Four hundred. That is the number of fiction books the late author Ken Walibora recommended a student should have read before completing their secondary education.
And he made steps towards actualising that. An organisation he started in 2019 to distribute four books a month to each registered student is gaining momentum.
He called it the Ken Walibora Centre for Literature Development, and registered it in May 2019, securing its offices on the seventh floor of Purshottam Place along Westlands Road.
The centre is still running and Walibora’s US-based family is helping pay salaries and foot other expenses. The centre has, however, faced challenges after the author’s death and due to school closures and disruptions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Paul Watila, the coordinator of the centre, says Walibora started it to give students a chance to read fiction without syllabus restrictions.
A student registers with Sh1,200 a year and that gives them access to four storybooks a month: Two in English and two in Swahili.
“He said students didn’t need to buy books. Books were available: He would buy and place them at the centre. But the fee is to make the learner responsible. The Sh100 a month can help the learner change books. The centre uses this money to exchange books and for staff expenses,” he said.
“Last year, by the time we lost Prof Walibora, more than 1,000 students had enrolled for the reading programme. We now have more than 2,000 students registered. They get these books even when they are at home,” he added.
The centre is one of Walibora’s legacies that were mentioned during an online six-hour memorial event held last Saturday in his honour, at which a number of Swahili scholars give their tributes as friends recounted their last experiences with him.
Among the speakers was Najma, the daughter of Tanzanian author Said Ahmed Mohamed, who wrote Amezidi and Asali Chungu, among other works.
“They wrote some works together and edited some books, especially Swahili short stories like ‘Damu Nyeusi’, ‘Homa ya Nyumbani’ and ‘Tumbo Lisiloshiba’,” said Najma.
“My parents have very fond memories of Prof Walibora. He was the only person who represented my father in financial dealings in Nairobi. He loved and respected my father a lot. As you know, my parents live in Germany and Zanzibar, Tanzania, and sometimes contract signing duties would arise, and Prof Walibora was always ready to represent my father and protect his rights ,” she added.
Walibora’s widow, Ann, appreciated the event aimed at remembering her late husband.
A year after Prof Walibora died in a road accident, more and more is emerging about the introverted man who had many fans largely due to his works, Siku Njema and Kidagaa Kimemwozea, which were Swahili secondary-school set books.
His brother Patrick Wafula, who is the principal of Kipseon High School, said Walibora kept a lot to himself. His family, he said, will be counting on government agencies to help them trace properties the celebrated writer, journalist and Swahili scholar might have left behind.
Walibora was born to the first wife in a polygamous family in Cherang’any, Trans Nzoia County. His wife and children live in the United States.
“We keep in touch,” Mr Wafula said.
Mr Wafula also noted investigations into Walibora’s death had stagnated. The author was knocked down by a bus on Jogoo Road in Nairobi on April 10, 2020.
Two missing teeth
He suffered a cracked jaw, a broken hand, two missing teeth and had blood draining into his brain. Furthermore, he was left unattended for hours after being taken to Kenyatta National Hospital as an unidentified male.
“Some people have been advising us to hire a private investigator so that we can get justice as a family,” said Mr Wafula.
Last year, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations took over investigations that were initially being conducted by traffic officers at Kamukunji Police Station.
The investigations involved tracing Walibora’s last movements before and after he parked his car along Kijabe Street.
Not much is known about any literary works Walibora had in the works at the time of his death. But according to Mr Hezekiel Gikambi, a Swahili scholar and friend of Walibora’s, the author was penning Nasikia Sauti ya Baba as a sequel to his earlier published biographical work, Nasikia Sauti ya Mama.
Walibora’s family also plans to put up a memorial hall in Kitale town which will showcase his literary works to further popularise his creative works among learners and researchers in the region.