Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Vilifying the “Innocent” in Kinyanjui Kombani’s The Last Villains of Molo

Human conflict is one of the key ingredients of literary texts. Kinyanjui Kombani’s The Last Villains of Molo is no exception in this culinary adventure. The denigration of Bone aka Mfupa aka Kimani, Rock aka Irungu, Ngeta aka Waithaka aka Lihanda, Bafu aka Kiprop and Bomu aka Kibet as the last villains of Molo is as ironic as is underscored by the title. Kombani’s novel invites us to read the follies of human beings and the thin line between love and hate. This is a novel about nationalism, ethnic rivalry/hatred, love, bitterness, human suffering, violence, hedonism, selfishness, political profligacy, adventure and forgiveness amongst many other matters that the novel seeks to indulge us in. It is a romantic tale of a love that thrives beyond all odds. It is so romanticised that the reader is tempted to see the ending as a case of deus ex machina to an irreconcilable situation.
The story relives the tribal clashes that have rocked the nation especially in the 1992 and 1997 national elections. Vivified images of the mutilated bodies, the physical scars, the displacement of people together with the emotional and psychological trauma accompanying the experiences makes recipe for almost an existential novel. The reader knows it’s a fictional story but the way it mirrors the reality it’s almost akin to being autobiographic. Those who are privy to the 2007/2008 post-election violence in Kenya might even be tempted to accuse the writer of having inside information of the elections gone awry beforehand. I am reminded Of Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People in which the Nigerian coup d’état was what you might consider a prophecy as forecasted in the narrative. Like a seer, Kombani is the prophet who unconsciously prophesies the Kenyan blood bath long before it is let out.
Narrated through flashbacks that are interlaced with reminiscences and narrative breaks that indulgence us into the past through acts of memory, the story shifts from the past to the present in a smooth flow of events such that the reader is held prisoner aka captivated. The enthralling descriptions and cliff hangers leave the reader thirsting to unravel what happens next. The ingenious way that Nancy, the foible of Bone, is introduced into the story attests to this assertion. She just seems to have dropped from heaven suddenly; but, as soon as she appears in the lives of the hedonistic group of five young men, we all know that something does not add up. Our appetite is whet; we yearn to find out who Nancy is and why she is focalised in this context. Her dressing, her tastes, her mannerisms and the general aura with which she carries herself bespeaks of someone who does not belong to the economic circles of the five “villains” from Molo.
Our reservations about Nancy are heightened when it appears that she is going to replace Stella, the slum hardened girl who is famed for having put a human face to the character of Bone. Stella is the ideal poor girl that fits like a jigsaw into the life of bone. Their relationship is cast, solid and destined to beat the odds until the untimely accident that snatches Stella away. This is not before Nancy has happened between the two of them and Bone has appeared to falter between his faithfulness towards Stella and his admiration for the beautiful, classy and money loaded Nancy. The potency of a hardened slum girl is a force to reckon with as Bone himself confesses he is afraid of what Stella might do to Nancy. However this does not come to pass because Stella dies in a hit and run accident and the ghetto community never forgives Bone, accusing him of causing Stella psychological anguish that drives her to walk recklessly and get hit in the accident. But Bone’s sincerity about his love for her redeems him and the reader forgives him and almost encourages him to pursue Nancy although the economic gap between the two looms large as a form of hindrance.
                   Read more about Kombani here:
It is the grisly deaths of Bomu and Bafu respectively that wakes us up from our reverie even though we have already been inducted into the violence and deaths of other people in Molo and Ndoinet forests. The lull that we enjoy in the unfolding story is shaken up when the strange deaths occur. Yes we have enjoyed seeing Nancy and Bone traverse the city, fly to Mombasa, and move in and out of Ngando slums. In the same breath, we have seen the character adjustments that the two of them have to make in order to meet each other half way because they are already pitted against one other by the scales of economy which are tipped against them. The contrast between Imara daima, a middle class estate, and Ngando slums, a decrepit habitat housing the poor, is elaborately enunciated through the escapades highlighted in the story.
On the contrary, it is the tragic stories of the five young men that act as the gist of the narrative and not the brewing romance between the two characters. Having hailed from Molo and Ndoinet forest respectively, the young men share a history that is so scarred that they have chosen to obliterate their identity and form new ones. In fact, the pseudonyms they use whilst in the city are new forms of identification that serve to not only humanise them but also grant them a sense of security and belonging. Their pseudonyms are also symbolic of their suffering; these are names that have been given to them variously as a result of violent or strenuous occurrences as they attempt to eke a living and to find footing after escaping from Molo. Two of them are Kikuyu, one is a Luhyia and the other two are Kalenjins. Playing on the assumed enmity between Kalenjins and Kikuyus, the story of the young men serves to illustrate that friendships can be formed from least expected sources. The old generation is cast as a lost generation – one that cannot help to forge unity amongst the different warring groups. The only hope for the ethnic enmity is in the new and young generation that does not know about certain histories, myths and misgivings.
The young men refer to themselves as blood brothers yet they are not kinsmen. Their bond has been strengthened by the violent clashes that brought them together in a mysterious turn of events. They have vowed to stick together and they look as if they have been oathed. They are the future of a tribeless society, a clanless community, a society that has no class or a nation that does not discriminate or look down upon any one of its people on the basis of race, skin colour or any other excuse. How they defend each other, look out for one another is testimony of the lengths they are willing to traverse to protect each other. Their suffering, owing to the deracination occasioned by the clashes, is one more reason that binds them together. When they start dying mysteriously, we are afraid that the hope we have begun to harbour for Kenya as a unified nation is finally under threat. Although theirs is not a saintly life, we nonetheless understand their behaviour and ironically vilify the structures of the nation that reduce its citizens to such demeaning levels. 
           At the end we discover that they are disparaged as being the last of the villains from Molo yet we all know that we are to blame in one way or the other for the human cruelty visited on the various ethnic groups throughout the country in the various burgled electoral processes witnessed in the nation over the years. It is the sealed relationship between Nancy and Bone, the unexpected recovery of Ngeta from a six months’ comma and their sojourn back to Molo that precipitates the hope for healing and reconciliation between the warring groups. The crushing of the machinery of Josiah Rotich et al is significant in offering a premonition for a better tomorrow, a better nation healed from the scars of tribal/ethnic/election clashes. We hinge our hope in the very “last villains of Molo” who are the only harbingers of a future generation that is not poisoned by the history of tribal animosity. This is a book that we must all read if we hope to instil a sense of social justice and freedom from economic fear or destitution of any kind.


  1. Hello Ndivo. This is a great review. Am an upcoming writer and a passionate reader who studies Journalism at Mount Kenya University, Nairobi Campus. I blogs at Kindly tell me how to join the Daystar University's book club.

  2. Thank you Ngila for reading the blog and leaving a comment too. Check out the Daystar book club on yahoo groups or search it on google and then send a blank email and you will be automatically registered as a member. I look forward to reading your blog.

  3. great piece. Am currently studying Kombani's "last villains of molo" at KU

  4. I am sure you are having a great time with the writer. In case of anything, you can post it here and then we can engage with it. Enjoy and karibu sana.

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  6. Thanks for sharing the post, I was searching for Nigeria Literature as I was working over it. Will look forward for your more post in coming days.

    literature review academic writing Nigeria

  7. Dear Tyler,
    Thank you for your observation. Unfortunately I have reviewed very few Nigerian writers but I should be sharing more in due course, Keep checking. All the best

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  9. This is a great review Dr,it has been of help since am studying the 'last villains' this semester here in Machakos University,thumbs up

    1. Dear Mark,
      I am glad to hear that you found it useful.Please share your thoughts on the same and keep the reading going


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