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Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o makes a homecoming, of sorts, when he returns to Amherst College—where he was based in the early stages of exile—in a three-day fest celebrating his 80th birthday.

He will be one of the star attractions at the Amherst Lit Festival, hosted by the top liberal arts college, and whose prominent Kenyan alumni include President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Ngugi taught at Amherst College in 1991, serving as a distinguished visiting professor of English and African Literature. His birthday celebrations will be between March 1-3.

The Kenyan journalist and author, Dr Peter Kimani, who is coordinating Ngugi’s event, is presently the Visiting Writer at the college. Kimani expects Ngugi’s celebration to springboard an assessment of his artistic legacy.

Ngugi Poster

Poster for the three-day event

Kimani, whom many in the literary world consider to be Ngugi’s literary son, explained that the theme of the celebration, ‘This Time Tomorrow,’ draws from an old Ngugi play that contemplates the future of a widowed woman, who is rendered homeless after her slum home is overrun by city authorities.

“It’s opportune time for Kenyans and Africans to ponder: Where do we go from here? Where do we take Ngugi’s artistic legacy, ‘this time tomorrow’”? Kimani said, adding that Ngugi’s engagements as a socially committed writer and activist provide useful lessons for African writers.


Prof Ngugi (left) and his protege Dr Peter Kimani

“Ngugi’s decision to return to his roots, by championing African languages in late 1970s, was at the peak of his writing career. That meant his work suffered less immediate circulation, though not necessarily, less impact.

“But he received less external recognition, as Europe wasn’t going to reward someone seeking to end their cultural hegemony. He put his people and continent first, and that’s a useful lesson for us to postulate.”

The Amherst celebration will feature readings and discussions surrounding Ngugi’s life in writing. Most activities will be held at Amherst College, though Smith College, which is part of the Five Colleges incorporating Amherst, Hampshire, Mt Holyoke and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, will host some events.

This includes Ngugi’s public lecture: “Birth of a Dream Weaver: The Pleasures and Perils of Writing,” reflecting on Ngugi’s evolution as a writer, a career that took off while still an undergraduate at Makerere University in Uganda in 1962 with the play, The Black Hermit. This will be on March 1.

That evening, Amherst College will host a staged reading of the play, This Time Tomorrow, directed by Kim Euell, an award-winning African-American dramaturg based at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

On March 2, Amherst College will also host a screening of a film, Ngugi wa Thiong’o: The River Between African and European Languages, directed by the Kenyan academic, Prof Ndirangu Wachanga, who is based at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.


Wachanga’s work looks at the intersect of memory and the construction of national history. Over the past decade, he has documented the lives and times of leading Kenyan academics, including Ali Mazrui.

Ngugi will deliver the final reading the Amherst Lit Festival, followed by his birthday celebration, on March 3.

The month of March will prove busy for Kimani. He has a scheduled tour of London between March 10 and 17, to promote the British edition of his historical novel, Dance of the Jakaranda.

The book was released in New York last February, to great critical acclaim, including a New York Times Notable Book of the Year selection.

Kimani will give public readings and discuss his work at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, London School of Economics, and Cambridge University.

Other book events will be Daunts, the oldest independent bookstore in London, and Waterstones, the largest bookstore chain in Europe, where he will be in conversation with Fiammetta Rocco, the Books and Arts editor at The Economist.

Kimani will wrap up his mid-year book tour at the Calabash festival in Jamaica, hailed by critics as the best literary event in the world. Hosted at Treasure beach, south of Jamaica, the biennial festival is held on a beachfront. It’s free and open to the public.

At any given point in the weeklong fest, some 2,500 people sit in the audience, waiting to soak up a reading or performance!


The marketing of Tafaria Castle, which straddles two counties, Lakipia and Nyandarua, is such that no one in their right mind would pass up the opportunity to spend a night there.
When a call came in, one fine Friday, asking if I would like to go to Tafaria, the following day, I did not think twice; I cancelled an appointment I had the following day.
The caller mentioned that the tour would involve a ‘two hour hike’. I easily brushed off this information; the only thing ringing in my mind was Tafaria.
We were to be picked by a van at 5.45 am, at the Kencom Bus Stage. Ordinarily, I would have taken a matatu, but the thought of walking from the Railways matatu terminus to Kencom, carrying a camera, at that early hour, was not one I fancied; what with the blood cuddling reports of muggings in this Sonko city.
For the sake of my camera, I managed to convince my mechanic to act as my chauffeur that morning.
I was the first one to arrive at Kencom, a full five minutes ahead of schedule. We were to pick a few other guys along Thika Road. To get to Tafaria, one has to go through Nyeri. Nyeri is about 150 kilometres from Nairobi. Tafaria is 65 kilometres from Nyeri, as you go towards Nyahururu.


The majestic Tafaria Castle

We were supposed to get to Tafaria Castle at 9am, where I imagined we would take breakfast before embarking on the ‘hike’.
Our last pick-up in Juja was a young man, who kept us waiting in Kenol for more than one hour.
This delay was to cost us dearly, at least for me.
Along the way George Waititu, the director of Tafaria Castle, called, asking us to find them deep inside Aberdare National Park, where the team was to embark on the hike.
That call put paid my dream of a sumptuous breakfast at Tafaria. Just before getting to the Rhino Gate, of the park, we encountered a steep incline and our van was unable to get to the top. We had to push it to the top.
Bad mistake.
Pushing the vehicle sapped all the energy in my body; remember I had not taken breakfast, having woken up at 3.30 am. Coupled with the fact that I was woefully unfit, I was not in the best shape for the hike, which by now I realised involved climbing a mountain – Satima is said to be the third highest peak in Kenya, after Mt Kenya and Mt Elgon.


The Castle of Love

When we got to the starting point, having driven some 10 kilometers inside the Park, Amos Mwaura, the high pitched guide told us that the leading pack, having gotten impatient, had set off an hour earlier. We needed to catch up, he said, there were four kilometres ahead of us. I panicked.


The hikers approach the Theatre of Heaven

Mwaura noticed that one of us had come dressed in office attire; a suit!
From his tone, Mwaura came across as a no-nonsense guy; no cutting corners here.
You can imagine my relief when Mwaura passed around snacks wrapped in tinfoil. I attacked mine straight away; such was my hunger.
From the word go Mwaura set a punishing pace and immediately I knew it was going to be a long day for me. I simply could not keep up. My lower back was on fire, my legs felt like they were made of lead. I was panting, nay grunting, as I shuffled one protesting leg after the other.
After clearing the first hill made up of bush and thickets and having wolfed down my entire lunch pack I felt somehow energised and enjoyed the less strenuous descent into the moorland.


The enchanting vegetation up there

My worries temporarily forgotten, my eyes suddenly opened up to the beauty and splendor all around me. This was an absolute eye fest; a true hiker’s paradise . Apart from the gently rolling hills, the valleys and the gorges, I saw some of the most dramatic rock formations ever witnessed in God’s wide world.
From the look of things, God must have been in a mischievous mood when he created these rocks.
To be honest, some of the rocks, from a far, look like animal droppings. Others have more elaborate patterns like ancient ruins. I was especially struck by one that looked like a giant tulip. This one I later realised has been christened The Lost Pyramid.
We later learnt from Mr Waititu that due to the fact that not many people frequent this particular area, these interesting rock formations are yet to be named. Thus the Tafaria establishment have, with the permission of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), embarked on naming these amazing rockformations.


Into the moorland

This is how we learnt that they have called this place, its haunting beauty and all is now called the Theatre of Heaven. I for one could not imagine a better place to shoot a movie. The Kenya Film Commission, Ezekiel Mutua seems to be making all the decisions nowadays, can thank me later.
Other interesting names include the Castle of Love, Devil’s Sword and Dragon’s Teeth.
Tafaria wants to promote the Theatre of Heaven as a tourist destination to the level of Mt Kenya and even Maasai Mara. Mr Waititu, a widely travelled man, said that he has been to the Swiss Alps but he maintains that the Kenyan Alps are in a class of their own.


The Devil’s Sword

Soon, it was time to go back and it struck me how far we had come. Luckily, I had taken some mountain spring water and was somehow rejuvenated.
Still, it bothered me to no end that the man in a suit was constantly ahead of me. Just then, I missed a step and my right foot got stuck the sticky dark mud. Meanwhile, suit man and his office shoes, kept walking ahead like he was on red carpet.
My discomfort was compensated by the anticipation of spending the night in the dreamy Tafaria Castle. It gave me the energy to plod on. Luckily it was downhill, er, in a good way, all the way.


The magical wedding under the Twin Peaks

When we got down to the twin peaks, where the vehicles had been left, a table was laid for a delicious cocktail. And to the surprise of many, a couple was tying the knot. Many ladies were left envious at what beautiful the mountain scenery was.

Pictures by Joseph Ngunjiri

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.

While President Uhuru Kenyatta was visiting the US, greater focus was, understandably, on the details of the trade talks as well as the fact that Kenya was trying to mend fences with Barrack Obama’s (Cousin Barry to some Kenyans) country, seeing as America’s ‘Choices have Consequences’ edict, in reference to Uhuru’s ICC case,  had pulled the two countries apart.

Focus was to later dramatically shift to President Kagame’s daughter (you know how that one went). Much later Uhuru was pictured in a Stetson – here in Kenya we call the godfather or godpapa – holding somewhat oversized American cowboy boots – gifts he was given by Texas cowboys, who also made him an honorary citizen. Although he eventually did visit George Bush Jnr – he of ‘you are either with us or the enemy’ – not much was said about a piece of ‘cloth’ the two were pictured holding.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and George Bush holding the painting.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and George Bush holding the painting.


Well, that piece of cloth was a painting Uhuru donated the former US president – don’t ask how they came to know each other, I don’t know either. Turns out the Uhuru appreciates art – Kenyan art to be specific – that he considered it important enough to give it to a former US president as a gift.

Patrick Kinuthia's painting  Si Hoja.

Patrick Kinuthia’s painting Si Hoja.

I did a little digging and realised that the painting is titled Ni hoja, lakini sio hoja (It is an issue but not an issue) – confusing huh? Well that is what artists do sometimes; confuse people – done by Patrick Kinuthia.


The painting, an acrylic on canvas, measuring 100 by 150 cm, features a couple standing before a group of women in an open air market. From the picture, it would appear like the man is trying to tell the woman, with baby strapped on her back something. The woman is either ignoring the man or is pretending not to hear.

From the picture is not clear whether the man and woman are a couple or not. Curiously though the man is clutching a package with the letters VCT clearly written on it. Could it be that the couple have just from a VCT centre? Who between, the man and the woman is saying the words ni hoja, lakini sio hoja? More importantly, why would they chose to have such a conversation in a public place.

Banana Hill-based artist Patrick Kinuthia.

Banana Hill-based artist Patrick Kinuthia.

Still, could the man be a health worker trying to convince the women in a market place to go and have their HIV statuses checked? Questions, questions and more questions. Incidentally, that is what a good artist is supposed to do; provoke your mind into thinking. And as they say, you take what you see in a piece of art. Hopefully, George Bush will have his own interpretation if he hangs the painting in his office.

William Ndwiga, the director of The Little Art Gallery says he received a call from the Kenyan ambassador to the US, asking for a ‘high value painting that can be displayed in a museum in the USA, for posterity’. He disclosed that the piece of art was bought for sh350,000 (approx 4,000 usd). “I see The Little Art Gallery running Art exhibitions by Kenyans in Kenyan embassies, around the world, to showcase what Kenya has to offer to the world. I have already started this process,” explains Ndwiga.

William Ndwiga, projects coordinator, The Little Art Gallery.

William Ndwiga, projects coordinator, The Little Art Gallery.

Kinuthia’s bio says his paintings ‘reflect both a freestyle approach as well as a disciplined observer of human and animal form behaviour’. Born in 1967, Kinuthia worked for Citizens Cinema Cooperation as a poster artist for its cinema halls, making scenery and portraits under the tutelage of Pakistani artist Mohammed Rafiq. Kinuthia is based in Banana Hill.


A poet, like a spider, works tirelessly spinning silver yarns. He struggles, endures until finally, a pattern is made: a web of beauty; a trap for the reader.

Those are not my words; I have just paraphrased Ng’ang’a Mbugua’s poem A Poet for it beautifully captures what good poetry does to a reader. It rejuvenates the soul, runs away with your imagination and makes you want to create some poetry of your own. At least that is what it does to me.


The above quoted poem is contained in an anthology titled This Land is our Land by Mbugua. In his seminal book Things Fall Apart, the late Chinua Achebe quotes an Igbo proverb that goes something like: “When the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for a walk”. For purposes of describing this book, I would have replaced walk with dance, for dancing is more poetic. After reading this collection even the most hopeless of writers would wish to create some poetry.

The vivid imagery in Mbugua’s poems seduces the reader’s imagination and drags you along to that secret world where only talented poets can take you. Take for example that short poem titled The Voice. The poet relives the relief of old Abraham and his son Isaac, when they laid their eyes on that ram, horns entangled in that thicket; specifically delivered to save the young man from the harsh knife wielded by his father.

From the introduction the reader mentally prepares themselves for a sermon on the all-enveloping love of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, until the poet takes an unexpected if not cheeky detour:

                                       Abraham lifted high his knife

                                       And was about to strike

                                       When out rang a voice

“What do you think you are doing?”

It was the voice

Of the owner of the lamb.

Aside from improbable Bible stories This Land or Land also captures the modern day realities and renders them in a way both entertains the reader and still retains the sting that admonishes our follies without being too preachy. A case in hand is the poem titled You should know people. Here, the poet brilliantly highlights the ever-widening rift between the haves and the have-nots.

‘You should know people’ therefore becomes the metaphor of what the poor should do in order to be ushered into the rarefied world of privilege. Sample this:

                          In a land where the many and the hungry are one and the same…

                          It pays to know people

                          If you are to be spared the pangs of want.

From the title This Land is our Land, one might think that this book is a patriotic ode to the Nation that celebrated 50 years of self-rule. The truth about the poem, however, is that it is a cynical appraisal of the nation our country has morphed into.

The poem is actually a deep-seated cry for peace, while also alive to the fact in the country we find ourselves in ‘real peace’ can never be attained. Or rather, some quarters would not allow for such peace to prevail; and that is why the poet is crying out for ‘just any peace’.

While the meaning in This Land is our Land might be somehow obscured Let’s Create Misery is an open bare-knuckled rebuke of wielders of power and who derive moronic pleasure from the suffering of the masses. Here, the ‘creators of misery’ revel in their ability to make people die; for they will create jobs in morgues, and more jobs ‘for coffin carriers and grave diggers’

And if all the workers die

                                             We’ll have bigger farms

                                             To grow coffee, tea, cotton

                                             No more food crops…

Oh, and there are also some love poems in the anthology as well including a tragic love story of Andrew and Jane who were ostracised by the church brethren, whose tongues began to wag, Casting the little couple in shady light/Preaching that they were far from right.

And who told you African names can’t rhyme? What about The merry old man from Ndumberi, who loved strawberry, and whose love was Njeri. Thus goes the tale of Wanderi.

Mbugua should be commended for investing his hard-earned funds to bring this publication to reality, at a time when mainstream publishers are giving poetry a wide berth and Kenyans think poetry is hard.

This book is selling at sh 350. You can order it through or through the author at

Everyone has a story to tell but it depends on who is telling the story and how that story is told. That is what makes the difference between a well told story and an ordinary, even boring story. Now, Tony Mochama, who also goes by the name Smitta, has a way with words and you can be assured that his pen can give even the mundane an interesting sheen, especially when he is not using his ‘Greek’ lexicon.


Mochama’s new release is a book titled Meet the Omtitas. Keen readers of Mochama’s writing, after reading this book, will tell you that he is writing about his family, though in a fictionalised format. Omtita is a corruption of the name Ontita; the name he uses on Facebook, after Tony Mochama got appropriated by cyber thugs keen on cashing in on big name recognition.

Meet the Omtitas, told through the eyes of Tommy – presumably Tony – though told in the third person, covers a brief period when the young man, the first born in the Omtita’s household, fresh out of high school, is waiting to join university. The book also captures Tommy’s first day as a fresher – did they have to tell us the meaning of this and other words, when there is a glossary at the end of the book? – and the disaster it turned out to be.

Those who follow Mochama’s escapades in his Scene at column in Standard’s Pulse magazine, know the author is always a sentence away from a disaster; but you need to read his rendering in the book, where you do not have to navigate through endless ‘skis’ suffixes to almost every word, to appreciate what a hilarious writer Mochama is.

By far the most interesting character in the book is the head of the Omtita’s household, Mr Omtita himself. He comes home drunk at four in the morning carrying a bunch of bananas and two chickens from Kisii and orders Nandwa, the houseboy who, in his spare time likes reading novels and chasing after neighbourhood house girls, to cook chicken. Mr Omtita is also given to pinching branded towels from the various hotels he has been to so that people know that “the Omtitas have been to places.”

Everyone who finds their way to the Omtita’s household, including Simba, the mongrel Mr Omtita brought home from the local pub, is treated like a member of the family. Thus, when Simba is knocked down by a speeding motorist, the whole family skips church to give the canine a decent send-off – a burial behind the house – and Mr Omtita sheds real tears.

In spite of his quirkiness Mr Omtita has deep respect for his wife, Mrs Omtita, the family matriarch, who despite being consigned on a wheelchair – following an accident – commands loves and respect from the whole family.

The other ‘family member’ who enjoys prominence of place in Mochama’s book is Angel, who is Tommy’s sister’s (Wendy) best friend and who Tommy has the hots for to Wendy’s eternal embarrassment.

As the book is set in 1990 it is hard not to talk about retired President Moi – whom the author refers to as Omojaa, president of a republic called Kenaya, while the ruling party Kanu becomes Paku. In his drinking sessions Mr Omtita says unpleasant things about Omojaa and Paku, a thing that gets his wife worried. To forestall the likelihood of Special Branch officers coming to arrest her ‘anti-government’ husband Mrs Omtita makes sure a portrait of the president hangs prominently in the living room as a ‘show of loyalty’.

Mochama’s sharp, sometimes dark humour makes the book such an enjoyable read.

Meet the Omtitas won the third prize in the Burt Award for African Literature and which came with a sh430,000 cash award.

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.