BY APLHONCE SHIUNDU
Ken Waliaula Walibora, who died on the Good Friday of 2020 aged 56 was not a bad man. He educated the world about the continent and the beautiful Kiswahili language. Writing his obituary in English feels odd, because, it would have sounded better in Kiswahili, speaking about maudhui ya ukabila, ukatili, ubinafsi and uhalifu, on the main themes of his works “tribalism, cruelty, selfishness, and crime” with punctuations of humour and romance.
In 2013 we shared the same desk on the Third Floor of Nation Centre. I used to report from parliament, leaving my desk in the newsroom unoccupied. Ken had rejoined the media house and was temporarily assigned my desk, as the editorial managers organized an office for him. By the time we met, he had been a journalist, author, scholar, and teacher, longer than I had been alive. He had inspired millions of young Kenyans to think big.
He was a quiet man, with a ready smile, and a cheeky chuckle at naughty jokes cracked by some of those who were closer to him. Always ready to listen – his gentle eyes behind the thin-rimmed spectacles emitting a scholarly mien, with ‘mentor’ written all over it— he became an automatic sounding board for those in the newsroom who were silently awed by his celebrity status as a best-selling author of Siku Njema. His refrain about “mgomba changaraweni haupandwi ukamea”, emphasized the need to work hard, because a banana sucker doesn’t grow on sand!
I find it difficult to write that Ken was “humble” or “good” or that he “helped those in need”, because, the humility, generosity and kindness were part of his DNA. He was human. And to get to a point where we have to celebrate someone for being human, it just shows how low our ‘humanity gauge’ has gotten. Ken had no expectations when he met anyone. Except, he tried to see the good in everyone. You could attribute that to the saying ‘fadhila mfadhili mbuzi, binadamu atakuudhi’, which captures the eternal knack for disappointment resident in human beings. Oh, he loved his taarab music.
To write about the brutal death of this literary giant is to return to the poignant themes published in the dozens of his best-selling books. The tragedy of his death, shows that, despite the millions of words he wrote and spoke all his life, the socio-economic flops visible in this part of the world keep stalking everyone, including all those who speak against it.
The news reports and witnesses say, on that Good Friday of April 10, 2020, Ken was chased by a gang of muggers with sharp knifes on Landhies Road in downtown Nairobi. It was not at night. It was between 9am and 10am. Broad daylight. He blocked a knife lunge with the palm of his hand and took to his heels.
The sharp knife sliced the flesh between his right thumb and index finger leaving a defensive wound, the forensic pathologist who carried out the postmortem explained. As Ken ran across the road his body met a moving vehicle, the matatus known for being driven recklessly. The human body and the speeding metal crashed into each other. The human was thrown on the tarmac. Fractures, bruises and a bleeding brain. He lay there unconscious.
Someone called an ambulance. Others watched and moved on. The pickpockets did their thing on the idle onlookers. Traffic stalled. The muggers melted into the crowd. And Ken, down on the hot tarmac in Nairobi’s morning sun, battled to stay alive. The ambulance arrived and hauled him to Kenyatta National Hospital.
Though named after the father of Kenya’s current president, the accident and emergencies section of this national referral hospital is a place where the poor go to die. Nearly every case there is an emergency. Ken, brought in by paramedics, used to carry dozens of accident victims a day, was left there. He bled out and died, while awaiting treatment.
The Easter holiday came and went. His body was found. His relatives and friends cried. His fans mourned. The political leaders sent their condolences. Over 40 book titles for people of all ages, dozens of papers, speaking engagements, and millions of students who have read his work, Ken Waliaula Walibora lived life the way it should be lived. Easy. Prolifically. Happy. And Fully.
May the story of his sad and brutal death remind us to take a good look at ourselves, our decisions, and our lives and take action to eliminate ukabila, ukatili, ubinafsi and uhalifu in our society.