Kinyanjui Kombani is the author of The Last Villains of Molo. He is a banker but also a creative writer. In this first novel, Kombani prophetically deals with the palpable scenario that is the flawed Kenyan electoral process. The hope for the country is ostensibly placed on the shoulders of a young generation in the hope that they are not tainted by the blood of tribal animosity that has dogged Kenya since independence.
However, in Den of Inequities, Kombani chooses to revisit the question of socioeconomic stratification. In this narrative we are compelled to come face to face with the ramifications of the ever widening gap between the poor and the rich. A den is a nest or as symbolised in this text it could be a hole in which all hell breaks loose without remorse. In fact, the main abode inhabited by the poor in this novel is a slum known as Mashimoni, literally a hell hole on earth. It is a place where crime is bred and the police have a field day exercising extrajudicial executions. I have gathered from my reading that the reader will have a hard time trying to distinguish what is factual from that which is fictional.
The writer’s flair of description is evident in the narrative. In the opening chapter we are met with the following: “A hullabaloo of activity heralded the beginning of yet another weekend. The narrow, one-lane main road was bursting with the usual crowd; noisy winos staggering out of illicit liquor dens; mothers making last minute trips to the sukuma-wiki kiosks and charcoal dealers in preparation for supper; haggard-looking men and women trudging home from work and so on.” (p.1) This is the opening scene that heralds the typical Kenyan slum life that the reader will interact with throughout the narrative.
In addition, characters are appropriately named. It is not uncommon to discover the use of pen names or shortened versions of names amongst slum dwellers. For example instead of Kamau the tenants of such tenements result to Kama, Oti for Otieno, Omosh for Omollo or Omondi amongst others. Whatever the reasons, one can only assume that it is an aesthetic way of trying to colour their lives with some essence of beauty and redeem themselves from the image of disfigurement brought about by poverty, marginalisation and political neglect.
Furthermore, such forms of characterisation can help the reader to unearth elements of deviant behaviour amongst people of the lower cadre in society. Having been socialised in a ghetto life reminiscent of police harassment where the first thing a police officer demands for is a person’s full name – majina yako yote kamili – the slum dwellers may have unconsciously resulted to using shorted versions of names or nicknames as a way of defying the rule of law. It could also be a conscious effort to preserve their identity against the debilitating effects of crime which is usually associated with slum dwellers. Thus, the use of a nickname or a shortened version of one’s name protects the identity of the character and maintains a boundary between who the person is in real life and the external parameters of identification brought about by association to/with crime.
For example, Omosh is cast as a typical slum dweller. He is a casual labourer in the construction industry and as expected he cannot meet the economic needs of his nuclear family. He uses all his savings to buy medication for his sick toddler despite the fact that his rent is long overdue and he risks having his family spending their nights out in the cold. But even then, he never gets home with the medication. It is as though fate has connived with sickness and an unjust system to drive him to the precipices of suicide. However, an interesting twist of events transforms Omosh from an innocent poverty ravaged man to a cruel vengeance-laden individual.
The reader finds out that Omosh never gets to deliver the medication because some corrupt police pick him up when they mistake him for being part of a street brawl. The other three characters arrested together with him are released after bribing the policemen but Omosh has no cent on him. When he is advised to plead guilty to being drunk and disorderly, he ends up being sentenced to three months imprisonment by a judge who harbours bitterness for drunkards because his wife lost her life thanks to drunken driving by some young rich men. When later released, Omosh discovers that the local carpenter toppled his role as a family head. The psychological turmoil he experiences drives him to the forest to commit suicide but, whilst on the crag of hanging himself, somehow something snaps when he sees policemen on patrol and he bludgeons them to death as reprisal for what the law enforcers had subjected him to. This killing starts off a vicious cycle of killings that pits a special police unit –Operation Fagia (the final clean up) –and The Chama against each other.
On the other hand, Gosti, a sheng word for ghost, is the product of an absentee father. The narrative underscores the fact that the ghost of his absentee father will haunt him to his death. Having been a perpetual prisoner, Gosti comes home one day to find his filthy rich and obese father uncomfortably nestled on a stool in his hovel. Although their encounter is an uncomfortable one, they later strike a rapport when the father frames Gosti to be indicted for a murder he had not committed. He does this so as to conscript Gosti as his killing machine to eliminate political enemies. It is only much later that we discover that Gosti’s father was a member of a dreaded group – The Chama – which symbolises the dreaded infamous Kenyan Mungiki terror gang.
|Image courtesy of the writer|
The incongruity of the father-son relationship is emphasised in the father’s protuberant belly which makes it impossible for him to hug Gosti and hopefully cement their reunion albeit physically. His Mercedes car so conspicuously stands out such that the reader is compelled to see him as an unnecessary intrusion in the life of his son. Therefore, the text casts him as an outcast in the slum where his poor son has had to glean for morsels to feed himself and the wife whereas the father wallows in opulence. It is no surprise that Gosti ends up becoming a mugger/thief to make ends meet.
Police are stereotypically portrayed in the narrative. They are presented as corrupt, dehumanised and easily compromised. Through the text, we are able to visualise the way in which the police end up getting involved in corrupt deals or the way they extort money from thugs and other criminal gangs so as to provide them with protection. Moreover, politicians such as Aileen’s father have managed to scale the political ladder by adopting similar unethical trends. Consequently, all the characters in the text appear to have split personalities – double identities. For example Edward The Chama leader who falls in love with Aileen although she is not privy of his role in the outlawed group.
On her part, Aileen represents the spoiled ‘brats’ of rich families who dictate the social life in Kenyan universities. Her initial relationship with Alex, a campus rugby player, is reminiscent of young people’s fantasies and the utopian short lived relationships that are as quickly formed and broken as the young people’s tastes change. The disparity of rich kids on campus and the poor ones is glaring. Such disproportions are indicative of the economic gap between the rich and the poor in Kenya. These differences are somehow blamed for the broken moral fabric and the upsurge in insecurity.
The cover appears glossy and aesthetically appealing but the paper used to print the text is wanting. One can only hope that the economic inequalities explored in the narrative are not replicated in the form of a publisher who deliberately exploits the writer or the reader who buys the text. Also, although the text attempts to effectively explore serious issues, the plot and some characters could have done better with proper development. Essentially, the text warns us that if we don’t put in effort to bridge the gap between the poor and the rich, then we should be prepared to accept the attendant issues of insecurity, promiscuity and terrorist attacks amongst many other pitfalls.
Read more about Kombani here: http://www.kinyanjuikombani.com/
Read more about Kombani here: http://www.kinyanjuikombani.com/