Lionizing Tributes to Binyavanga Wainaina

When the story of Binyavanga is finally weaved into an Africanized portrait, many will understand why a part of the continent will never come to terms with his exit. Binyavanga, in his life, firmly embodied the words of Dylan Thomas. Thomas, in his poem, Do not go gentle into that good night, had called for resilience by advising readers to ‘ Rage, rage against dying of the light. Binyavanga was a comforting reference to thousands of writers, across the globe, who firmly desired to pass their messages to the world. Wainaina,  in his writings, represented every African, in fighting for their space within the ever biased profiling from Western perceptions. In ‘How to Write About Africa’, he went head on and amplified the stereotypes that have consistently worked against the true size of the African person.

To illustrate his role in shaping Africanized lions and lionesses, in the writing world, we sample a number of tributes directed to an immortal soul. The Brief shares all credits to Nation Media Group for compiling the tributes and sharing them to the world.

Yvonne Adhiambo Owour, a pioneering mentee in the Kwani? literary forum went ahead to win the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2003. Yvonne’s story highlights the selflessness of Binyavanga in strongly supporting the dream of others. Here is her tribute to a man who broke his head on the rocks.

“He worshipped life.

Dived into it head first, broke his head on the rocks.

Didn’t matter. The rocks also shattered.

& out of old fragments, ten thousand still lives rub open their eyes and emerge.

An army made out of words, called into being by the mad, fierce cosmic summoning of this one who saw, who knew, who believed in another ‘us’, a wilder, fiercer, flamboyant (as he was) African ‘us’ writing our universe and then more, and then others.


Goodnight, darling, goodnight.

Today, and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow…look…there is no one word that can contain (for me) the meaning of this, your crossing…(Look)…Next year maybe, or the year after that..

But today my love, as you stride (past us) towards those dim, unknown horizons….

A frantic, futile howl inside the wordlessness of this the darkest of nows (a phrase that has been cried out before in disbelief….):


Requiescat in pace!

My brother. My friend. My teacher. My champion. Iconoclast.

Oh my human! My human!

Good night, again. Goodnight, my love.

Another of Binyavanga’s countless mentees, Kingwa Kamencu, emotionally shared her feelings following the demise of her mentor.

“I woke up today and was tears all morning. I was feeling lost and alone in the forest. And then just in the middle of all that, I get news of Binyavanga Wainaina passing on. That unleashed a whole new whirlpool of tears. Two months after Pius Adesanmi. I feel orphaned, and something else I don’t often feel. I feel bereft”.

To understand the impact of Binyavanga’s work on the collective writing fraternity, respected enthusiasts of the pen also shared their tributes.

Egara Kabaji, renowned writer and professor of literature had this to say:

We have lost a refined writer and thinker. The last time I interacted with him was at KBC Books Cafe. I also had a very interesting conversation with him in the press that led to my coinage of the expression “Literary gangsters” which I used to refer to a group of young Kenyan writers under Kwani logo and who have been doing great things

Respected cultural purist, Dr. Joyce Nyairo, a towering figure in cultural and contemporary literature, mourned Binyavanga.

What immense talent; what an enormous personality; a child of luck who beckoned opportunities like a magnet, Binya leaves an indelible footprint in the sands of that surge of creativity and production that defined Kenya in the new millennium.

Dr. Wandia Njoya, one of Kenya’s most formidable and resilient intellectuals, thus shared:

The gods have gone crazy. They have taken a second intellectual pillar in the space of a few months.

Binyavanga knew that Kenya was crazy. He knew that there was something deeply inauthentic and insincere about Kenya. He knew that the Christian, middle class nonsense some of us were raised on was preventing us from being whole.

And he struggled to be whole. To openly love whom he loved. To take his art where his imagination took it.

I first met Binyavanga in form six, when we went to Lenana School for the national drama festivals finals. We were both acting for our schools. Then we were in KU together for a brief moment before he left for South Africa. When I was in the US, he came to the college I was at to listen to my lecture. Can you imagine? It was such a pleasant surprise. I didn’t even know he was in the US.


When we came back, we met off and on and tried to be intellectuals and artists in this very dysfunctional space called Kenya. Binyavanga left us a rich legacy: Kwani?, the arts festivals and celebrations of urban creativity, against a rigid literati of the education system, especially at the university literature departments.

Those of us who grew up in the fake, Stepford Wives scenario that was the Kenyan Christian evangelical, bourgeois, heterosexual family are too shy, or too twisted, to admit that we grew up on a very dysfunctional social model. Binyavanga knew. And he tried to tell us.

Rest in love, my brother.

The World and so more Africa has lost one of her most fearless sons. Writers never exit the stage for their content immortalizes their souls. The Brief joins the writing fraternity in sharing gratitude for what Binyavanga gave to Africa.

Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina poses during an interview with the AFP on January 27, 2014, in Nairobi. One of Africa’s most powerful writers and a founder of the Nairobi-based literary network Kwani, Wainaina published a story online earlier this month that announced his sexual orientation, entitled “I am a Homosexual, Mum”. Homosexuality is outlawed in Kenya, although arrests are rare. AFP PHOTO / SIMON MAINA (Photo credit should read SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)

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