Deaths of Professors; Harry Garuba, Thandika Mkandawire, Euphrase Kezilahabi and Ken Walibora Waliaula: Cruel Impeachment to Africa’s Course of Self-Determination
Zoya Zaidi, wrote in Awaaz Magazine, a short dirge in respect of his late brother Ali Nadim Zaidi that; whoever comes has to go/whoever goes leaves a mark/if it happens to be deep/it might as well be short and sweet/what matters most is a life well lived/a heavy burden of long futile life/is hard to bear for all alike/those who make a place in the hearts/live long after they are gone….She wrote these beautiful lines in 2016, but the words have since then left an indelible mark in my heart. The mark which had been a scar but laced itself into a fresh wound of concern for Africa’s cultural course of self-determination especially under the tragic light during five months ranging from November 2019 to April 2020, a doomsday within which Africa lost to early deaths her intellectually productive sons mentioned in the headline of this piece. But just as in the words of Zoya Zaidi at the beginning of this paragraph; their lives were not heavy burdens of long futile existence, they were lives well lived.
However, above all the stuff of self-consolation, it has to be regretted that we as the society of Africans we have lost and we have been made weak. We have been made weak in the economic sense, but still with implications on the social and cultural dimensions of our political development within global systems of today. This is so because any society needs the seasoned and learned men and women to pillar up the process of liberation from tentacles of poverty, misrule and tyranny of negative globalization.
Evidently, Harry Garuba was such a pillar, he was born in Nigeria but his service to humanity was discharged in South Africa till the time of his death in April 2020.He was a poet, an author, a lecturer and public intellectual of notable significance. I met him through literature students from Kenya that did their PhD in South Africa, they have always reflected good schooling, and one of them is Dr. Siundu, at the University of Nairobi. I also read about Garuba in the research papers by Uhuru Portia Phlaphla and Vuyelwa Maluleke, these two young researchers cited Harry Garuba like no one else, this intellectual encounter propelled me to dig deep into researching and reading all the literary works by Garuba, they are full of humour, evolutionary in context, historical in ontology and rich in literary style as well as social political lessons embedded in West African post-colonial experience. I urge you, my dear reader to look for them and read. This is the only way we can keep Garuba alive in our midst. It is my prayer that God of heaven replenishes Africa, Garuba’s family and the fraternities of African cosmopolitan literature with a polished soul like that of Harry Garuba.
The above is the same conscience I have about Professor Euphrase Kezilahabi, a poet, a novelist, an essayist and Kiswahili scholar from Tanzania that was described by Kimani Njogu as a cultural Rebel who pushed the boundaries of Kiswahili literature beyond the confines of the East African cultural-scape. Though I did not begin my self-education in literature with reading Kiswahili, I began with reading African Writers writing in English , during the mid of the last century it was an intellectual fashion to master English, it was social leprosy to walk in public without capacity to quote Shakespeare. Hence my child-hood reading was hooked on the last waves of cultural colonialism. But later on, I discovered that I am a native Kiswahili speaker and hence I began reading Kiswahili literature, this is when I stumbled on the Rosa Mistika by Euphrase Kezilahabi, its English Version is Mystique Rose. It is semiotic in philosophy as Umberto Eco’s In the Name of the Rose.Prof.Kezilahabi was a literary iconoclast, he brought the concept of existentialism in Kiswahili literature.Untill his time of death in January 2020, he exuded unique efforts towards Kiswahilification of Africa. A virtue which was bound to produce young African intellectuals dressed in self-confidence; forget about the pedantic Euro- phone waffling mimic men of Africa.
During my teen-ages, I was also an avid self-educator in Development Economics. That was the time I came across the name Thandika Mkandawire. He was among the towering African development Economists. He was mild in his Marxist explanation of poverty in Africa. But he was not the most Towering, as you all know most of the young people in Africa during the mid of the last century were intellectually married to Ali A. Mazrui, Milton Friedman, Peter Ferdinand Drucker, Simone Kuznets and Reginar Nakusar, especially those young men and women that were cosmetic and flirting with capitalism coated as American dream. They did not have a taste for Mkandawire; he remained a scholar’s scholar. Still it was so unfortunate, that till he died in April 2020, Mkandawire was obscured away, only lurking in oblivion as a scholar known only to the highly educated in the likes of Anyang Nyong’o. But for those of us that subscribed to Marxist model of explaining poverty and post-colonial misrule in Africa we were always shedding our saliva for the next article , book or essay that Samir Amin, Julius Nyerere, Fidel Castro, Joseph Alois Schumpeter, Aime Cesaire, Joseph Stiglitz, Noam Chomsky, Jean Paul Sartre and others in the same station would write. We did not have time for mild-Marxism like that of the late Mkandawire.
When Mkandawire died in early April 2020, the media in East Africa was insouciant to his passing on; this must be attributed to intellectual poverty among the young but politically connected men and women working with the media in East Africa of today. I guess with certainty that young writers and news gatherers working with self-congratutory media houses in Kenya have never heard about Thandika Makandawire.This is not the mistake of the youthful media-workers, it is the mistake of our cosmetic educational systems. It was Peter Anyang Nyong’o who informed the east African societies about death of Mkandawire by writing homage in the opinion and editorial pages of the East African. I was also informed through the same source. But still Nyong’o praised himself in the article more than mourning Mkandawire; it was as if he was mourning himself in advance. Nyong’o wrote the homage in the spirit of achieving personal social and political mileage from his previous interactions with Mkandawire without informing his readers who and what Mkandawire was. I could not understand why Professor Nyong’o chose to be such thrasonical, by overtly boasting in implied praise of the self but not painting a clear picture for his readers to know what Mkandawire was, or maybe Kenya’s political culture of harvesting political popularity from misfortune of others have eroded away Professor Nyong’o’s sense of intellectual humility. He did not tell us how Africa has lost in Mkandawire untimely death. It can be cruel sometimes.
But the cruelest impeachment to our education, culture, and scholarship as well as Kiswahili civilization is that violent death that has robbed us Ken Walibora Waliaula. The media reports revealed that Walibora was knocked down in Nairobi down town by a minibus while he was crossing a highway on foot. He had packed his car just some few meters away. His car disappeared only to be found some days later five kilometers away hidden behind the corridors of Kijabe Street. How sad it is to learn that it took the hospital administrators and the police officers five days to learn that the man that was knocked down by the minibus was Professor Ken Walibora Waliaula the Author of Siku Njema, Kidagaa and Nasikia Sauti ya Mama. It is sad because Ken Walibora was an eminent TV news broadcaster, translator of the Kenya Constitution from English to Kiswahili, the inventor of Kiswahili word Eneo Bunge meaning a constituency and the Kiswahili proverb ganga ganga sa mganga huponyesha mkonjwa ( lies of a doctor also heals) not to forget mentioning he was a CODESERIA scholar of high repute, how he became so insignificant in his death not be recognized for five days is what makes us to wonder which kind of people do Kenyans know.
It was under this context of emotional stretch that Felix Sialo, a Media scholar, lecturer and Journalism researcher at Maasai Mara University, reacted to the manner in which hospital administrators and police men refused to recognize the body of Walibora by expressing his disappointments in the words that ‘why are people who work in academia so insignificant in Kenya, if Walibora had been a member of parliament, he could have been recognized on the spot’.
Sialo’s question signifies a lot; Walibora was not only a professor but a writer who had lived in the hearts of his readers. He was the king of simple and short Kiswahili sentences; a giant of literary simplicity and prolific chronicler of Bukusu epics, but to me Walibora was a literary dialogician who wrote beautiful philosophy in the most admired brief,simple, precise and clear English sentences on the pages of Saturday Nation. Even thought he was largely known as a king of Swahili oracy and literature but he still eminently featured as a very enticing lover of literary debate in English language, he wrote very informative and scholarly packed perspectives of literary theory in English, hence I admired him more for his good command of English language as a vessel of African literature; he had properly fit into the huge literary shoes of Chris Wanjala. But anyway, even though it is difficult to accept, but still we can learn from history of art and literature which overtly teaches that fate of violent death always hangs on the heads of young good writers. What has happened to Walibora is what had happened to Steve Bantu Biko, Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Isidore Sankare,Marin Luther, Malcolm X, Alexander Pushkin, Albert Camus, Lucky Dube, Angela Chibalonza and Christopher Okigbo. They all died young, they are all having deep marks in our hearts.They are not like those who buckled under the burden of decades and decades of long futile lives that never touched humanity nor left any mark in any mind nor any heart.
Walibora was not only a product of modern education; he was mainly a product of self-education and correct bench-marking during early times of his life. This is why it is that even if he shares his rural Neighbourhood with other good writers like Benjamin Wegesa of Captured by Raiders, Godwin Siundu the literature scholar, Charles Nakitare the author I shall Walk Alone, Fred Makila the author of Outline History of Babukusu, Jospeh Situma of Gift of the Night and Chapurukha Kusimba the anthropologist with a matchless focus on writing anthropology essays-but still the gap left behind through death of Walibora is a difficult social crevice to fill, both at village level as well as national and Pan-African level. I eke this observation on the speech recent speech by Walibora on why Africa must focus on getting intellectual solutions from with Africa but not by importing from without Africa, it was a speech well delivered in Kiswahili but he gave it spot-on translation into English for universalized understanding. He was talking about Africa’s need to speed up the processes of decolonization of sources of knowledge.
My dear reader, Ken Walibora Waliaula was basically a milestone of literature in indigenous African languages. He never pretended, he wrote in Kiswahili whatever he wanted to write in Kiswahili and he wrote in English whatever he wanted to write in English, but above all else, he respected Kiswahili as a culture, a life-style, a language and a vessel of African literature. He was like Masizi Kunene; he always did what he meant. It is thus under this juncture that I seek moral justification to borrow and use an analogy from Marx’s vulgar philosophy that, continuous theory without practice is like adolescent masturbation, it is too sweet but not give birth to a baby,’ this analogy is redolent of some solecism but it helps me to explain my point that there are some east African writers preaching to us to write in ethnic dialects other than Kiswahili and yet themselves don’t practice whatever they preach, they are wrong, they are full of vanity and whimsical theory, they are mere leather-tongued addicts of intellectual masturbation, yes it is sweet for them but they will not have any literary, cultural or artistic baby-boy bouncing in a pan-African stature. Fortunately, Ken Walibora was a man of cultural praxis; he has died with many on his name. Vivam.
Alexander Opicho writes from, Lodwar, Kenya [email protected]