Tell us about yourself, your background, and your current ‘station’ in life.
I am a proud husband, father, and grandfather. I am a 64-year-old, trained film editor (currently retired), with over 35 years of experience in broadcasting. I love reading, writing, farming, and serving my local community, which is what I currently occupy myself with. I am the current Chairman of the Board of Management at Busia Agricultural Training Centre (ATC). As well, I am a member of the boards of management of Elukhari and Kanjala secondary and primary schools, respectively. I also serve as the deacon at Butula Baptist Church.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? What inspired you?
I was an avid reader in my high school days. I read almost all the books by James Hadley Chase, and others like Efuru by Flora Nwapa, The Concubine by Elechi Amadi, A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiongo and many others. While reading these books, I kept wondering what it would take to be a writer. After leaving the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, I became an ardent reader of Wahome Mutahi’s column, ‘Whispers’. His satirical portrayal of the ills that bedevilled our society at that time was ingenious. Slowly, the urge to write began to sprout in me but quickly died after I attempted to write my novel, Scavengers in 1987 ending in chapter two. Later, the political commentaries of Kwendo Opanga and Mutahi Ngunyi stirred the writing bug that had gone to slumber and inspired me to begin writing Chasing Ethnic Shadows in 2010.
How did you develop an interest in writing and what was your first published item? Where was this published?
Although I had the gift of creative writing from an early age, I never attempted to write and submit any articles for publication. However, the events of 2008 post-election violence provided enough raw materials to tempt me to sit down and write my first novel. In 2008, civil organizations came up with the unifying call, “We are one,” to try to reconcile the warring communities. Chasing Ethnic Shadows, my first novel, is an attempt at reminding Kenyans that we are one. Wholesale condemnation and stereotyping of communities only stir unnecessary rivalry; instead, we should appreciate that every community has its fair share of people with different characteristics, both good and bad.
When did you write your first book and how old were you? What was the title? Where was it published?
I started writing my first book, Chasing Ethnic Shadows, in 2010, when I was 52 years. It was not until 2018 that it was published by Nsemia Inc. Publishers.
What are the predominant subjects you focus on in your writing? Why?
I deal with diverse subjects, although I have a particular liking for societal values and hence issues of morality and corruption. I believe that my writing should invite the reader to be introspective. If my writing can help people change and see things from different perspectives, perhaps through the eyes of someone whose shoes they haven’t walked in, I would have achieved my aim.
Where do you get ideas for your books? What inspires you to write?
The society in which we live is replete with stories begging to be written. The urge to teach, exhort and initiate discussions around issues that adversely affect our society inspires me to write. The ideas are all around us!
Tell us about your recently released title
Cast the First Stone is my latest novel. It deals with corruption, cronyism, and other ills that affect our society.
Where and when was it published?
It was published by Nsemia Inc. in 2023
What inspired you to write this book?
Regularly, corruption stories make it to newspaper headlines, isolating it as a major problem in society. Because of the gravity of its consequences, and the need to stop it from festering, its anatomy must be laid bare for all to see (read). And this is what inspired me to write the book.
About this book
What would be the takeaway for someone who reads the book?
Corruption is alive and a majority of people are complicit in it; both the poor and the high and mighty embrace it as long as they benefit from it. But it can be conquered if the public good is elevated above personal interests and gain. The book reminds the reader not to only focus on the mega-corruption by the high and mighty. It exposes the small corrupt deals by the small fish and avers that all such deals negatively affect society.
How can that help the person in their day-to-day life
The book arms the readers with information and creates awareness by exposing situations that incubate corruption, and the consequences thereof. It then invites the reader to make critical reflections and decisions about the type of society they want to live in. The choices have a direct bearing on the type of society and life they lead.
- Any concrete examples from the content to illustrate the point?
- Mkonyi, the Managing Editor, and the Managing Director received plots meant for the landless, knowing very well that it was wrong.
- Gathee and his group receive donations meant for fire victims in Burefi informal settlements although they were not victims; this is wrong.
- The District Traffic Officer receives a bribe and sets free Dachi, Mkonyi’s son, although he had caused an accident because of drunken driving.
How relevant are some of the ideas in the book for others outside the environment in which you grew up, schooled and work in?
I believe the ideas and lessons in the book are relevant, and applicable in different environments within the country and beyond; remember, corruption is a global and human problem.
We live in a global village and competition remains stiff in all aspects of life. Concerning the production of knowledge (writing/ authorship and publishing)
How can the country leverage this to assert itself in the global village? Through the education system? Professional training? Or what?
- Deliberate policies that recognize and reward those who dedicate their lives to the production of knowledge should be formulated and implemented.
- These policies should extend to the education system, which should serve as the nursery for future knowledge producers. This will encourage students talented in creative works to hone their skills at an early age and take up the production of knowledge when they mature.
How competitive is Kenya compared to other countries you have experience with?
I believe we lag compared to other countries because the current policies do not favour or appreciate writers and publishers. The issue of a poor reading culture bedevils the country and is decried continually.
- What is your take on the notion of a knowledge society? And how prepared is Kenya as a country to attain that status?
No country prospers without appreciating the knowledge and its application as a crucial commodity for development. One has to look at the investments by the government, quasi-governmental agencies, and the private sector in making the acquisition, dissemination, and application of knowledge accessible to those who seek it, to appreciate that we are not far away from attaining the status of a knowledge society.
Reading culture, and knowledge capture and retention are seen as attributes of global competition in modern times.
What do you see as the role reading culture would play towards the attainment of the knowledge society?
Readers are the target market for writers. It is through reading and using or applying what has been written that knowledge society can be attained.
On a scale of 1(worst) to 10(best) how do you rate Kenya’s reading culture?
I high percentage of Kenyans read to pass exams, but only a small percentage read for pleasure and for the acquisition of knowledge that is not exam related. It reminds me of the joke that in Kenya if you have a secret, you hide it in a book!
What can be done to improve the country’s reading culture? What is the role of the education system in this? What is the role of leadership, corporate, political, community and otherwise in this?
The government can set up libraries in all sub-counties or wards and supply books to make them accessible to readers.
Writing labs should be introduced to children in primary school to foster talents from a young age.
The corporates can cooperate with the government to actualize this proposal by making the establishment of libraries part of their corporate social responsibilities.
The Ministry of Education can initiate school magazines and encourage students to review books they have read. This will nurture the writing and reading culture.
Any future writing plans for you? Do you have any projects in the works that you would like the audience to know about? When can we expect another book from you?
Yes, I have many projects in the works. I hope that by the end of the year, I will have completed two books. I also intend to try my hand at poetry and see how I will fare in that genre.
There are stories to be told, knowledge, and wisdom to be imparted, keep writing; your labour is not in vain.
A lot has been written, a lot is being written; excavate information, and knowledge from the written word, and use it.
The publishing industry?
Publicize your published books, and pay writers their royalties, however small.
Make policies that encourage writing and reading culture. Well-stocked libraries (emphasizing Kenyan works) in every county, and writing hubs will go a long way in encouraging the reading and writing culture.
Other (name them) Filmmakers
Many Kenyan books can be adapted for film and TV; this will nurture a reading culture and build a truly robust Kenyan movie industry.
Do you have any final closing thoughts?
Books are a depository of knowledge. Let the government put in place policies that encourage writers to keep writing. However, before such a policy materializes, the initiative should start with us all – wananchi. Let us make reading fun for the younger generations, replace the i-pads with books and stories that stir up imagination and encourage better communication. We have to initiate the change we desire, starting in the home.