Softly Calls the Serengeti
It is October 2002. Fires light the sky over Kibera – East Africa’s largest slum – signalling the start of bloody tribal violence in the wake of Kenya’s presidential elections.
Half a world away, a terrorist’s bomb shatters author Mark Riley’s life as a massive explosion rocks idyllic Bali.
Five years later, these two apparently random acts of violence converge as Riley becomes involved in the search for a missing orphan, and Joshua, a Luo teenager and local sporting hero, becomes the unwitting conduit in the devastating tribal warfare that erupts amid the presidential elections of December 2007.
Two women enter Riley’s life. The passionate Kazlana, whose bloodlines are a mix of the modern West and those from Kenya’s ancient trading links to the East, who unashamedly uses her sexual prowess to uncover the details of her father’s murder. And Charlotte, the young English anthropologist whose journey to Kenya is partly to complete her PhD thesis on Luo tribal customs, and partly to escape an overbearing relationship in London.
A corrupt Kenyan businessman and politician sees an opportunity to extend his power by manipulating the outcome of the 2007 presidential elections. To distract the authorities he uses local heroes like Joshua to mobilise the one million-strong slum population into an intimidating force so that his political ambitions can be achieved.
As the story races to an electrifying climax, Riley must choose whether to continue his battle against the corrupt power-brokers , or to walk away with the woman who loves him.
With the author behind the Scenes of Softly Calls the Serengeti
In August and September of 2008, I spent most of my time in the Nairobi informal settlement area of Kibera while researching this novel.
Informal settlement area is the Kenyan government’s preferred description of Kibera – six and a half square kilometres of slum on the ouskirts of Nairobi’s CBD, where nearly a million Kenyans live essentially without running water, roads, pavement or drainage. Or sewage. This gives rise the popular term flying toilet, where human waste is deposited into a plastic bag and sent into the air to fall to earth you know not where – if you’re lucky!
Although the vast majority of Kibera’s residents are law-abiding, I was warned that to attempt to go unescorted into many parts of Kibera would be dangerous. I was therefore very fortunate to find, through some Kenyan friends, a number of people to act as escorts, enabling me to safely spend time in Kibera and to complete this research.
Softly Calls the Serengeti paints a grim picture of life in the continent’s largest slum, but I was enthralled by the many small acts of kindness shown by ordinary Kibera people to their fellow slum-dwellers. I have used a few of these in the novel.
Although on this visit to Kenya I was unable to spend as much time enjoying the wonderful wildlife as is my usual practice, my time in Kibera introduced me to some inspirational people. I was humbled by their energy and their indomitable spirit to carry on in the face of adversity.
Softly Calls the Serengeti video