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Let’s celebrate this itinerant African artist and intellectual

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By TOM ODHIAMBO
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A few weeks ago there was a special celebration in Nairobi. A party to commemorate the writer, Prof Austin Bukenya. The party was in honour of this baba mkhulu’s elder membership of the artistic and intellectual world in Kenya/East Africa/Africa/the world.

Bukenya was being ‘remembered’ as a celebrated contributor to the art, culture, literature and as a senior public intellectual — which he indeed is. Memories were recalled in honour of his writing, teaching, acting, mentoring, wisdom, parenting, etc, in the region.

This was and is the right thing to do. To pay tribute to these artists and intellectuals when they are still alive is the honourable thing, rather than when they are dead, as we are doing today about Prof James David Rubadiri.

Indeed, Bukenya deserved to be honoured in a bigger space, with the celebration spread more than it was, but at least there is still a record that he was feted.

This is why it is sad that we are mourning rather than celebrating the late Rubadiri. We are merely retrieving memories from the archive, to convince the spirits that we did know he who has passed on to the other world.

We are unable to sit down with him and have a cup of tea and thank him for his verses, stories, jokes, wisdom etc. For we have become a people who easily forget the ‘old’. We consign the aged to the ‘past’, to the countryside, and the ‘old people’s home’; we abandon them till they die. That is when we ‘remember’ shreds of their worth.

When I saw the announcement about the death of Rubadiri, there was a discussion of the famous anthology of poetry, Poems from East Africa, edited by him and David Cook.

Even those who call themselves writers can only remember the collection of verses — there is little or no discussion of who Rubadiri was, how he came to be an ‘East African’, and what other works of literature did he produce.

How ironical that this enduring collection of poems is the work of two non-East Africans. Well, Cook and Rubadiri lived and worked in East Africa at a time when Africans still dreamt of a free Africa. These itinerant creative and intellectuals left a legacy that today’s artists and intellectuals can only envy.

Rubadiri’s death marks what is a fast approaching end of a generation that truly dreamt of an Africa where anyone could live, work, die and be buried anywhere.

The political enthusiasm of the 1960s and early 1970s may have been halted or marred by the Cold War ideological differences of the global north, which spawned violence and economic downturns in many newly independent African countries, but the artists and intellectuals of that era still crossed the borders, in many senses, effortlessly.

For East Africans, the centrality of Makerere University, the seeding ground, of the artistic and intellectual spirit of the first two decades of independence in Africa cannot be gainsaid.

David Rubadiri, Okot p’Bitek, Robert Serumaga, John Ruganda, Austin Bukenya, Taban lo Liyong, Theresa Musoke, Elimo Njau, Eskia Mphahlele, Jak Katarikawe, are some of the names that easily come to mind, of ‘Kenyans’ of the 1960s and ‘70s who were born in other African communities (assuming that the colonial imposed borders were and are still artificial) but lived here and contributed immensely to Kenya’s cultural and intellectual heritage.

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Indeed, if there is anything one can call the ‘glory days’ (a contestable idea) of Kenyan culture and scholarship, a large part of whatever came out of that time must be attributed to these ‘Kenyans’ from the rest of Africa.

These individuals and their output were products of their time, yes, but they also were probably more determined to make something important out of their lives wherever they lived.

Reading Ngugi’s memoir, Birth of a Dream Weaver, reminds one of the spirit of Africanism that brought together people from different regions and communities to dream of a bigger community.

The splitting of Makerere into constituent colleges in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam made it even easier for artists and academics to cross borders, settle in ‘new’ homes and form new relationships and communities. Individuals like Elimo Njau and Jak Katarikawe settled in Kenya permanently, and completely changed the art landscape here.

Many of these African travelling intellectuals and artists had been forced by circumstances to leave home. Several Ugandans settled in Kenya as their country had become inhabitable.

The oppression and violence of the Obote and Amin regimes, which had led to the imprisonment and killing of a number of artists and academics, meant that many of them relocated to other African countries, Europe or America.

Kenya benefited a lot from this forced migration, with several academics contributing significantly to the education sector, especially in high schools and at the University of Nairobi and the then Kenyatta University College.

Someone like David Rubadiri was a forced traveller for different reasons. He studied at King’s College, Budo, Uganda; Makerere University; King’s College, Cambridge; and Bristol University.

One can say that this was a child of the Empire — forced by circumstances to seek education beyond his homeland. He would subsequently go back to teach in Makerere but Amin’s regime would make it difficult for him.

When he relocated to Nairobi, he taught literature but was also actively involved in theatre, especially at the Kenya National Theatre. He would subsequently relocate to the University of Ibadan, Nigeria; then, University of Botswana; and go back to Malawi after the end of Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s regime.

Rubadiri stands tall among his generation of artists and intellectuals, a generation that in a very practical way saw Africa as ‘home’, and remained committed to making the continent successful.

So, there is a sense in which the life of Rubadiri should teach those he has left behind some lessons about Africa.

As a celebration of his life, we should revisit his essays, novel, play and poems to understand what kind of African he was; what type of Africa did he dream of, especially in relation to Africanism; what legacy he wished to leave to us, beyond the borders of his native Malawi.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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