Onyango Oloo, 1960-2019

Volume 16, Issue 2 | Published 31/10/2019  

Onyango Oloo was a Kenyan revolutionary whose presence and guidance will be sorely missed by his many comrades. For this tribute to him AwaaZ has put together a few of the many accolades which highlight some of his attributes.

Brief bio:

‘(David) Onyango Oloo is a Kenyan born poet who was born in Nakuru on 19 April 1960. He has lived all over Kenya - from Mombasa to Garissa to Nyeri to Machakos; as well as out of the country in Canada, Swaziland and South Africa. He has visited Vietnam, Brazil, India, Guinea, Morocco, Mali, Germany, Norway and Sweden.

On November 2, 1982, Oloo was sentenced to five years in prison having being found guilty of ‘sedition’ which consisted of a hand written draft of a student essay composed when he was a first year Bachelor of Arts student at the University of Nairobi.

A few months after his release from Kamiti in May 1987, he was forced to flee across the border to neighbouring Tanzania where he sought protection under the UNHCR. But in the light of continuing attempts by the Kenyan secret police to abduct Kenyan refugees back to the country, he and a few colleagues relocated to Canada where he lived for almost twenty years in Toronto and Montreal.

Onyango Oloo has been active in the Kenyan anti-imperialist movement against neo-colonialism and has built an international following as a blogger with his sites like Jukwaa and the Kenya Democracy Project. He is a frequent contributor to the world-wide Pambazuka newsletter published by the Fahamu organization. He has served as the Secretary-General of Kenya’s Social Democratic Party and is currently active with the NASA campaign against the Jubilee regime. He has attended conferences in India, Brazil, Swaziland, Italy, Vietnam, Norway, the USA and Sweden.’

Binyavanga Wainaina, 1971 - 2019

Volume 16, Issue 2 | Published 31/10/2019  

When Kenneth Binyavanga Wainaina joined your table, it was likely he would dominate the conversation after a short while. Sometimes he helped change the conversation, taking it in a different direction. Sometimes he was irritating because, after all, he did find you in the middle of a conversation. But he always had something to say, to share and, if you were at the table long enough, he would as easily invite others to join in.

This was the personality of Binyavanga, as he was commonly known among friends and colleagues. He was Kenneth or Ken to his family.

Binyavanga’s legacy is Kwani Trust, the literary organisation he founded in 2003. Kwani Trust grew from the ideas of many but Binyavanga  - who died on May 21, 2019 aged 48  -  is the one from that group who took those ideas and shaped them into what became Kwani Trust. Over the years he called on many who contributed to the ideas that became Kwani Trust to play a role including as trustees, writers, editors, designers, sounding boards and all-purpose people.

What later became the flagship publication of Kwani Trust, the literary journal Kwani?, began as a question that Wanjiru Kinyanjui asked on an email she sent to people she knew. Her question was why it was we were not reading new Kenyan writers.  She wondered why it seemed the only people who were writing were the ones who had been doing so for decades. That is Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Meja Mwangi and others.

In today’s parlance, Wanjiru Kinyanjui’s email went viral with the initial group of people she emailed it to forwarding it to others and those others forwarding it to more people. Many said they had been wondering the same thing. Others said they had submitted work to the major publishing houses and either did not get any feedback or received a rejection letter a year or more later. Eventually Wanjiru proposed that as there were quite a number of people who had something to say on the matter, maybe people would like to meet in person and discuss what can be done.

Hon. Kenneth Odhambio Okoth, 1978-2019

Volume 16, Issue 2 | Published 31/10/2019  

In 2016, Hon. Ken Okoth participated in the SAMOSA Festival held in Eastleigh, Nairobi. The topic was ‘Citizenship and Identity – Who is a Kenyan?’ and his contribution as a panellist was greatly appreciated by the audience. (Strangely also one of the other panellists that day was the Late Adam Hussein, also from Kibra). Ken very much wanted that the entire Festival be held in Kibra and the organisers were planning this for 2020. But alas!

AwaaZ has put together a list of the organisations which he was involved in and attached very brief comments from each of them. Hon. Okoth is one of the most remarkable politicians Kenya has ever had – he exemplified the notion of ‘servant leadership’.

The Kenya Legal & Ethical Issues Network

The late Hon. Ken Okoth was extremely vocal around matters of health and human rights. He was not afraid to vocalize reproductive health issues which are largely unpopular among politicians.

Nubian Rights Forum (NRF)                                                                                                 He was a great leader who championed for the rights of the Nubian community especially on citizenship, land issues and addressing forceful eviction. His memory will forever remain in our hearts and we will keep him in our prayers.

Center for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) and Women's Empowerment Link (WEL)

His agency in transforming communities, supporting women’s empowerment, especially political empowerment, and ending violence against women and girls is unmatched. Ken was instrumental in the passage of the Protection Against Domestic Violence (PADV) Act 2016.  He supported us in the operationalization of the two-thirds gender principle as espoused in the Constitution of Kenya.

Dr. Joyce Laboso, 1971 - 2019

Volume 16, Issue 2 | Published 01/11/2019  

Dr Joyce Laboso, A Different Kind Of Kenyan Leader

By Margaretta wa Gacheru

Kenyans barely had a chance to learn how great a leader Dr Joyce Laboso was, leave alone to find out how far-reaching a role model she could have been if she had lived longer than her 58 short years.

Sadly, she passed on quietly at Nairobi Hospital last Monday, 29 July. Cancer was the crook that stole her from us, just as it had recently taken two other outstanding local leaders, Safaricom’s CEO Bob Collymore and Kibra MP Ken Okoth.

But unbeknownst to most Kenyans, Joyce had been fighting a lonely battle against the cruel killer for many weeks. Being a woman who valued her privacy, few people knew how this pioneering woman leader was fighting, first at the Royal Madden Hospital in UK, then in India where she went for another three weeks of treatment and finally back home where doctors had assured us that all she required was bed rest and she would be fine.

That wasn’t the case. But still, Dr Laboso has left a legacy of leadership that will stand the test of time, even though she only became a public figure in 2008 after her younger sister Lorna died in a plane crash. Lorna was the first female in the Laboso family to be elected MP for Bomet.

Yet unlike Lorna, Joyce had never aspired to be a politician. She was an academic, having trained initially to be a teacher of French (one of the first Kenyans to take up that career); then to go abroad (the first Kipsigis woman to do so) to the UK to get a Masters degree from University of Reading followed by a PhD from University of Hull. She then headed home to join the Egerton University faculty, again teaching French.

Toni Morrison, 1931-2019

Volume 16, Issue 2 | Published 01/11/2019  

By Margaretta wa Gacheru

If you hadn’t read The Bluest Eyes, Beloved or Song of Solomon before August 9th, you might be among the multitude who made book sales of all Toni Morrison’s award-winning books shoot sky high following her passing on that fateful summer day in New York City.

Black America’s first Nobel prize winner (1993) was already renowned in many circles, (especially literary and African American ones) for her brilliant array of books before she passed at aged 88.

But it wasn’t just because she was the first Black American woman to win a Nobel that she was world acclaimed. She was also the first black American woman to achieve so many other things: she was the first of her kind to be a best-selling fiction writer, and as the first black female editor at a leading Manhattan publishing house, she was first to open literary channels for many more brilliant black American writers to prove that there are a myriad of powerful stories about the black experience that are yet to be told.

There are many more reasons why Toni Morrison has been so widely mourned since she stepped off humanity’s stage after years of teaching, writing and also editing some of the greatest English-language writers of our time. Possibly the most notable one would be in relation to her writing and her specific choice of subject matter. For she was intent on placing the black experience at the very centre of her writing. And not only that. She also felt deeply compelled to remove from her writing any hint or interest in taking heed of what she called ‘the white gaze’ (meaning ‘what will white people think of me?’ which was of no concern to her)

In the countless interviews, keynote speeches and dialogues that she had with scholars, members of the media and colleagues like Angela Davis, Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey, she made clear that the chief concern of her writing was to speak of the black experience to black people, having no need to apologize for populating all of her books with black people in all of their many facets.

Ali Nadim Zaidi, 1956 - 2019

Volume 16, Issue 2 | Published 01/11/2019  

Ali Nadim Zaidi, who died on 7 September 2019 aged 63, will be best remembered as one of Kenya’s leading magazine and newspaper editors. He came here from India to be a high school teacher after Green Fields School in Kitale recruited him.

He only spent a few months in the classroom before switching to the newsroom, but he never stopped teaching.

Whether it was Marxism, the split infinitive rule, the appeal of a piece of art or the lyrics to Grateful Dead’s Franklin’s Tower, Ali constantly shared his knowledge. He spent 30 years as an editor, first joining what was then Kenya’s oldest business publication, Executive, as a sub-editor and going on to be its editor before joining The EastAfrican newspaper in 1999 where he continued to work until he died.

Legendary were Ali’s ‘parties’ where he brought together progressive literati, artists, writers and left-leaning thinkers.  He leaves behind his wife and five children and five grandchildren.


Robert Mugabe, 1924 - 2019

Volume 16, Issue 2 | Published 01/11/2019