Books Culture Education Featured Fiction Personalities

Kenyan priest who wrote a novel and won an award

Ten things you should know about Father Samuel Wachira, the only priest in Kenya, to have written a full-length book on popular literature.

1. Father Samuel Wachira was born and raised in Sagana, Kirinyaga County.

2. He studied priesthood at the Pontifical Institute for Biblical Studies in Rome.

3. His first posting as a priest was in the Amazon Forest, in Brazil, where he served for close to ten years.

4. Deep in the Amazon Forest, there was no electricity and the road network was poor. Sometimes it would rain for a whole straight week and the priest would spend the entire time indoors. “I decided to occupy myself with writing,” he says. That is how Gold Rush, his first book, was born.

5. The death of Father Kamau Ithondeka, who was his college-mate in Rome, during the 2007/8 Post-Election Violence, moved Father Wachira to write Whistleblower. He was still ministering in Brazil.

6. After he came back to Kenya, Father Wachira served briefly at St Mukasa Parish, in Kahawa West, before being posted to Blessed Allamano Runogone Catholic Parish, in Meru, where he serves to date. Back in Kenya, he wrote Tales from the Amazon, a collection of short stories targeted at Standard Seven and Eight pupils.

7. His fourth book, A Spider’s Web, dealing with drug abuse, was made a set-book for Teacher Training Colleges (2021 to 2025). “Writing this book helped me cope with the deaths of my father and younger brother,” says Father Wachira.

8. During the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, Father Wachira, again, found himself with spare time as churches had been closed. He used the time to write Hustler’s Chains, which won the Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize, in September.

9. Two of his books have been runners-up in the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature (Whistle Blower in 2017 and The Spider’s Web in 2019)

10. Father Wachira has been published by three different publishers. East African Educational Publishers (Gold Rush and Tales from the Amazon), Longhorn (Whistleblower) and One Planet (Spider’s Web and Hustlers’ Chains).

Books Events Issues News publishing

Jomo Kenyatta/Wahome Mutahi Literary Prizes announced

Marx Kahende, a retired diplomat and Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s son, Nducu, are among the winners of the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature.

Kahende’s book, The Wayward Vagabond, published by East African Educational Publishers (EAEP), won in the adult English category, while Nducu wa Ngugi’s book Benji’s Big Win (EAEP), won in the youth English category. Former Nairobian columnist, Sarah Haluwa’s book, Chadi’s Trip (Storymoja) won in the children’s English category.

The awards ceremony, organised by the Kenya Publishers Association, was held on Saturday evening at the Pride Inn Hotel, in Westlands, at the tail-end of the Nairobi International Book Fair.

Samuel Wachira, a Catholic priest based in Meru won the Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize with his book, Hustlers’ Chains, published by One Planet Publishers.

Other winners included Kiswahili scholar Prof Kithaka wa Mberia, whose book Kwenzi Gizani (Marimba Publications) won the Kiswahili Adult Category. In the Kiswahili youth category, the winner was Mbona Hivi? Written by Shullam Nzioka and published by Oxford University Press.

The winner in the Kiswahili children’s category was Fumbo la Watamu by Ali Attas, published by One Planet.

During the event, Prof Laban Ayiro, the Daystar Universtity Vice-Chancellor, who was the chief guest, challenged Kenyans to embrace the culture of reading if they hoped to become good leaders. He emphasised that reading is a prerequisite to good leadership. He also decried the poor reading habits exhibited by the younger generation and majority of leaders across all sectors.

Kiarie Kamau, the chairman of Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) spoke about the supremacy Kenyan publishing. “We are increasingly becoming a force to reckon with in the area of Publishing in Africa and beyond,” said Kamu, who is also the managing director of EAEP. “We sit on the Executive Committees of the International Publishers Association as well as the African Publishers Network. We publish high quality and wide range of general reading materials, most of which serve a global audience. We are already visible on the digital publishing and online selling space … the two literary awards demonstrate that indeed Publishing in Kenya has come of age.”

Events Issues News Personalities

Ng’ang’a Mbugua nominated for Wahome Mutahi Award, Again!

Nganga Mbugua makes history by being nominated for a record fourth time in the Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize with his book Angels of the Wild, published by One Planet.
The winner of this year’s edition of the Wahome Mutahi Prize, administered by the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA), will be awarded at the end of the 19th edition of the Nairobi International Book Fair, whose hast tag is #NIBFinspiredtoread.
The first time his book Terrorists of the Aberdare (Big Books) got nominated, in 2010, it went ahead to win the prize, which is awarded on a bi-annual basis. The next time the prize was announce, in 2012, his other book, Different Colours (Big Books) again won the prize.
In 2014, his collection of poetry, This Land is our Land was again nominated and got the first runners-up position, after the top spot was scooped up by surgeon Yusuf Dawood’s The Last Word (Longhorn).

Ng’ang’a Mbugua (Left), is all smiles as he receives his winner’s certificate from Prof Egara Kabaji, who was the chief guest at the ceremony

This year Ng’ang’a Mbugua’s book has been nominated alongside Anthony Mugo’s Ask the Stars (Longhorn) and Peter Kareithi’s Komu Fights for Change (Longhorn).
KPA also announced the nominees for the Kiswahili category of the Award. They are Mashetani wa Alepo by Tom Olali (Jomo Kenyatta Foundation) Kovu Moyoni by John Habwe (BookMark Africa) and Narejea Nyumbani by Jeff Mandila (Jomo Kenyatta Foundation).
The Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize, now in its sixth edition, was established in 2006, by KPA, in honour of humourist and satirist, the late Wahome Mutahi, who was made popular by his Whispers column, which was published by both the Sunday Nation and Sunday Standard.
Events Issues News Personalities

Onduko bw’Atebe: Writing is a labour of love

Despite the challenges facing the local writing industry, writer Onduko bw’Atebe prefers to see it as a half full glass rather than half empty. “The Kenyan writing scene is changing for the better,” he says. “More people are getting into the scene which is a good thing.”


Atebe’s book Verdict of Death, published EAEP, won the inaugural Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize in 2006. The prize is awarded by the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) every two years in honour of the late humourist Wahome Mutahi of the Whispers fame. It alternates with the more established Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature, also ran by KPA.

Towards the end of September 2014 KPA announced Yusuf Dawood as the fifth winner of the Wahome Mutahi Literary Award with his book The Last Word, which is a collection of past episodes of his Surgeon’s Diary column. He beat off competition from Nation editor Ng’ang’a Mbugua, who had submitted This Land is our Land (Big Books), a collection of poetry, and A Gift from A stranger (KLB), a play written by University of Nairobi lecturer Waigwa Wachira.

It is worth noting that Yusuf Dawood pocketed sh50,000, the same amount Atebe won eight years ago. In the intervening period the cost of living has shot up, inflation has given Kenyans a hiding and still writers get the same amount of money for an effort that took them the better part of four years. It is any wonder Kenyan writers do not have enough motivation to write?

Atebe took time off his busy schedule to talk about the award and Kenyan writing in general. While acknowledging that things could be better he nevertheless feels that positive strides have been made in the writing scene. “Some of our Kenyan authors have made their presence known on the international scene,” he offers. “Billy Kahora of Kwani? has been nominated twice for the Caine Prize for African Writing. Vyonne Owuor’s blockbuster Dust is currently scorching the literary world. Compared to eight years ago Binyavanga has firmly established himself in the international literary scene.”

“Let us also not forget Okwiri Oduor who won the Caine Prize this year with her short story My Father’s Head. You see, good things are happening on the local writing scene. With such shining examples our children have something worthwhile to aspire to,” says Atebe.


In spite of the progress he has enumerated Atebe is however convinced that a lot needs to be done to improve the welfare of local writers; those who do not have international connections like the ones he has mentioned above. “The uncomfortable truth is that it can be difficult for someone to make ends meet through writing alone in Kenya,” he explains. “You see after my book won the prize I thought I would live off writing. I even took an initiative to market it in schools across the country but at the end I realised that my expenses far outstripped what I was making.”

Faced with the stark reality of a shrivelled bank account Atebe decided to cast his net wider and veered off into business. “Here in Kenya you need a firm financial background only then can you embark on writing,” says Atebe who today is a contractor in the rural electrification sector.

His business endeavours however have left him with little time to put pen on paper. “My work eats up most of my time,” he says. “I am forever on the road; come evening I am exhausted and sleepy.” Verdict of Death remains his only book. “I had a completed manuscript but it was destroyed when a virus wreaked havoc on my computer. I spent a lot of time grieving over the lost manuscript.”

He assures his readers that if all goes well they will be reading another of his books in the ‘near future’. “I have two incomplete manuscripts I am working on. The good thing is that I am not new in the field of writing,” he explains. “A number of publishers have approached me asking me to write for them, so I am not short of options.”

Atebe asks Kenyan publishers to pull up their socks as far as marketing creative works is concerned. “They don’t do much marketing which explains why readers are not aware of what is available by local authors,” he says. He disputes the notion that Kenyans do not read. “Visit any local bookshop today and you will see stacks and stacks of novels, only that they are by Western authors. You can’t buy something you are not aware of” he adds.

He faults his publisher EAEP for not doing enough to market his book after it won the Wahome Mutahi Prize. “The least they would have done it to ensure that subsequent editions have a stamp indicating that it won a prize. That would have helped boost the sales,” he explains.

He is happy that Yusuf Dawood won the Wahome Mutahi Prize. “I really enjoy reading what the good surgeon writes,” says Atebe.

Events Issues News Personalities

Mbugua, Dawood to battle it out for Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize

This year’s Wahome Mutahi Literary prize is shaping up to be another epic battle between surgeon Yusuf Dawood and journalist Ng’ang’a Mbugua. They both have been nominated in the Adult English category of the award set to be delivered at the end of September.

My Land

Dawood’s book The Last Word, published by Longhorn a collection of essays that have been published in the Surgeon’s Diary column in Sunday Nation, has been nominated alongside Mbugua’s book This land is our Land, (Big Books) a collection of poetry. The other nominee is a book titled A Gift from a Stranger (KLB) authored by Waigwa Wachira.

The first contest between the two took place in 2011 when Dawood’s novel Eye of the Storm was nominated alongside Mbugua’s Terrorists of the Aberdare. Eye of the Storm took the ultimate prize with Terrorists of the Aberdare coming in at second. Literary observers agree that it was a close contest.


In 2012 the two writers were at it again. Dawood’s book Eye of the Storm was again in contention, this time for the Wahome Mutahi Prize against Mbugua’s Different Colours. This time Mbugua took home the prize. Mbugua is a veteran of the Wahome Mutahi Prize as Terrorists of the Aberdare had won the prize in 2010.

Ng'ang'a Mbugua (Left), is all smiles as he receives his winner's certificate from Prof Egara Kabaji, who was the chief guest at the ceremony
Ng’ang’a Mbugua (Left), receiving his winner’s certificate at a previous awards ceremony

The Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize is held every two years in honour of the late humourist and novelist Wahome Mutahi of the Whispers column fame. It is organised by the Kenya Publishers Association and held at the end of the annual Nairobi International Book Fair.

There are four different categories to be awarded in the Wahome Mutahi Prize, namely English Adult, Kiswahili Adult, English Children and Kiswahili Children categories. The two children’s categories were introduced for this year’s Award.

Nominees in the Kiswahili Adult category are Juma Namlola’s Kula kwa Mheshimiwa (JKF), Tom Olali’s Watu wa Gehenna (JKF) and Jeff Mandila’s Upepo wa Mvua (JKF). In the Children English category, the nominees are Charles Gecaga’s Kuti makes a Difference (KLB), Naomi the Detective by Joseph Muleka (KLB) and A Note for Alice by Mureithi Maina (Moran).

In the Kiswahili Children category the nominees are John Kobia’s Maskini Punda (KLB), Kiswahili Gani by Lilian Wairimu (KLB) and Bitugi Matundura’s Adhabu ya Joka (Longhorn). Winners in each category will take home a cash prize of sh50,000.

A win for Ng’ang’a will be a major boost for Kenyan poets at it will be the first time a collection of poetry will be winning a major literary prize in the country. Literary prizes in Kenya are seen to only recognise prose writers. The Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize however has demonstrated its flexibility when the prize was awarded to activist Okoiti Omtata’s play Voice of the People in 2008.

Check out our review of Mbugua’s poetry book.

The judging panel consists of Dr Tom Odhiambo, as chair, of University of Nairobi, Prof Wangari Mwai of Kenyatta University and Rose Mavisi of Catholic University.

Issues News Personalities

The sorry state of creative writing in Kenya

Towards the end of September book lovers will get to know the winners of the Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize. This will be the fifth time the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) will be handing out the award named in honour of Kenya’s foremost humourist and satirist, the late Wahome Mutahi.

IMG 1Ng’ang’a Mbugua (left) receives a certificate from Prof Egara Kabaji for winning a literary award at a previous ceremony

While it is a good thing that Kenyan publishers decided to honour the man whose giant shoes are yet to be filled to date – the attempts at humour in local paper is nowhere close to what Wahome offered with his whispers column – the award remains woefully underfunded. This year’s winners will be taking home a humble sh50,000, similar to what Onduko bw’ Atebe pocketed when his book The Verdict of Death won the inaugural prize way back in 2006.

One would expect that the prize money would have at least obeyed the rules of inflation and be revised upwards but sadly it remains stagnant eight years down the line. In a way the story of literary awards is a sad narrative of creative writing in the country; going nowhere fast. With a prize money of sh50,000 it is not a surprise that would-be writers are unwilling to ‘waste’ three years – the average time one takes to finish a modest novel – of their time writing.

It is instructive to note that The Verdict of Death remains Atebe’s only book to date. The dreams he had harboured of striking it rich through writing scattered when the first royalty cheque arrived. He told this writer that the money he gets once a year in the form of royalty is barely enough to meet his living expenses. That explains why he veered off into business where he is doing well as a private electrical contractor.

Part of the reason creative works in the country are doing poorly has a lot to do with marketing. It is an open secret that Kenyan publishers place too much emphasis on textbooks at the expense of creative works. Even with textbooks there isn’t so much marketing; publishers fight to have their books in the Orange Book as they are assured of being bought by schools using the free primary and secondary funds.

The only time a creative writer is assured a financial windfall is when their book is picked by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), formerly KIE to be a school set book. That way the writer is assured of earning at least sh80 million in a span of four years. It is little wonder that publishers do creative works with an eye to the set book market. If your book is not a set book the most you can hope to sell in a year is an average of 5,000 copies as supplementary texts in schools.

This goes to further cement the fact that publishers have not yet developed tools for marketing their books outside the school market. If your book is not selling in the school system then you can rest assured that it will be gathering dust on bookshop shelves.

One would expect that publishers would capitalise on the hype and publicity generated when a book wins a literary prize to push those books to the general public but sadly nothing of the sort happens. Once the award ceremony is over it is back to business and the production of more textbooks. And in spite of the fact that most major publishers have subsidiaries in other countries, in the region, those markets only exist to absorb more textbooks, which incidentally are the bread and butter of local publishers.

Research however shows that creative works have the potential of earning publishers more money than textbooks if only they invested in more aggressive marketing and competent editing – most creative works are horrendously edited if at all. It is estimated that publishers have used up to 70 per cent potential of the textbook market while that of creative works stands at a lowly 30 per cent. There is still a 70 per cent potential yet to be exploited; a goldmine in publishing terms.

The question therefore remains are publishers willing to roll up their sleeves and mine the 70 per cent potential? Until such a time writers will continue to take home measly prize monies and creative writing will remain a labour of love in the foreseeable future.

Events Issues News Personalities

Mbugua takes the Wahome Mutahi Prize, again!

Nation journalist Ng’ang’a Mbugua, is this year’s Wahome Mutahi’s Literary Prize winner with his book Different Colours. This makes it two times in a row that he has won the prize.

Ng’ang’a Mbugua (Left), is all smiles as he receives his winner’s certificate from Prof Egara Kabaji, who was the chief guest at the ceremony

In 2010, he won the same prize with his other book Terrorists of the Aberdare. Different Colours is published by Big Books. Ng’ang’a’s book beat a formidable competition from Dr Yusuf Dawood’s book Eye of the Storm (East African Educational Publishers) and David Mulwa’s book, We Come in Peace (Oxford University Press). Eye of the Storm won last year’s edition the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature.

In the Kiswahili category Jeff Mandila’s book, Sikitiko la Sambaya (JKF) was the winner, beating other nominees John Habwe’s Pamba also published by JKF and Mwenda Mbatia’s Msururu wa Usaliti (EAEP). The two winners took home cash prizes of Sh50,000. John Habwe won the Kiswahili prize in 2010 with his book Cheche za Moto.

The Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize is held every two years in honour of the late humourist and novelist Wahome Mutahi of the Whispers column fame. It is organised by the Kenya Publishers Association and held at the end of the annual Nairobi International Book Fair, which was in its 15th edition.

The judging panel was led by Prof Henry Indangasi of University of Nairobi, Prof Wangari Mwai of Kenyatta University and Dr Tom Odhiambo of University of Nairobi.

Ng’ang’a Mbugua, who is the chief sub editor of Business Daily said that he was happy to have won the prize two times in a row saying that it was testament of the hard work he put into his writing.

Events Issues News Personalities Reviews

Ng’ang’a Mbugua’s Terrorist of the Aberdare wins Wahome Mutahi Prize

Ng’ang’a Mbugua’s novella, Terrorist of the Aberdare has won the third edition of the Wahome Mutahi Literary Award, while John Habwe’s book Cheche za Moto won the Kiswahili category of the same prize. The awarding ceremony was the highlight of the 13th edition of the Nairobi International Book Fair.

An elated Ng’ang’a Mbugua, who is also the chief sub-editor of Daily Nation, says that the win has vindicated his edition to self-publish the book. “I presented the manuscript of this book to several publishers and they turned it down,” an elated Ng’ang’a told Maisha Yetu. “Since I had faith in the book I formed Big Books, took a small loan and published the book.”

Ng'ang'a Mbugua, left, receiving the certificate and cheque from Bedan Mbugua of Royal Media Service, after winning the Wahome Mutahi Literary Award

Ng’ang’a’s example shows that there is indeed life after publishers slam the door on a writer. I can imagine how the publishers who rejected the manuscript felt after Ng’ang’a stood to receive his prize. “Were we that blind?” they must have been asking themselves. And what does this say about the judgment of publishers who were given the chance to publish this book, and they rejected it? Should we start questioning their competence?

How many more potential winners are publishers sitting on? not to mention the ones they have rejected?

You might be wondering what Terrorist of the Aberdare is all about, whether it has anything to do with America’s old enemy, Osama bin Laden. Having read the book I can assure you that it has nothing to with Osama’s brand of terrorism. It talks about a different kind of terrorist: it is about elephants that cause havoc to farmers’ crops

These elephants leave the park and come to destroy farmers’ crops. Apart from that they also kill farmers who stand in their way. In Ng’ang’a’s book the victim of the elephant’s terrorism happens to be one Sonko Wakadosi, who was dispatched to his Maker by a rogue elephant. The author manages to address the serious issues of human wildlife conflict and environmental management by employing humour.

For the last few days Kenyans have been riveted by the exploits of one Mike Mbuvi ‘Sonko’, who trounced ODM’s Reuben Ndolo and PNU’s Dick Wathika to clinch the Makadara parliamentary seat in Nairobi. While talk about Sonko (rich man in Sheng) has revolved around his seemingly endless riches, the Sonko in Ng’ang’a’s book is dirt poor, and whose hope of striking it rich was through the sale of the cabbages so beloved of the elephants.

For his trouble Ng’ang’a takes home Ksh50,000 (625USD). But for Ng’ang’a money is the issue. it is about the recognition that comes with the win. “I plan to ride on the publicity generated by the win to really market my book,” says Ng’ang’a, whose company has already published a short story The Last Kiss, which is doing relatively well in the market.

Even before the award Ng’ang’a says that Terrorist of the Aberdare has done well in the short time it has been in the market, and that he has managed to recoup the money he invested in publishing the book.

The first edition of the Wahome Mutahi Prize was won by Onduko bw’ Atebe’s Verdict of Death, in 2006, while activist Okoiti Omtata’s play Voice of the People, won the prize in 2008.

Ng’ang’a has written other books including Mwai Kibaki: Economist for Kenya, (Sasa Sema) Catherine Ndereba: Marathon Queen (Sasa Sema), Susana the Brave (Focus), among others.

Events Issues News Releases

Wahome Mutahi Prize, call for entries

The Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) is calling for the submission on entries for this year’s Wahome Mutahi Literary Award. Both members and non-members of KPA are eligible to enter. Submissions should include five copies of the book, which are not returnable. The entry fee for members is Sh5,000, while that of non-members is Sh10,000. Entries should be received at the KPA secretariat by March 31, 2010. The Wahome Mutahi Literary Award was started by KPA in honour of the late humorist and author, for his contribution to the written word in Kenya. Judges pick out the book that use humor and satire to explore areas such as human rights, governance, etiquette and other relevant social issues. The first edition of the prize, awarded after every two years, was held in 2006 and was won by Onduko bw’ Atebe’s book, The Verdict of Death. Okoiti Omtata won the 2008 edition with his play Voice of the People.
These are the rules and regulations from the Kenya Publishers Association.
The Wahome Mutahi Literary Award is the brain-child of the Kenya Publishers Association. It was established in 2004 and is open to Kenyan writers whose work is published in Kenya. The prize will be given bi-annually to the author of the most outstanding new book that will use humor and satire to explore areas such as human rights, governance, etiquette and other relevant social issues in the following categories:
Adult Fiction:
a. English and
b. Kiswahili

The Prize will be presented during the 13th Nairobi International Book Fair to be held in September 2010.

The following rules must be adhered to:
1. Eligible entries for the 2010 Prize are those books published in 2008 and 2009 respectively.
2. Any original work of fiction written in English or Kiswahili will be eligible.
3. All entries must be submitted through the publisher.
4. In order to qualify, all entries submitted must be published in Kenya.
5. Generally, any book submitted should have a minimum of 48 pages.
6. Only published works are eligible
7. The quality of content will be the overriding criterion. The following however must be taken into consideration when submitting a title: quality of binding, cover design, quality of paper, quality of illustrations where applicable, and general layout.
8. Five non-returnable copies of the submitted title(s), accompanied by an entry form must be sent to the undersigned as soon as possible but not later than March, 31st 2010. A summary of the work and reasons for its suitability must be submitted together with the entry form.
9. The decision of the Judging Panel and the Awards Committee for the Wahome Mutahi Literary Award will be final. No further correspondence will be entered into in connection with the Award.

Mailing Address: The Executive Officer
Kenya Publishers Association
P.O. Box 42767, 00100

Physical Address: Kenya Publishers Association
Occidental Plaza
2nd Floor,
Muthithi Road, Westlands