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A young man broke my heart a few days ago.

He committed the cardinal sin that is the deal breaker in any editor-writer relationship.

I was busy feasting on the succulent flesh of the lush words he had shared with me in an article he submitted when I started seeing red flags.

Call it an editor’s instinct, but I turned to my colleague and commented that the 20-year-old first-time writer was either extremely talented or extremely adept at copying work.

“But who knows, maybe I hit the jackpot and found myself a young Jackson Biko,” I joked as I brought myself back from the high the words had gotten me into and ran his work through a plagiarism checker.

The truth, as they say, was stranger than fiction.

The work had unequivocally been plagiarised from a local blog with astounding laziness-or what do you call it when someone copied even the story title and spelling errors-but the local blog had also plagiarised it from an international blog.

The “new” blog was by a female Kenyan blogger who, from the comments section, gobbled up the compliments about her writing by readers with shameless zeal and commented that she was also a “first-time blogger”.

It broke my heart because I remember that my foray into journalism, into getting my first article published, was because someone believed in me enough to give me a chance.

After blindly sending a barrage of articles to media houses, I finally decided to change tack and targeted specific editors. I was lucky when a friend, Kingwa Kamencu, shared with me the phone number of an editor at the Standard who gave me an ear and most importantly, space in the newspaper to write. And write I did.

So when this young man was introduced to me by a colleague as a talented writer, I spent an hour listening to his compelling life story and advising him on how best to break into the journalism field.


He roped me in with his life story. The son of a single mother, his own father had tried to kill him because he was a “cursed child” born with clubbed feet. I listened to his moving story and told him that he could start by writing his own life story of growing up with an absentee father.

I asked him to send the said article and that’s when it became clear to me that I had been duped.

Was his life story even real or had he made it up?

We may never know the kind of writer he could have morphed into at Nation.

In my last email to him, I said: I hope this inspires you to rely on your own experiences and own words in writing your future articles to other media houses.

I had pegged it down to a millennial quirk- that need for the instant gratification of becoming a “celebrated writer” but being unwilling to do the work it requires.

But then I remembered that in 2017, the ever-eloquent PLO Lumumba was accused of copying 5,000 words in a 10,000 word article he published in 2013 in a local daily titled: From Jurisprudence to Poliprudence: The Kenyan Presidential Election Petition 2013.

In my view, the millennial and the master orator suffer from a human condition we all battle with, no matter what our status is in the society. That condition is self-doubt.

This made me wonder: what is it about humans that makes us believe we are not enough? That makes us doubt ourselves even before we start? That what we create is not good enough and therefore we have to copy?

I’ve said before that I’m a sucker for motivational literature, and today, I’m reminded of the words of John Mason in An Enemy Called Average: You were born an original; don’t die a copy.

And if the young man is reading this today, then he should know that his story, whatever it is, is enough.