Death of Chris Wanjala confirms 2018 a doomsday for African literature


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The author reflects on recent passing of Professor Chris Wanjala of the University of Nairobi, at the same time thinking about other prominent African intellectuals and political figures such as Samir Amin and Kofi Annan that Africa lost in 2018.

On 6 October, I wrote a short message to Professor Chris Wanjala, I wanted to share with him some news about the Egyptian Marxist and political economist Samir Amin who had died in early August 2018. Unfortunately, Chris Wanjala did not have the information about the death of Samir Amin, he replied to my message, fully expressing his grieve. In his message he also wondered why the media in East Africa could not run news stories about the death of such a prominent intellectual, scholar, patriot and social revolutionary like Samir Amin. This was my fourth time I was communicating with Professor Chris Wanjala in the year 2018.

At the beginning of 2018, in fact on 20 January, I called Chris Wanjala to get his sentiments about South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile who had just died by then. Chris Wanjala talked on phone for two hours about the peculiar strength, intellectual alertness, academic focus, cultural confidence and intellectual empathy as the key qualities of Keorapetse. Professor Chris Wanjala was very specific in declaring Keorapetse as a good man and a caring scholar for the critical role Keorapetse played in assisting Ngugi wa Thiong’o to run away to Zimbabwe and then use the Zimbabwean passport to go to exile in the United Sates of America.

This was the time the government of Kenya under the visceral dictatorship of Daniel Moi had instructed the special branch police to arrest and detain Ngugi wa Thiong’o at the Nyayo torture chambers for writing the books that were intellectually liberal. My conversation with Professor Chris Wanjala about Keorapetse that particular evening inspired me to write an article about the unique literary and intellectual spirit of Keorapetse Kgositsile, the article was published as the main letter in The Sunday Nationat Nairobi and as the leading opinion in The Face2faceat New York.

In one of the weekend days of May 2018, I visited Anna Nanjala Catholic Library in Lodwar town, north-western Kenya to do some general reading, I first read Professor Wanjala’s brief review of Dreams in Time of Warby Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Professor Wanjala had reviewed this memoir by Ngugi in Awaaz Magazine. Then again I picked the Mind and Stylesof Okot P’Bitek in Song of Lawinoby Monica Naliaka Wanambisi (also known as Professor Monica Mwelesi). The introduction in this book was written by Chris Wanjala. It is one of the best introductions ever written in Africa. It comes out clearly on the problem of “Barbarous Pedantry” disguising as literary criticism in Kenya.

It was so Pataphorical on that day that Professor Chris Wanjala coincidently called me that same moment I was reading the introduction.

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