Born in Molo town in Nakuru County, Kinyanjui Kombani, popularly known as the banker who writes, has overcome many adversities to be where he is today. Presently, he is among the decision-makers in one of Kenya’s leading banks – Standard Chartered Bank – as the group’s Learning Program Manager. He is also a renowned author in the region. His earlier struggles fade in the face of these accomplishments.
The last born in a family of five, Kinyanjui Kombani endured a difficult childhood as he had to contend with life without a father after his parents separated. Trekking through the hills of Molo to attend Molo Academy, he used to pass by Standard Chartered Bank – Molo branch. Kinyanjui didn’t know then he would one day be among the top management team in the bank.
However, having a hardworking and dedicated mother who took it upon herself to ensure they got the best education drove his ambition to ensure that he succeeded in life.
“As a jack of all trades, my mother was dedicated and keen to provide what we required in terms of education no matter what it took and thus ensured that my brothers and I attended one of the best schools in Nakuru County, Molo Academy, where I did my O and A levels,” Kinyanjui starts us off.
His life was thrown into turmoil after his mother passed on while he was in form four forcing him to move to a slum along Ngong Road in Nairobi to live with his brother.
Afterwards, he proceeded to Kenyatta University for a Bachelor’s degree in English and literature.
At only 38 years, Kinyanjui Kombani is among the top management at the Standard Chartered Bank, one of the biggest multinational banking and financial services company headquartered in London with branches around the world.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Kinyanjui is Standard Chartered’s Group Learning Manager. He is tasked with building and rolling out role-specific curriculum across the bank’s retail banking footprint. His role cuts across the country and internationally.
However, this didn’t come easily as he had to bid his time and see to it that he grew from being a clerk to performing different leadership roles throughout the years including being a business financial consultant, relationship manager and learning manager among other roles. In 2018, he was made the Group Learning Program Manager. His leadership qualities have also endeared him to his fellow staff in and outside the banking halls partly playing a part in his growth.
A 13-year association with the bank is no mean feat considering he joined with little knowledge about the banking sector. A quick learner, Kinyanjui has learnt a lot about the industry without having to go back to school to gain more knowledge.
“I went into service as a clerk which doesn’t need you to have so much background in banking. You only needed to be good at engaging customers and have a know how on banking products. Other things you learnt on the job,” he elaborates.
His tremendous growth is an encouragement to many youths that one can actually get to the top if they put their best foot forward in anything and everything that they venture into.
Accolades such as Standard Chartered’s ‘Top 5 under 35’ Gen Y and Business Daily’s ‘Top 40 under 40 Men’ in 2015 are testament of the far he has come.
On leaving a mark as a writer
Adept at languages especially in his high school days, Kinyanjui knew he could write while in form three. His writing skills were further enhanced in campus.
“I always got good grades in composition. However, I realised I could venture into writing while in third year in Kenyatta University when I wrote a short story for a competition and once the lecturer reviewed it, he was impressed with it and decided that the whole class should read and learn from it,” explains a visibly proud Kinyanjui.
This motivated him so much that he went on to writing a script for the university’s drama club, which won an award.
He then produced a play -Mizoga – for the Born Free Foundation, an international charity organization. The play was to sensitise people on the dangers of bush meat trade. The success of the play was an affirmation that he had what it took to produce award-winning content.
Showing me his latest book – Do or Do – Kinyanjui Kombani attributes 11 books to his name and a further seven in collaboration with other writers. His writings are informed by the life he has gone through and the ordinary happenings in the busy Nairobi scenery.
“One of my books was inspired by a fight between hawkers and county council askaris at the Globe Roundabout,” he shares.
Of pawns and Players, Wangari Maathai: Mother of Trees, We Can Be Friends and The last Villains of Molo are just but a few of the books he has put a lot of effort in writing. We Can Be Friends has earned Kombani an award and is studied in five universities in Kenya and Germany including Kenyatta University, Daystar University, University of Kabianga, Egerton University and University of Berlin in Germany.
He has gone on to win several awards in writing with the most recent one being the CODE Burt Award for African Young Literature for his book Finding Colombia. He is also a recipient of the Kenyatta University Outstanding Young Alumni Award in 2014 among other awards.
Kombani plays me a clip from Ama Ata Aidoo, a decorated Ghanaian poet and playwright, recorded during the CODE awards in Ghana in which she sends an encouraging message to writers. He goes on to state that he draws motivation from Meja Mwangi, a Kenyan novelist, and Sydney Sheldon, who till his death in 2007, was an American writer and producer.
According to him, some of the challenges plaguing the writing industry include piracy which is down to photocopying of the original book and sending of portable document format (PDF) over social media, mostly WhatsApp. Another issue plaguing the penetration of his books into the market is the preference of textbooks by most Kenyan readers and schools to fictional books that he has specialised in.
Balancing writing and banking
A sight of tired people in their cars or public buses in the evenings as they head home gives a sneak peek into the tiring life of having to work from 8am to 5pm every single day. The demanding work in the offices drains many people.
For him, the art of balancing is easy as he has segmented his time perfectly to handle the pressure that comes with the two. He also attributes his success in both to an organisation which encourages creativity.
“I am enjoying support from the company with my manager being the first person to ask me when the next book will be published,” he reveals.
“I don’t plan to sacrifice one for the other anytime soon, having done the two for some time, I feel comfortable enough to handle the pressure that comes with both,” he adds.
He plans to venture into the international scene in the next five years with the help of some of his mentors who include Meja Mwangi, John Sibi-Okumu, David Mulwa and Peter Kimani. Venturing into the international scene requires a lot of resources and time but this doesn’t faze him at all since he is well prepared for the task ahead.
On family, he reveals that he is married with three children; one boy and two girls who are his biggest supporters and critics at the same time.
“They usually read my books and give me feedback with their age influencing my kind of writing. It is because of them that my books have no sex scenes. They also attend events with me for exposure into what I do,” he concludes.