What you need to know:
- Richard Kioko Kiundi’s memoir reads more like an adventure story on a journey that will most likely not end.
- Kioko’s story is one long adventure that leaves the reader suspecting that what is in the book is only but a small part of the longer version.
To read some books is like listening to a spring race commentary. Some stories are so fast paced even on the pages of a book that one is left wondering how they would be told by word of mouth.
This is the easiest way to describe Richard Kioko Kiundi’s memoir, Through the Wilderness of Life: The Duke of Emali (Afritell Publishers, 2022). This is one book that the reader has to keep pace with the storyteller’s race. It reads more like an adventure story on a journey that will most likely not end.
Indeed life can be a wilderness as the title of Kioko’s story suggests. If one adds the image of Emali to the story, one begins to understand how the idea of life as a wilderness may have appeared to Kioko. One can imagine growing up in the area around what is today Emali at the time Kioko was born.
What could he have been seeing except an expanse of land full of shrubs, trees and wildlife? What would have been the dream of a young person in such a place but to walk and walk to beyond what the eye could see? Such dreams of adventure would define one’s life forever.
Thus, Kioko’s story is one long adventure that leaves the reader suspecting that what is in the book is only but a small part of the longer version.
Kioko was born in the “village of Kwakakulu in the then Iteta location of Masaku colonial district, now Makueni County” on March 20, 1959. His parents had nine children.
He was the eighth child to Danson Kiundu Yambu and Serah Mbuve Kiundu. He says that he was mostly raised by his elder sister, Esther Ndunge, who fed, bathed and generally looked after him.
Kioko would go to primary school in his village before being admitted to Alliance High School and then University of Nairobi, from where he graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor of Commerce, Accounting Option.
Through the Wilderness of Life is hardly a linear story even though it takes the reader from Kwakakulu to Nairobi, where Kioko lives today, with sojourns in Kilifi and Taveta where he worked as a civil servant.
The nonlinear plot seems deliberate. It is as if the storyteller is suggesting that life is merely a collection of experiences, which can be captured in anecdotes; as if to imply that there is no really one big story that can define any human being.
Which is why this autobiography reads like a collection of sketches thrown together with the reader left to decide which one to enjoy most.
For the Alliance School alumni and those interested in the school, there are several tales about Kioko’s time at the school. He memorializes his alma mater quite well by celebrating the teachers who taught him and those who headed the institution from its birth to the time of writing his book.
There is a lesson here for the millions of individuals out there who passed through schools and whose lives were shaped by teachers but who hardly have much to say about their former schools.
But Kioko’s is also a story of escapades by young men in school – trying out smoking, alcohol and endless interest in the young women. But Kioko still managed to pass his ‘A’ level exams and go to the university.
Kioko’s work life begins in Kilifi where he was posted as a District Accountant just before graduating from the university. He describes his time in Kilifi as some kind of adventure, where he made friends, indulged in weekend parties and seemed to enjoy his work.
However, he seemed to have fallen afoul of some District Commissioner, which eventually led to his posting to Taita Taveta District.
He would leave the civil service in 1987 when he was offered a job at the Motor Mart Group, then a part of the Lonrho multinational corporation.
Kioko left the Motor Mart Group voluntarily in 1995.
He would immediately thereafter join the Kenya Pipeline Corporation where he worked till 2002.
Kioko was dismissed from KPC allegedly for being responsible for ‘forgery and loss of company money’ by employees who claimed subsistence allowance for work that was not done.
Kioko says that he wasn’t given a fair chance to defend himself. When he took his former employers to court, he lost the case. Was he a victim of workplace vindictiveness or was he just an innocent man caught in the shady deals that happen all the time in some public corporations?
Kioko’s story is one of resilience. He has weathered job losses. He has lost investments and money to friends and conmen. He has lost family members but has had to live with the death of a beloved son.
Very personal lessons
He has endured the pain of suffering from cancer, which he managed to beat. These experiences seem to have taught him very personal lessons, which he captures in the ‘reflections’ at the end of the memoir.
He says, “I have also learnt that there is no absolute truth and that no one entity holds the key to knowledge. All in all, however, I have learnt to live and let live expecting reciprocal treatment as well. In the end, I follow my conscience and do to others what I would expect to be done to me under the same circumstances. I can say with confidence that I have been set free to live my life in the best way I know how, without looking over my shoulder.”
Through the Wilderness of Life: The Duke of Emali is a story that rivals many self-help and motivational books.
For here is a story of a man who shows incredible belief in his abilities and a desire to succeed all the time.
Although the reader is left wondering if what is behind the set of the story told so far isn’t longer and more interesting, what Kioko offers is a captivating medley of anecdotes that takes the reader through the rough ride that is life. As to how Kioko became the ‘Duke of Emali’, find out from the book itself.
The writer teaches literature and performing arts at the University of Nairobi. [email protected]