By Mbugua Ngunjiri
When Kinyanjui Kombani’s manuscript for The Last Villains of Molo was accepted by a publisher, he had big dreams – in his own words, he saw himself crossing the poverty line.
“I even went to a car showroom to enquire about the price of my favourite car (Land Cruiser VX). So after a year of sales, and not a cent to show for it, I felt let down,” he explains.
This book, nevertheless, put him on the Kenyan literary map. It is arguably the only text, in Kenya, that tackles the theme of ethnic clashes. It can be argued that through his writer’s vision, Kombani foresaw the 2007 Post-Election Violence (PEV).
The book has a chequered history and though fictional, is somehow intertwined with Kombani’s life. It is largely set in Molo and Ngando – a slum around Dagoretti Corner.
Kombani went to Molo Academy for his nursery, primary and secondary education. His family later relocated to Ngando after he finished his secondary school studies.
He signed a publishing contract with Acacia Stantex in 2002, shortly after he finished writing the manuscript. “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,” he explains.
The phenomenon of ethnic clashes started in Molo, a year before the 1992 multiparty elections. Afterwards, the clashes took on a five-year cycle coinciding with general elections, save from 2002. After 2002, the violence took on a yearly dimension culminating into the 2007 PEV, where more than 1,000 people died and thousands displaced.
That is the theme, Kombani, then a literature student at Kenyatta University, tackled. “Initially, I just wanted to tell a story,” says 32-year-old Kombani. “I have always been intrigued by ‘rich girl, poor boy’ stories and wanted to tell a story along those lines. When I did more research and interviewed more players in the Molo conflict, I realised that negative ethnicity was real, and I could use reconciliation as a message for the youth.”
The book ends with the protagonists reconciling and getting married. While he is grateful that there was no fighting in the March general election, he notes that it is only the battleground that shifted. “Sadly, the Kenyan social media scene has become the next battleground. We did not physically fight in 2013, but the fragmentation had been entrenched – if the tribal sentiments on social media are anything to go by,” explains Kombani.
The father of two believes that by working together writers and publishers can achieve a lot. “I have a good relationship with my publisher (Longhorn), and it is because I have taken the initiative to ensure my books are available and people know about them. Last year, two weeks before my children’s book Lost but Found was released, I had already sold 600 copies in my workplace alone. The book sold out in two weeks having taken the campaign to Facebook and Twitter,” he says. Kombani’s next project is a novel provisionally titled Den of Iniquities, which he hopes to launch soon.