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'Kenyan young men have a bigger problem than Rafiki'

Victoria EngelsJune 16, 2014

A renowned Kenyan author, Meja Mwangi, has been visiting Cologne – Germany to meet his fans and read his new book Rafiki which talks about social challenges that young Kenyans face in their day to day lives.

Meja Mwangi, a Kenyan author
Image: Victoria Engels

Born in Nanyuki - Kenya in 1948, Meja Mwangi is among well known prolific Kenyan writers. Apart from writing novels, Mwangi writes short stories, children's books and also assisted in directing well known movies such as "Out of Africa". He started his writing career in the 1970s and his debut was the award-winning "Kill Me Quick" which was published in 1973. Rafiki, a book translated into German, was the reason for him to visit Germany this month. DW's Victoria Engels caught up with him in Cologne.

DW: Do you see your self publishing a book in Kiswahili in the near future?

Meja Mwangi: That is something I have thought about many times because I really like to read books in Kiswahili. I wish I could write one like them, but I will have first to recognize my weaknesses, it wouldn't flow the same way as it flows in English. I would have to work very hard and may resort to use the dictionary to find some words which I think in the end would be not appropriate. So I don't see myself writing a novel in Kiswahili.

You dedicated your new book “Rafiki” to people who live in Nanyuki. What were their reactions?

They have not read it yet. The book will be out at the end of this month. I am also looking forward to seeing what the reaction will be. I hope it will be a positive one. I tried to be as nice to them as to myself, because I see myself as one of them. So I cannot wait to see what they will think.

Rafiki is constantly under pressure of having to prove that he is a real man. Do you see young men in Kenya face a similar social problem?

Oh yes, young men in Kenya have a bigger problem than Rafiki. You see Rafiki is married, he has children and his wife puts him under pressure but it is the sort of pressure that is to be expected. But young people now, are under pressure to get married, because sometimes in a certain level of education and professionalism, the girls may be more qualified than they are so they get psychological pressure and the girls many be more demanding, so they get that problem as well. The girls make certain conditions, like you have to match up to me or even be much better than me, then you will be a real man. But that problem is not across the whole society, because traditionally, the man is the provider. That still remains tradition and a man still has to prove that he is a man. But how much pressure he gets, it depends on his wife's expectations. If she wants him to get a car whereby he does not even have the salary to buy a bicycle, then he has a problem.

Why is it that in almost every book your main character is male?

I have actually done one where the main character is a woman. It is called "Crossroads - the last plague" and yes I could imagine doing more. My problem will be again, I don't think I know enough about being a woman to represent women in a heroine, or in a main character, but I will give it a shot. I did it in "Crossroads", I will try it again.

Meja Mwangi is a Kenyan author of the award winning "Kill Me Quick."

Interviewer: Victoria Engels