Thursday, 02 June, 2022

Ken Walibora: How Kenya’s ‘king’ of Swahili writing inspired me

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Hezekiah Gikambi

The Kenyan writer Ken Walibora who was buried previous week still left guiding a generations of enthusiasts who examine his textbooks in Swahili lessons, which include the BBC’s Basillioh Mutahi, who pays tribute to him in this article.

Prof Walibora was renowned for advertising and marketing Swahili, the countrywide language he used in writing his books.

In 2018 he expressed concern that some educational facilities in Kenya had notices examining: “This is an English-talking zone”.

He questioned the ministry of training why it would let students to be barred from speaking in Swahili, when it was a nationwide language.

The creator mentioned this was a indication of brainwashing and neo-colonialism. You would not find a different place that would choose a overseas language in excess of the language of its men and women, he stated.



Swahili – a swift information

  • 50 to 100 million approximated speakers

  • Arabichas lent several terms – which includes Swahili, Arabic for coastline

  • Fourcountries discuss it most: DR Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda

  • African Unionhas adopted it as 1 of 6 official languages

  • Penned Swahiliused to use Arabic script before switching to Latin alphabet

Supply: Lifestyle Journey

His most prominent ebook was his very first novel Siku Njema which was later translated to English as A Very good Day. It was applied as a established ebook in high colleges all over the nation for quite a few many years.

Many Kenyans who examine it in school have spoken about how the novel, a tale of triumph more than adversity, assisted them love Swahili literature – which is one thing Kenyans usually uncover challenging to do.

Our neighbours in Tanzania are supposed to be the most proficient speakers of this language utilised as a lingua franca by about 100 million persons across East Africa.

Prolific author

Prof Austin Bukenya, a single of the pioneering African students of English and literature in East Africa, from Uganda, argued that Prof Walibora was the “king” of Kenyan Swahili literature.

Who was Ken Walibora?

  • Born on 6 January 1965 as Kennedy Waliaula in Baraki, Bungoma county, in western Kenya
  • Afterwards changed his identity to Walibora, the latter portion of his surname which indicates “superior” in Swahili. He also shortened his 1st identify to Ken
  • Labored as a trainer and a probation officer in advance of he grew to become a journalist. He has also served as a professor of the Kiswahili language in the US and Kenya
  • Died on 10 April right after he was hit by a bus in downtown Nairobi, the police initially claimed
  • He had been documented missing for 5 times when his overall body was uncovered at the mortuary of Kenya’s most important referral clinic, the Kenyatta Countrywide Medical center
  • The police’s homicide office have due to the fact taken in excess of investigations into his dying following a put up-mortem by the governing administration pathologist exposed he experienced a knife wound on the area between his thumb and the index finger
  • Buried on 21 April at his house in western Kenya in a funeral attended by not additional than 15 people, thanks to the regulations imposed to cease the unfold of coronavirus
  • His widow and two small children did not go to as they could not go away the US, the place they are living, thanks to Covid-19 vacation restrictions

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Only 15 men and women ended up allowed to go to his funeral in an exertion to avert the unfold of coronavirus

He was a prolific writer- involving 1996, when Siku Njema was released, and the working day he died, he had more than 40 guides to his title in various genres – novels, small tales, performs and poetry.

He has been described as a person who was normally composing, and writing ideal sellers. Even in the direction of his unexpected dying, he experienced at minimum 1 reserve that was nearly ready, which is now because of to be posted posthumously.

Other than Prof Walibora’s debut novel, he experienced a further novel that was read through as a national set book for Kiswahili literature in schools, Kidagaa Kimemwozea.

But it was that initial guide, Siku Njema, that genuinely endeared him to youthful audience. I was one particular of them. I wanted to develop into the author that he was, as well as the fictional main character who was just about like a position product.

Aspirational tale-telling

I don’t forget reading that book, with a cover illustration of a silhouetted man on the lookout into the length, in just a person evening about 20 many years ago, on the day it was issued in class as our superior faculty literature text.

In the two a long time that followed, we would discover it in detail, researching the themes, stylistic units and all.

But what resonated most with me was the aspirational element of his tale-telling, which just about motivated you to see the possibilities to do greater not just in university, but in lifetime.

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Re-examining Siku Njema reminded me how much of an effect Walibora experienced on my lifetime

But other than the analogies of hope that I discovered with, I located it an simple go through, with its vivid imagery and poetic language.

I discovered with the struggles of the book’s major character, Msanifu Kombo, an unwell-addressed youngster who grew up devoid of his mother and father, and who later on took on a perilous journey from Tanzania to locate his father in Kenya.

In the ebook, Msanifu Kombo is a brilliant scholar of the Swahili language, at one particular level getting the prize for an essay he wrote for a college levels of competition. His schoolmates nickname him Kongowea Mswahili, the identify of the critical character in his prize-winning essay.

Like Mswahili, I came to appreciate Swahili in school, which impressed me to publish a manuscript in Swahili of my own – which I have stored at any time due to the fact.

And I immersed myself into learning more of the language, which served me receive top rated grades in the language for the rest of my higher school lifestyle. I was also nicknamed Kongowea Mswahili.

Doing the job with my hero

Later in life, our paths crossed at the Nation Media Group in Nairobi, exactly where we both equally labored as journalists.

In a way, I was proud to be functioning with a person, who in my teenage years, was my hero.

While we ended up equally journalists now, viewing him as a hero under no circumstances genuinely went absent, as he was this gentleman who saved on writing books – catching up with him seemed an unachievable goal.

Nonetheless I was normally struck by the realisation that his identity was unique from the individual I imagined he was, quite a few many years previously. He was an standard male who simply struck up discussions with colleagues in spite of his fame.

Wanting again, that sensation of seeking to be a author like him has lingered on, but in the company of a newsroom and doing work for various publications, I in no way permit him know how a lot he encouraged me – anything I now regret.

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When the announcement of Prof Walibora’s demise came, quite a few Kenyans ended up shocked. A lot of paid out tributes to an writer who they experienced recognized personally, at get the job done, or while the various books he experienced prepared.

Douglas Mutua, a writer and lecturer in the US who was once Prof Walibora’s colleague, remembered the writer as a individual who nurtured talent. Mr Mutua informed the BBC’s Peter Mwai that Prof Walibora beloved a few factors: Swahili, humanity and football.

On Twitter, a Kenyan explained Prof Walibora as Kenya’s William Shakespeare. It was an accolade I had in no way heard, which probably he would not have preferred, staying a modest person who was never ever eager to flaunt his envied situation as a celebrated creator.

“There are people today who are really worth remembering and who can be remembered, but I’m not 1 of them, I am not between them,” he wrote in his introduction to his autobiography Nasikia Sauti Ya Mama (I Listen to My Mother’s Voice).

“If by composing this [autobiography] I will have shown an instance of how to compose an autobiography, and not an example how to live a daily life, then I will have reached my purpose,” he additional.

You could also be intrigued in…

BBC Africa employees examine extracts from Binyavanga Wainaina’s popular satirical essay How to Generate about Africa, in tribute to the late writer.

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Media captionBinyavanga Wainaina: How to create about Africa – a tribute

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