from the country’s elite forces ‘rescues’ Mike, while Rada is taken into police custody.

When it becomes clear the charge of kidnap cannot hold in a court of law, Rada is released on bond. Mike feels remorseful seeing the kind of tribulations, including torture, his rescuer has undergone in the hands of cruel police interrogators. He pays Rada’s bond.

They soon part ways after Rada refuses Mike’s offer for further assistance. However, their fate appears intertwined as they soon find themselves together again, when Rada comes to and finds himself under the care of Mike, in their home.

After proving himself useful to the Thumbi family, a plan is hatched for Rada’s slum-dwelling parents to get introduced to the Thumbi’s. Drama awaits as it is through this meeting that long-forgotten history comes back to haunt the two families, when it emerges that Rada and not Mike is the billionaire’s real son and that the two were swapped at birth.

These revelations come in the form of action-packed flashbacks; explosive revelations that threaten to tear apart, the image Thumbi had carefully cultivated for himself all those years. His multi-billion business empire risks going down the drain, as sordid details of his dark past come back to haunt him.

You only need to read the book to get details for yourself. Here, Kombani, one of Kenya’s most prolific writers has surely outdone himself. This, in our view, is vintage Kombani, who announced himself to the literary landscape with his magnum opus, The Last Villains of Molo. Clearly, he has matured and gotten better with time.

One small issue though; the author failes to tie up a few loose ends in his plot, particularly the bit where Rada is arrested and taken to court. How is it that police interrogators neglected to tell him what he was arrested for? Again, since most of the book is narrated from Rada’s point of view, he conveniently omits the part where he was arrested from his house, where he had rescued/harboured Mike.

It thus gets confusing for the reader, when Rada, in court, claims no knowledge of Mike, in view of his association with him at the storm drain and subsequent housing him at his Ngara shack, from where they were smoked out by police.

This can only be down to authorial oversight, which would have been cured through keen editorial intervention.  

That oversight though doesn’t dampen the fire in Hawkers-Pokers, for it addresses issues that affect our daily lives, like child theft and child swapping in our maternity hospitals. Something about the book’s ending cries for a sequel.     

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Longhorn now in DRC

Longhorn Publishers has expanded its operations to the Democratic Republic of Congo. “Longhorn Publishers has been serving the needs of students and educators in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda for over 50 years, and we’re thrilled to be offering our quality products and services to learners in DRC,” said the company in a statement on their social media pages.

“Longhorn Publishers is committed to providing affordable, high-quality educational resources that support student success. We offer a wide range of textbooks, workbooks, teacher’s manuals, and other instructional materials aligned with the latest curricula,” added the statement. “We look forward to working with students, educators, and parents in DRC to ensure that every learner has access to the resources they need to succeed.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo recently joined the East African Community, a move that is expected to expand business opportunities in the region.

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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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These are Kenya’s most pirated books

The Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) is sounding out alarm bells; book piracy is threatening to erase all the gains made by the industry over the years. KPA chairman Lawrence Njagi says that book pirates are becoming more daring and with the availability of new technology they are now pirating, not just school set books, but any title that is capable of moving more than 300 copies.


For many years set books, for schools in Kenya, have been ripe targets for pirates as they are fast moving – a compulsory recommended set book can sell upwards of about 400,000 copies in a year – and the profit margins are equally high. While set books remain the most pirated in terms of sheer volumes, other titles regarded to be modest sellers are now being targeted for piracy.


“Book piracy is complicated by the fact that pirates use modern printing technology to produce their books. Piracy is no longer a poor man’s pastime. When pirates have the capacity of produce up to 50,000 copies, we are talking of people with huge financial muscle,” explains Njagi.

sun goes down

Njagi is referring to a case, in January last year a well-known commercial printer was found with over 50,000 pirated copies of Mstahiki Meya, a Kiswahili play, which is currently a set book. Had this printer not have been apprehended, these pirated books would have found their way into bookshops and street vendors, selling alongside genuine copies of the same.

Damu Nyeusi

Apart from Mstahiki Meya, the other heavily pirated set books are Kidagaa Kimemwozea: A Kiswahili novel by Ken Walibora, published by Spotlight. Damu Nyeusi na Hadithi Nyingine: A collection of Kiswahili short stories published by Moran. The River and the Source: An English novel by the late Margaret Ogola, published by Focus. When the Sun goes down and other stories: A collection of English short stories published by Longhorn. Caucasian Chalk Circle: An English play by Bertolt Brecht published locally by Spotlight. Mstahiki Meya: is written by Timothy Arege and published by Vide Muwa


Mr Simon Sossion, who is the KPA vice chairman suspects that foreigners are now involved in book piracy and that they are the ones engaging in offshore printing. To curb this offshore printing Sossion says that KPA members are in consultations with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) with a view to the tax body demanding a letter from the Kenya Copyright Board before they clear any consignment of books. “This way we shall have dealt a big blow to the offshore printers,” says Sossion

Previously it used to be a case pirated books being of inferior quality as they were being printed by backstreet printers.

Bookshops are naturally the places where people go to buy books and which explains why pirates take their wares there. Njagi explains that to make booksellers play ball they are enticed with generous discounts of up to 60 per cent. “Ordinarily publishers give booksellers a maximum of 35 per cent discount,” he says. “A greedy bookseller will get tempted by the huge discounts given by pirates. A pirate does not incur certain crucial production costs.”

To get an idea why these books are such magnets to pirates you have to understand that at any one time there are roughly 450,000 Form Four candidates each year, in Kenya and who are required to have all these books. Each book is studied over a cycle of four years meaning that by the time the four years are over a publisher will have sold, on average, half a million copies.


The average price of these books is sh450 so we are talking of sh225 million, per book, changing hands. This money is enough to get a would-be pirate salivating. Kakai Karani, who chairs the Anti-Piracy Committee at KPA says modern technology has made it possible for pirates to increase their efficiency. “We have pirates who are producing books that are almost similar to the originals, a thing that makes it quite difficult for the common mwananchi to tell the difference,” he explains.

KPA defines book piracy as the reproduction, by unauthorised persons, of books and other learning materials for sale to the public through bookshops, street vendors and in institutions of learning in contravention of the Copyright Act 2001.

Lawrence Njagi
Lawrence Njagi

To cover-up their tracks, the bookseller with pirated books will order a few genuine books from the publisher, and which will then be prominently displayed on the counters, but whenever an unsuspecting buyer comes asking for the book, they are given the pirated book, which is often hidden out of sight.

Karani blames weak enforcement of the law and lack of awareness on what piracy entails as the reason why the piracy menace is yet to be contained. “We need stricter enforcement of the anti-piracy and anti-counterfeit laws as well as stiffer penalties when these people are apprehended,” he says. He gives the example of the anti-piracy law that provides for a fine of between sh400,000 and sh800,000. “What happens when an offender is caught with books worth sh50 million, as has happened before?” he asks. “That is a mere slap on the wrist.”

Simon Sossion
Simon Sossion

The anti-counterfeit law on the other hand provides for a penalty of three times what a person has been arrested with. “In the case of a bookseller caught with 10 pirated books, they will be fined the cost of 30 books, which is not much either,” says Karani. “That is why we need for book piracy to be elevated to the level of economic crimes, which carries stiffer penalties.”

“There is also the issue of law enforcement agencies that are now aware of what piracy entails and therefore would not know what they are dealing with when they encounter pirated books, which are no different from original books,” he says adding the Kenya Copyright Board has been training police officers attached it. The training, he adds, needs to be expanded to all parts of the country.

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Mwangi Gicheru: an obituary


The Kenyan literary scene is the poorer following the death of Mwangi Gicheru, the man that brought you the novel Across the Bridge. Gicheru, who was running a restaurant business in Mombasa’s Mtwapa, died in his sleep on the eve of Sunday May 4.


According to family members His body was discovered on the morning of Sunday, March 4, after he failed to wake up. Workers reported the matter to the local police who gave the go-ahead for the house to be broken into. The body was taken to the Pandya Memorial Hospital Mortuary. Post mortem results determined the cause of death to be heart attack.

Gicheru will be fondly remembered by hordes of book lovers who devoured his book Across the Bridge in the late 70s, 80s and 90s. Across the Bridge, though not his first title, became many a readers’ favourite and catapulted Gacheru to the peak popular literature, alongside the likes of Charles Mangua (Son of a Woman), Mwangi Ruheni (The Minister’s Daughter) and Daivid Maillu.

Across the Bridge tells the story of an impossible love between a poor young man (Chuma) and Caroline the daughter of rich man Kahuthu. Chuma was a houseboy at the Kahuthus household.

One thing leads to the other and Chuma gets Caroline in the family way, a thing that makes Kahuthu livid. Chuma feels the only way of getting acceptance by the Kahuthus, and perhaps getting Caroline’s hand in marriage is through making money of his own. The path he chooses to riches lands him in trouble with authorities and into jail, hence the book’s famous opening: Hail jail the place for all; the only house where a government minister and a pickpocket dine together, work, discuss matters on equal terms.

Gicheru is a man whose life is mirrored in his art. His other book Two in One is based on his experience after his eight-month old daughter was stolen by a house girl, in 1979. The baby was never found. The book tells the story of barren women who steal other people’s children. “… over the years, living without my daughter has taught me that biological parents are but just instruments of bringing a baby to the world,” he told The Standard – then East African Standard – in a 2001 interview.

Perhaps it the experience of losing a daughter to theft that influenced his decision to adopt two girls.

His other books included The Ivory Merchant, The Double and The Mixer. Later in life he wrote a children’s book The Ring in the Bush published by Longhorn. He had, in mid last year, announced that he was in the process of turning Across the Bridge into a movie.

In 2009 Gicheru wrote A Handful of Terere, a post humous biography of Samuel Mbugua Githere. In an interview he told this writer that the family of the late Githere asked him to research, compile and write the story of Githere, a prominent Nairobi businessman who had died of a stroke related illness in 1997. Githere had been a contemporary of the late business magnate Njenga Karume and it is him who introduced Njenga into the world of business.

During the launch of the book, at Njenga’s Jacaranda Hotel, Njenga told the gathered audience that he had wanted to continue with his education with a view to becoming a lawyer but Githere prevailed upon him to drop his studies and make money instead. “Githere told me that if we made a lot of money we would hire as many lawyers as we wanted,” said Njenga. That ‘prophecy’ turned true.

Gicheru said that writing Terere – published by Longhorn – was his most challenging assignment as writer but also one that he found immensely satisfying.

At the time of his death Gicheru was the proprietor of Animo Resort in Mtwapa. The joint also hosted Gikuyu and Kiswahili plays some of which he wrote himself. The late Wahome Mutahi used to bring his Gukuyu cultural plays at Gicheru’s establishment.

Gicheru was born in 1947 in Kiamwangi near Karatina, in Nyeri County. He attended Kiamwangi Primary Up to Standard Eight before joining St Mary’s High School also in Nyeri. He briefly worked as a clerk with the Ministry of Lands before joining the then East African Airways. He later left paid employment to start his own business. He spent most of his business life in Mombasa.

He married Nancy Wamuyu 1972. The couple had three biological daughters – including the stolen one – and two adopted daughters. He had two grandchildren. He was buried in his Gakawa Farm in Nanyuki on Tuesday, May 13, 2014.

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Kinyanjui Kombani and his journey as a writer


Maisha Yetu: Describe your best moment as a writer

Kinyanjui Kombani: The relaunch of The Last Villains of Molo in September 2012 at Daystar University, Valley Road Campus. The story of ‘Villains’ is another novel altogether. It was written in 2002 and I promptly signed the publishing contract. Sadly, I had to wait six years before it was published. Even then, I did not receive any royalties, so I moved over to Longhorn Publishers. The launch in 2012 was a culmination of 10 years of waiting, and it was my best moment.

MY: Describe your worst moment as a writer.

KK: It must be when I discovered that I could not earn much from The Villains See, when the publisher agreed to do it, I knew I had crossed the poverty line – I even went to a car showroom to enquire about the price of my favourite car (Landcruiser VX). So after a year of sales, and not a cent to show for it, I was very let down. It nearly killed my writing dreams. It hit me so hard that I did not finish my second novel until last year.

MY: Where do you find time to write given your busy schedule

KK: A technique I learnt from writer Anthony Gitonga is to split my writing into manageable pieces. If I am writing, say, a 40,000 word novel and I have two months to do it, I know that I have to write about 1,000 words a day. Once I set this target I commit to it. Sometimes I sway, though!

I write mostly in the early mornings, and evenings. Last year I spent the entire Easter hold up in my private office writing some books for the Uganda market. I nearly collapsed, and I vowed not to try such stunts again.

MY: What inspires your writing/ who are your role models

KK: Locally, I have been inspired a lot by the writing of Meja Mwangi (I read Little White Man then I was in primary school and I have never read a more intriguing book. I have read ‘Cockroach Dance’ so many times my copy is dog-eared). I think Meja has the biggest influence in my writing.

Sam Kahiga’s book Paradise Farm has had the biggest impact on me. One of my future plans is to write a modern story along the same theme.

Internationally, I’d say Sidney Sheldon. Sidney’s work have  a way of telling stories of many different characters who seem un connected to each other, until the end of the story when all the pieces come together. You will see that kind of influence in my new novel Den of Iniquities.

MY: “Villains” has put you on the Kenyan literary map; describe your journey with the book – from the beginning – what message you intended to pass. Juxtapose that with activities in the Kenyan social media – the latest tribal battleground.

KK: The journey towards ‘Villains’ is very much like my life. Our actual home is in Njoro, and my grandmother had given refuge to a family that had been displaced during the 1997 clashes. The patriarch of the family – one Mzee Joseph Mbure – used to tell us stories of the 1991/2 Clashes in the Kamwaura area of Molo. In campus, I wanted to write a short story based on the clashes. I did more research and before I knew it, I had a novel.

Initially, I just wanted to tell a story. I have always been intrigued by ‘Rich girl, poor boy’ stories and I wanted to tell that too. So I built the two stories together. When I did more research and interviewed more players in the Molo conflict, I realised that there was a bigger role to play. Negative ethnicity was real, and I could use reconciliation as a message for the youth.

Sadly, the Kenyan Social media scene has become the next battleground. We did not physically fight in 2007, but the fragmentation that was in society was deep set – if the tribal sentiments on social media are anything to go by.

MY: It has been said that you are the hottest young writer in Kenya today…

KK: Wow! I don’t know who said that, and what the context was, and who I was being compared to! So I cannot say anything to that claim! I must say that God has been good to me – the fact that Villains is one of the fastest selling Kenyan novels is a true blessing. Last weekend I was at Text Book Centre Thika Road Mall, and I tweeted that copies of ‘Villains’ have been replenished. I was called by the book centre’s management just a few hours later to have my publisher deliver more copies – they had been sold out. It is a blessing.

MY: In your words, what ails the Kenyan writing scene – are we headed in the right direction?

KK: We have always claimed that Kenyans do not read, and we have made ourselves believe it to be true. I cannot disagree more. If Kenyans do not read, how come writers like Anthony Gitonga are churning out books every half year?

The only issue I see is that a lot of young writers do not know what to do once they have their manuscript ready. A lot of them think that they should look for money to pay publishers to get the book done for them. This situation can be reversed if our universities work on creative writing programmes that do not end just with submission of a finished piece of work, but with tips on getting published.

I think we are headed towards the right direction. ‘Authors Buffet’ a forum where 14 authors and publishers got together  in May to spend time with their readers and the general public, was very well received. (We are doing ‘Authors Buffet 2.0 in September at the Nairobi Book Fair).

After this event, we have laid plans to start a creative writing course, complete with tips on getting published, at Daystar University. I am happy that writers John Sibi-Okumu, Bonnie Kim, Jennifer Karina, Anthony Gitonga, Stephen Kigwa, Mbugua Mumbi, Winnie Thuku, and Nganga Mbugua have accepted to co-facilitate the program.

MY: Describe your upbringing, education and family.

KK: This is another novel altogether! I grew up in Molo in Nakuru and went to Molo Academy from Nursery to Form Four. I was the last born in a family of 5. My upbringing was very humble. Our mother was a single parent, and two accidents literally crippled her. My education from Std 8, when she was completely unable to fend for us, was paid for by a kindly family friend. It was not easy growing up in Molo, especially because Molo Academy was a school for the fairly well-to-do. I remember that we could not afford shoe polish, and to avoid getting into trouble we used the soot from our beaten tin lamp. When asked why our shoes always had a dull coat, my elder brothers taught me to say that the polish came from our cousins in the USA and that is how the polish there looks like!

I worked hard to help my family get out of poverty. Unfortunately, my mother never got to see the fruits of her hard work – she passed on when I was in form 4. I never recovered from this loss and when we moved to Nairobi – Ngando slums, I lost all ambition in life. I used to play ‘pool’ from 8 am to midnight. When I was called to Kenyatta University for a degree in Education – English and Literature, I was reluctant, and I only accepted to go when I discovered that the university had common rooms with dozens of pool tables.

My life changed when I met Mr. David Mulwa who ignited my writing flame. I also enrolled to the Kenyatta University Travelling Theatre. By the time I was leaving in 2004, I had climbed the ranks to be KUTT’s longest serving Executive Director.  A year after graduation, during which I worked as a casual officer at the Culture Week secretariat, I joined an international bank as a clerk. Having performed several roles in the bank, I am now a Segment Trainer taking care of the learning needs of the branch distribution network and contact centre.

I have also received certification as a business mentor with Inoorero University.

I currently live in Nairobi with my wife of 7 years, Alice, our two kids, ‘Malik’ and ‘Nimu’ and Steve, a nephew.

MY: West Africans (Nigerians) and South Africans have been beating us of late. Aren’t we good enough?

KK: Again, I don’t have statistics, so I am not able to comment on it. I think that with initiatives such as Authors Buffet, StoryMoja Litfest, Kwani Hay Festival, Kenyan writing will go to very great heights.

MY: Who is to blame between writers and publishers?

KK: I think writers and publishers need to stop pointing fingers at each other and start selling books! Publishers need to add some marketing budget towards promotion of works of fiction. Writers, on the other hand, need to be at the forefront in promoting their books. It is in their best interests to make sales of the books!

I have a good relationship with Longhorn Publishers, and it is because I have taken the initiative to ensure my books are available and people know about them. I also do the physical sales of the books. Last year, two weeks before Longhorn released my children’s book ‘Lost but found’, I had already sold 600 copies in my workplace alone. The book sold out in two weeks because I took the campaign to Facebook and Twitter.

I also got into a strategic partnership with Tuskys Supermarket for distribution. In addition, I worked with FunkyKids Retro Store at Prestige Plaza to give a gift of the book to select shoppers. What I am saying is that the publisher will release the book, but it is the responsibility of the writer to convert it to sales!

MY: Tell us about your new book and how long it took you to write it.

KK: My new book is tentatively called Den of Iniquities and should be released in September 2013. Unlike Villains it is 100% fictional though loosely based on police extrajudicial killings in Kenya. It gives the story of 3 individuals whose lives are very different, but come intertwined in a chain of unfortunate events. It is a ‘What If’ story inspired by the Philip Alston report on police killings in Kenya.

Den of Iniquities is a story 8 years in the making. I gave my mentor – David Mulwa of Kenyatta University – a short story for my creative writing class and he kept on prodding me to finish it. I had stopped writing following disappointment with my first publisher. The story was cooking in my head all the time, so I wrote it in one month last year.

MY: List all the books you’ve written so far.

KK:   The Last Villains of Molo (Novel)

  • Wangari Maathai: Mother of Trees (children’s biography)
  • We Can Be Friends (children’s educational; theme: HIV/AIDS).
  • We Can Be Friends (Rwanda Edition)
  • Lost But Found (children’s adventure; theme: safety for children)

I also did a play Carcasses that was commissioned by the Born Free Foundation for their bush meat awareness project. The play was later shot to film as Mizoga which has been screened in the US, UK, and 5 African Countries. Last year I wrote a yet-to-be-released series of 12 children’s stories for the Uganda market.

MY: Halafu unipatie majibu za Yes and No, utaona!

KK: He he!

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Winner of the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature, 2009

Henry ole Kulet’s book won the 2009 Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature. Yours truly had reviewed the book way back in May. I hereby share the review with you:

blossoms friday 3

After a long absence from the literary scene Henry ole Kulet is back, this time with Blossoms of the Savannah. This novel mainly dwells with the touchy issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Now, FGM or female circumcision, remains a very sensitive topic particularly considering that there are powerful lobbies committed to ensuring that this practice is brought to an end. The issue is complicated by the fact that it involves a people’s culture, a culture that has been practiced since time immemorial. Despite the best of efforts from these lobbies and the government, getting to end the practice has largely remained elusive. Well, you do not just wake up one morning and decide that you are going to away with a particular aspect of culture and hope to succeed.
However, as much as culture defines a people’s identity, some cultural aspects have proved more harmful than beneficial. Still modern realities do not support such practices. For example, the probability of contracting diseases like HIV/Aids, arising from the sharing of blades, does not bode well for FGM.
Cases have also been documented where young girls have lost their lives following complications arising from the procedure.
In his book, Ole Kulet treats the issue of FGM in a sober and balanced manner.
He does not approach FGM in the needlessly confrontational style, often associated with the lobbies. He instead delves into the Maa traditions and demonstrates how important they are to the community.
The story revolves around the family of Ole Kaelo, who finds himself retrenched from his job and opts to relocate his family from Nakuru to Nasila, his ancestral home.
Just like any other retrenched person, he sees his survival, and that of his family, coming from venturing into business.
His two teenage daughters, Taiyo and Resian however do not share his enthusiasm. Their sudden removal from the urban setting in Nakuru to village life does not sit well with them.
They are also not certain of their prospects of furthering their education at the university.
Having been brought up in a modern lifestyle, they are mainly pre-occupied with their education, which they feel would assure them of a better life in future.
They are however in for a rude awakening. No sooner have they landed in the village than word goes round to the effect that they are yet to undergo the ‘cut’. At 18 and 20 the two sisters are already late for the cut, according to the Maa culture.
In spite of their physical maturity, they are contemptuously referred to as intoiye nemengalana, derogatory for girls who have not undergone the rite.
Their problems are far from over. Their worst nightmare yet comes in the form of Oloisudori, an evil businessman who now has their fate in his hands, thanks to a foolish deal their father entered with him.
Unknown to his family, Ole Kaelo had borrowed money from Oloisudori, which he used to establish his business. It so happens that on a visit to Ole Kaelo’s home, Oloisudori sets his eyes on Resian the younger of the sisters. He lusts for her and an idea hits his brain that he could take her for a wife.
Seeing as he might encounter difficulties in convincing the father to give out his daughter to him, he resorts to blackmailing the poor man. Either Ole Kaelo give him his youngest daughter or he recalls his debt, which includes the house he constructed.
Ole Kaelo opts for what he sees as the easier way out and agrees to pawn his daughter to save his business.
Just like other men in Nasila, Oloisudori would not marry a girl who has not undergone initiation, so he arranges for her to get cut first.
Luckily for Resian, Olarinkoi, a man who had been hanging out in their house, is at hand to ‘rescue’ her. He promises to take her to Emakererei, a woman who gives refuge to girls being threatened with the harmful practice.
Resian falls for his story and accompanies him to her ‘savior’. More shock awaits her as the man has his own evil designs on her. Like Oloisudori, Olarinkoi also wants to forcibly circumcise her and marry her.
Eventually, Resian escapes and finds her way to Emakererei, where her dream of going to university is assured. Her elder sister Taiyo is not as lucky. She is tricked and is forced to undergo the cut. Apparently, after losing Resian, Oloisudori decides to take Taiyo instead. In spite of Taiyo’s tragedy, both girls end up in the safe hands of Emakererei.
Blossoms of the Savannah has echoes of Ngugi wa Thiong’os The River Between, where two sisters are faced with an almost similar dilemma.
Muthoni opts to get circumcised but dies in the process. Muthoni’s death is interpreted as Ngugi’s way of saying that female circumcision is outdated.
Ole Kulet’s narrative is enriched with the description of the various aspects of the Maa culture. In the book, Ole Kaelo comes out as a pretty confused character. His wife does not help matters either. Instead of standing out for her daughters, she just runs along with her husband, content with protecting family property.
In spite of its obvious harmful effects, FGM refuses to die, as the lobbyists would expects it to. Could it be that their approach to the whole issue is wrong?

You can order the book online on