By Amol Awuor
I am next in the witness stand in defense and praise of Kenya’s most outstanding columnists for their consistent output that remains a rather thankless task. But the mere fixation with columnists is like those pretensions by upper middle-class children who attend university abroad to study basket weaving or carpeting. It baffles me a lot how ridiculous the world is. Ok. I am kidding here.
Games aside, in this second installment, we shall look at other equally brilliant and candid Kenyan columnists such as Prof Trevor Ngulia, Roy Gachuhi, Godwin Murunga, and Mutuma Maathiu among others. Again, the ranking takes no particular order, but, shall begin with utmost personal preference to the indefatigable and articulate Roy Gachuhi.
11. Roy Gachuhi
Roy Gachuhi is the master in wordplay. He is the master in bringing the 70s, 80s, and 90s back in matters football. If eventually we create our Hall of Fame for excellent sports writing, I shall nominate him. His writing oozes of candour, eloquence, and extreme nostalgia that it aches you whenever you indulge in his occasional Saturday Nation column. A former sports reporter with The Standard, Roy adversely credited the late veteran Hezekiah Wepukhulu for his success in sports journalism. And he could wax philosophical. In his piece The triumph and tragedy of Francis Kadenge, he posits, albeit, with choking bitterness of reality of life:
‘In this life, we learn to accept that some of our expectations will be met and others will not. When Joe (Kadenge) spoke of the expectations he had of his first boy, which are long gone for eternity, my mind incessantly remembered Cesar Louis Menotti, the left wing intellectual who coached Argentina to victory in the 1978 World Cup.’
Though a veteran in sports journalism, Roy also writes features examining Kenya’s past political journeys that are a must read.
12. Trevor Ngulia
Trevor Ngulia like his counterparts, David Ndii, XN Iraki, and Godwin Murunga (whom we shall look at shortly), comprise of the countable academics willing to stick their neck out for the nation called Kenya. Ngulia constantly reminds us of what is wrong with our security strategies. He explains to us like standard one pupils the difference between asymmetric and symmetric warfare. The professor has proposed ways of dealing with Kenya’s ‘radicalisation of its young.’ On another occasion, he cautioned against the excessive influence of the military during these ‘jubilated’ times. In his conclusion, he posed: ‘Should we sacrifice a tradition and a universal practice of placing the security sector under civilian control in the guise of fighting terrorists and other criminals?’
13. Godwin Murunga
Murunga’s Saturday Nation column is an interesting read because it does not only challenge the Jubilee regime, but also ordinary Kenyans. His column covers diverse topics ranging from our absurd politics to the rot of the education system and how to fix it, the trials currently afflicting the civil society, and the skewed political discourse in the country. Murunga often comes out as a pained man particularly with the growing helplessness amongst Kenyans as corruption eats away the nation. He has mourned deeply for the education system because it is the root of all our problems.
14. Kamau Mutunga
If you remember the column Random Thoughts (I guess that was the name) by Kamau Mutunga, your hands up please. The hilarity and the occasional brutal honesty by the writer remains memorable. I remember in the writer’s last piece when he reminded his ardent readers of the difficulties of writing. The pain of staring at a blank screen waiting for words to come, sometimes, to no success. And the readers who use newspapers to wrap nyama in spite of the blood, tears, and sweat that go through writing newspaper stories. You know that story don’t you?
15. Mutuma Maathiu
Our man on Friday. I read Mutuma because of the way his prose dances radiantly all over his Friday column with such exquisite splendour that it makes you jealous. Every time I read him, I feel so refreshed and relaxed and relieved that I wish I could grab a prime plot somewhere in Karen and record someone Ababu style thereafter. If Mutuma mentions a book in his column, I quickly get my notebook and write it somewhere. He must have studied English and Literature this chap!
16. Ainea Ojiambo aka Bolingo
Popularly known as AJ or Snake since his acting days in Reflections (KBC) and later, Makutano Junction (by the way do you fellas remember his role as a dirty cop in Nairobi Half Life?), Ainea’s column Born City in The Nairobian is a worthy treat. No, not because AJ is a celebrity therefore he is exciting to read. He does not waste space by writing gibberish like Shaffie Weru (did) in The Star newspaper. I don’t know whether he still concoct that nonsense.
A columnist appeals to me if I can easily identify with his/her subject matter. It may not be something that happened in my life, but because it has happened to someone I know – a brother. A neighbour. A friend. That’s why I readily read Born City column. AJ transports us back to the innocent times, those golden days when parenting was parenting. Those times gone when work without play made Onyango, Mutua, Mwangi a dull and a boring boy.
17. Silas Nyanchwani
Bad Boy. The Retrosexual. You have encountered his columns (in The Standard and The Nairobian) – the bare knuckle, straight-shooting, socially conscious and alert, but, soft, mild, and soothing. But he could also be hard hitting. Nyanchwani, Waga Odongo, and Frank Midega are those younger writers I read unfailingly because they challenge me. Every aspiring writer/journalist should read them.
18. Muriithi Mutiga
I envy a columnist with multiple talents especially if he dabbles exceptionally well in both fields e.g. politics and sports. Mutiga is that bloke. Kwendo Opanga, too. He has a sports and political column in the Saturday Nation and Sunday Nation respectively. In the sports column, he mostly comments on local and African football with suggestions of improving our most beloved sport. And on Sunday, he tackles the burning issues of the day through in depth and incisive political analysis. Mutiga occasionally writes for the New York Times, which is not a walk in the park.
19. Maina Kiai
Kiai is a personal friend to Barack Obama. They went to college together. Harvard. He is a tireless human rights defender. Freedom and human rights are inalienable privileges we should not beg from anyone. He is wont to remind us always. Even the name of his column is tellingly radical: Think Again. Kiai is one of the remaining voices from the civil society who has refused to be silenced by Jubilee’s onslaught on the ‘evil society.’ He often exposes the hypocrisy and deceit and lies of the present regime with fierce precision and clarity. His column is enjoyable because he does not gloss over the truth.
20. Charles Onyango-Obbo
Our man from Uganda. He is the man to read if you want to stretch your knowledge horizon beyond the geographical confines of Kenya. He is extremely knowledgeable on both African and international politics and usually offers, at times, bizarre thoughts and ideas on how to manage African affairs. Wikipedia tells me he has published a number of publications among them a short story collection: Uganda’s Poorly Kept Secrets. Is that not another challenge good people?
The above list is still not conclusive. I have not the beat the drum for Barrack Muluka for his enduring candidness and wisdom. Peter Kimani for the infectious satire. Gabriel Dolan for his social consciousness. Carol Jung’e for her gifted ability to capture ordinary days of our lives. And to Benson Riungu.