Walibora family seeks answers three years since untimely demise

Ken Walibora.

Ken Walibora. His family is yet to recover from the shock of his sudden death.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

From his mysterious disappearance and the manner in which his interment was conducted in April 2020, it is as if Ken Walibora had a premonition about his dramatic exit from the literary stage.

In his maiden novel, Siku Njema, the character Rashid died after being involved in a fatal road accident while Juma Mukosi, the a renowned scholar in the same novel, couldn’t be recognised by many. Both incidences resemble what befell Walibora during his last agonising moments.

In Kidagaa Kimemwozea, the main character, Mtemi Nasaba Bora, goes missing for a couple of days and is later found dead and is given a low-key sendoff just like Walibora’s due to the Coronavirus that shook the globe at the time when he passed on.

The death of the writer-cum-journalist, which occurred on April, 10, 2020 at Kenyatta National Hospital, was shrouded in mystery, something that pushed me to visit his home on the slopes of Cherangany in Trans-Nzoia County.

I was warmly welcomed by his younger sister, Pauline Wafula.

After sharing pleasantries, I asked, “How was the feeling being one of the siblings of such a towering literary personality?”

“I felt privileged,” she said. “I studied Kidagaa Kimemwozea and Damu Nyeusi na Hadithi Nyingine in high school. I also had a lot of interest in his other writings like Ndoto ya Amerika and Kufa Kuzikana.”

As she ushered me into their homestead, I spotted a home that had that unsettling thrill making it suitable for literary tourism by Swahili enthusiasts.

I asked his stepmother, Eunice Wafula, 59, how she received the news of her son’s sudden demise.

“I felt astounded. We still needed him as he played a pivotal role in the well-being of this family,” she said.

“Is there any of his siblings who has picked allure to write?” I further inquired.

“The other children have different talents — not writing. Maybe his children will take after him,” she added.

“Still on Walibora’s family,” I inquired, “Tell us about your relationship with him.”

“I’m Walibora’s age-mate. The eldest brother is even older than me. I got into the family after the demise of his mum (Ruth Nasambu) in 1984. His dad later passed on in 2006 but the family still treated me with utmost respect.”

I probed her whether she gets special treatment from the kinsfolk. “The villagers accord me special treatment even at the bus-park. Walibora was such a big name.”

She added, Siku Njema brought so many institutions to our home. People even thought that he was a Tanzanian as he introduced the novel by the catchphrase, “Mamangu Zainabu Makame alizaliwa Mwanza, Tanzania Magharibi.”

Eunice Wafula wishes that the government would build a community library and tarmac the road to his home in his honour.

“We thank God for his legacy, which is embedded in his writings. I only wish that the Kenyan government would erect a library in his remembrance.”

We thereafter shifted the conversation to his younger sister, Pauline Wafula, about her relationship with her brother.

What was your connection with your late brother? “He used to advise me to work extremely hard in school and afterwards influence me into writing. On the flipside, I’ve not been keen on writing but someday, the writing bug may catch up with me.”

“Did your class know that Walibora was your sibling?”

“I was a bit secretive in school but a few students knew about our blood-ties. I also didn’t attend any of his colloquial lectures as I was in school most of the time,” She added.

We then visited Walibora’s grave, a few yards away. It had the epitaph: “Ken Walibora didn’t live as if he will never die and didn’t die as if he never lived.”

Walibora was my close associate and a prolific Swahili writer with an idiosyncratic ability to perfectly mirror the society with his grand mastery of the language.

This experience reminded me that time and space doesn’t coalesce. Time tends to move faster than space. As I bid them bye, Wafula and the mother were indebted for the Saturday Nation’s visit.

- The writer contributes on literary matters in the Saturday Nation and recently penned a play, Rotten Apples. [email protected]