It started on Kilimani Mums - meet Kenyan author Collins Sakwah minting money from his books

The post blew up and it got me into a lot of trouble - Sakwah Ongoma

#PulseYouthMtaani: Author Collins Sakwah Ongoma

When you meet Mr Collins Sakwah Ongoma, you will first notice his cool, calm, collected and contemplative demeanor.

This changes when he begins to talk about books. It just might be one of the topics he enjoys most.

On this day he brought a crisp copy of his first published work, "The Campus Exile". I ask him to read an excerpt from it and he picked quite an interesting bit of the story.

Mr Sakwa is this week's #PulseYouthMtaani highlight. He describes himself as a Kenyan contemporary author and he has quite the story to tell.

"My main project for this year is a book I've titled 'Goons of Nairobi'. It is basically a story about five Nairobi billionaires who came together to form a secret society and over a period of ten years, the society accumulates wealth through crime - money laundering, sale of drugs and guns," Sakwah narrates.

He goes on to point out that this new project involves a lot of twists and turns after a wrangle emerges within the secret society.

Which prompts this journalist to ask, "Are your books purely fiction or are they also inspired by true events?"

Sakwah graciously points out: "I don't think any author writes something that is purely fiction, unless it is within the fantasy or sci-fi genres. My books are inspired by real life events which have happened in society like corruption, crime and such."

The First Manuscript

Sakwah is what we'd accurately call a new-age storyteller. He tells his stories not only on his published works but primarily to his tens of thousands of followers on social media.

Mr Sakwah had enrolled for a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Nairobi in 2012 and after two years dropped out and moved back to the village.

He narrates that he hid away in his room on most days to avoid judgement from those who knew the mistakes that led to him dropping out of university and it is during this period of reclusion that he tested his mettle in authorship.

"In that fear, I hid in a room and I started to read a lot of books and I asked myself, 'If these Western writers like John Grisham can tell such stories, why can't I?' and that's when I wrote my first manuscript 'Campus Diaries' which was a romance.

"At first I thought I was a spectacle because my English was not at a good level. But after my cousin - who was then a Literature student at Moi University - read my manuscript, he told me that the work of polishing an author's work is up to those who have studied literature like himself. He was very impressed with the manuscript," Sakwah narrates.

He goes on to encourage young writers to pursue their story idea whether in their vernacular or in Swahili and come up with manuscripts regardless of how poor their language skills may be.

It started on Kilimani Mums Facebook Group

"In 2018, I wrote a short, funny, erotic story and shared it on the Kilimani Mums & Dads Facebook page," Sakwah narrates and casually adds: "I think I'm the only good thing that came from that FB group."

Sakwah adds a disclaimer that the story was purely fictitious but points out that he made the mistake of using the actual name of the high school he attended.

"The school where I studied was separated from a girls' school by just a fence so there used to be rumors of male students sneaking into the girls' school and all that. I titled my story 'When I Sneaked into a Girls' School' and it was very comical. Within 2 hours it had over 20,000 likes.

"I started receiving phone calls from the school principal who told me that parents had threatened to pull their children out of the school! That's a mistake I made and I learned from it. I also got a lot of encouragement from people who read my stories there and I gained a huge following," the author narrates.

Sakwah would get into trouble for his creative works once again after publishing "The Campus Exile", this time round, he was facing a defamation lawsuit over one of the characters he created in the book.

"The book is about students who are involved in drug trafficking... The book is entirely fictional. But some people have said that I wrote about actual people which to me is a great compliment to my work - that I wrote something is truly believable! But the character Otiato got me into trouble.

"I received a call one day from a person who claimed that I had written about him. He identified himself as a former UoN student going by the same name as my character. Otiato is the protagonist in my story, he is a murderer, a rapist, a peddler and a criminal wanted by the CIA. I asked him whether he was a killer and drug trafficker like my character but he refused to answer. I later came to find out that he just wanted extort me," Sakwah narrated.

The Process

A quotable quote from Mr Sakwah goes: "Every book starts with an idea," and indeed for him, this has been the experience.

This young contemporary Kenyan author posted chapter after chapter of "The Campus Exile" on his Facebook page before one fan - a diplomat - offered to help him publish.

Sakwah, while encouraging more Kenyan authors to publish their works, notes that the path he ended up on in self-publishing is not the easiest.

"When you choose the self-publishing, all the costs are now on you as the author. You have to hire the proofreaders, the editors, the printers all that and it comes to over Sh300,000. This is unlike the process when you submit your manuscript to a publisher and they shoulder all the costs," he stated.

As we conclude, Sakwah assure me that he makes good money out of the sales of his books. He also sends out a passionate appeal to Kenyans to read Kenyan authors.

"I've sold books in Kenya and outside the country. On one particular day I remember selling over 100 copies of my book. So I encourage Kenyans to read and buy books honestly, don't look for pirated PDFs. For example, I entirely depend on my books for a livelihood, this is my work, it is my career so if you access the PDF and distribute it freely then I suffer.

"Hopefully one of my books can become a movie," he conveys.

Pulse Live Kenya's videographer Brian Mutwiri was lucky enough to have gone home with a signed copy of "The Campus Exile" as a gift from Mr Sakwah.


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