By Daisy Nandeche Okoti
Published September 25, 2014
Many people in Kenya regard their Judiciary as one of the obstacles in the dispensation of justice in their country; a place where the interests of the high and mighty are protected. Indeed Paul Kabugi Muite, a leading Nairobi lawyer, once opined that one just needs to hire the presiding judge, not a defence lawyer, to protect one’s interests in the corridors of justice-cum-injustice in Kenya. But not everyone serving in that Judiciary is corrupt. At least not according to David G Maillu whose latest book, Mwanzo the Nairobian, is set there and appears to echo the words of Robert Kennedy, a politician in the United States of America who is credited with the observation: “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
Wazo Mwanzo hails from a family that is not so well off materially though he has a wealth of good morals and positive values that he inherited from his father who throughout his tenure as a worker in the judicial service, maintained high standards of integrity. When his father dies and Wazo Mwanzo is asked to succeed him at his place of work, he knows that a mantle has been passed over to him and he not only has a name to protect but a legacy to maintain as well.
But Wazo Mwanzo’s encounter with Catherine Kamau, a woman from an upper class family in unusual circumstances, almost derails him from his track. Mwanzo gets a closer look into the not-so-honest lifestyles of the high and mighty of Kenya that jolts him into wondering whether being dishonest is always wrong, everywhere, under all circumstances.
Having been born and raised in Nairobi where he continues to live and work, Mwanzo is engaged in activism that is aimed at restoring the beauty of his city.
Various major conflicts drive the plot of the story to the extent that by the end of the novel the reader still has a delicate choice to make: Should Wazo Mwanzo go with the flow of corruption and dishonesty that characterizes the wealthy or should he remain honest but poor while sailing on a sea full of tempting but dishonest deals?
Mwanzo the Nairobian addresses the pertinent issue of the place of money and in one’s life in this age of materialism. Maillu’s view appears to be that ‘Only simple minds run after money.’
Maillu uses several styles in the book such as multiple plot-lines, story within a story and archetypal characters.
Portraying Mwanzo and his father as remnants of virtue in society, Maillu uses them as agents of change in a society that is getting all its priorities wrong as far as materialism is concerned. Mr Kamau, Wangai wa Cuma and Amos Watunga are an embodiment of the ills that afflict this society. They want to milk the country dry and still get away with criminal activities in the ideal society that Maillu envisions.
Maillu warns that characters such as Catherine Kamau who see evil and do nothing about it but instead reap from it could be wiped away with the wind of change. This is shown when at the end of the novel, no one can really say what happened to Catherine. Mwanzo’s mother stands for the complacent people who have been through so much corruption and suffering in the country but they see no point in trying to change the way things are. But Maillu’s message in the book appears to be that the way things are does not necessarily define the way things ought to be.
The story within a story gives the book the feel of a natural story-telling session where it is not uncommon for an oral story-teller to deviate from the main focus and talk about something else that is related to the unfolding tale. The intended consequence of this is that the reader gets several perspectives on the issue which the writer is tackling or the point is emphasised through this act of being retold using different words.
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Mwanzo the Nairobian does not lack in the moral fabric which is essential in the survival of any society that also wants to flourish.