Kenya Mourns ‘Siku Njema’s Author Ken Walibora

Kenyan Kiswahili scholar, author & journalist Prof Ken Walibora.

“First and foremost, I see myself as a creative writer, then a literary and cultural studies scholar and lastly as a Kiswahili media expert.

Kiswahili is my language of choice in writing creative works, although some of my critical and academic engagements are necessarily in English.

If I had all the time in the world, I would be writing and reading Great Books only, of which the Bible is foremost.

I am an avid reader and a good keen observer and patient listener. Like all humans I make mistakes from time to time, I regret them, and I apologize, but most importantly, I learn from them and move on.

I strive to attain more humility in all spheres of my life in good times and bad times and to always avoid being prejudicial and celebrating another person’s crisis or calamity.

I want to appreciate people more and not to judge them harshly by relying on one-sided sources – Prof. Ken Walibora Waliaula’s biography on LinkedIn.

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Ken Walibora, a renowned Kenyan author, journalist and literary scholar was discovered dead on Wednesday, April 15, 2020 after he went missing on Friday, April 10. He was 56.

The Nation Media Group where he worked before as the Groups’ Group Quality Manager, Kiswahili Media, said his body was found at the Kenyatta National Hospital mortuary.

Walibora was one of the prolific authors in the country. Some of his books include Nasikia Sauti ya Mama, Upande Mwingine, Kidagaa Kimemwozea, Ndoto ya Amerika among many others.

His book Siku Njema, published in 1996, cast him into the limelight. The book has been translated to many other languages and went ahead to be studied as a set book in Kenyan secondary schools.

Colleagues, politicians, and persons who interacted with him expressed profound shock on the death of a man who had made an outstanding contribution to the country’s education, art and literature through his creations.

President Uhuru Kenyatta described him as “a polished broadcaster and prolific writer whose literary works will continue to inspire future generations.”

Deputy President William Ruto mourned Walibora as an “outstanding academic, ingenious author and a prolific journalist with a charming personality and humour.”

“Prof Ken Walibora was a man of insight and brevity; he was a driving force with monumental energy and vision when pushing Kiswahili language-related issues,” Ruto wrote.

Prof. Robert Gateru, Vice-Chancellor Riara University, said until his passing, Walibora was the Director of the Global and Language Studies (GLAS) Centre at the learning institution.

He also lectured at Riara University’s School of International Relations and Diplomacy.

Gateru added that Mwalimu Ken, as he was sometimes referred to, was also a prolific poet and had a keen interest in prison narratives which culminated in his published work: Narrating Prison Experience: Human Rights, Self, Society, and Political Incarceration in Africa (2014).

“He will be remembered as a person full of life, who served with humility. He showed great respect to all irrespective of status. He was dearly loved and greatly admired by both his students and his colleagues. His teaching and research work has been outstanding,” read the statement from the Vice-Chancellor.

Prof Egara Kabaji, a scholar and president of the Creative Writers Association of Kenya C-WAK described the deceased as ‘highly proactive and knew when opportunity presented itself’.

“That is precisely why he moved into academia when he realised that he had milked the journalistic world.
While he wrote on themes that were painful, Walibora often painted the picture of how our own inhumanity destroyed the God in all us. Every situation presented an opportunity for story ideas,” wrote Prof Kabaji in his tribute.

The Media Council of Kenya (MCK) said he will be remembered for mentoring and molding young journalists aspiring to broadcast in Swahili.

MCK said he was instrumental in the translation of Google and Microsoft websites user translation from English to Kiswahili.

Raila Odinga, the African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development and also the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party leader described the late wordsmith as a “distinguished journalist”.

“He penned great literary works that will remain etched in the memories of many,” said the former Prime Minister.

Former NTV journalist Yassin Juma joined many Kenyans in mourning the deceased as one who helped to propel his career in Journalism.

“Ken Walibora…….in an industry where you grow by tramping on others and newsroom rivalries is a norm….where no one is willing to assist no one in fear that they will be outshined….where manipulation and scheming is a daily meal ……this man here listened to my whole story when I stopped him along Kimathi street…he was rushing back to the studio but he stopped to listen to me…” said Yassin.

Christine Mungai, Curator at Baraza Media Lab expressed her sadness for losing a friend.

“I am so, so gutted – it’s hard losing a new friend, how much more for those who knew him better,” she mourned.

Dennis Okari, NTV news anchor and Investigative Reporter eulogised the late as someone who had an “infectious calmness and good humour.”

Oliver Mathenge, Digital Editor at Radio Africa Group said Walibora was ‘one of the greatest Kenyan literal geniuses’ he ever met.

“He challenged me to write,” said Mathenge.

Walibora held a PhD in Comparative Cultural Studies from Ohio State University in the US.

He served as an assistant professor in African Languages at the University of Wisconsin where he taught African Autobiography; Introduction to African Languages and Literature; African: An introductory course (interdisciplinary); Modern African Literature in English, Contemporary African Literature, Theory of African Literature.

He was the Kiswahili quality manager at Nation Media Group until January 2017.

Walibora Waliaula was born in 1965 at Chebukaka village in Teremi in Bungoma County being the fourth child in a family of seven. He went to  St. Joseph’s Primary School in Kitale where his father was a teacher, joined
Teremi Secondary School in Bungoma County and later Suremi Secondary School and later Ole Kajiado and Koelel High Schools.