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Remembering David Rubadiri, the father of East African poetry

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By CIUGU MWAGIRU
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Last week’s death of Prof David Rubadiri has robbed Africa and indeed the world of a truly phenomenal literary figure.

According to his son, Kwame, Prof Rubadiri broke his hip two months ago. He was recovering at home, “but died very suddenly from what appears to be the impact of a blood clot in his lungs.”

Born in 1930, Rubadiri had celebrated his 88th birthday on July 19.

For me, his death evoked many memories, including that of how, more than two decades ago, in October 1997, I had a lengthy chat with the diplomat, intellectual, university don and man of letters in his room at the Grand Regency Hotel.

At the time he was already past the mid-60s, but was looking hale and healthy, and I recall his characteristic wit and the trademark penetrating though ever-friendly gaze.

He had come to Nairobi for the launch of a new edition of Poems from East Africa, the famous anthology he had put together with long-term colleague David Cook.

With his poem ‘An African Thunderstorm,’ Rubadiri was the sole Malawian contributor to Modern Poetry of Africa, the 1963 Penguin anthology edited by Gerald Moore and Ulli Beier.

Rubadiri also represented his country with another poem, ‘Thoughts after Work,’ which was published in You Better Believe It: Black Verse in English from Africa, the West Indies and the United States, yet another Penguin publication.

Other anthologies that also carried Rubadiri’s poetry included A Book of African Verse published by Heinemann in 1964; Poetry from Africa, published by Pergamon Press in 1969 and Drum Beat, published by East African Publishing House in 1967.

Although the floodgate of Rubadiri’s fecund creativity would later burst open, as one commentator puts it, he had made his entry into the literary world much earlier, in the late 50s, when his poetry was published in Penpoint, the Makerere college magazine.

In consequent years other Rubadiri poems would be showcased in such prestigious international publications as Transition, Black Orpheus and Présence Africaine.

In 1989 Heinemann published Growing Up with Poetry, a school text which Rubadiri edited, and in 2004 East African Educational Publishers issued his collection, An African Thunderstorm and Other Poems.

Rubadiri also ventured into drama and prose early on, with his play, “Come to Tea”, published in 1965 and his sole novel, No Bride Price, published in 1967.

Poetry was, however, Prof Rubadiri’s forte, and he was fittingly honoured at a ceremony in Malawi on March 18 this very year with an award for his contribution towards the promotion of poetry in Africa.

Back to the 1997 meeting at the Grand Regency, Rubadiri, who had just flown in from New York, had the mien of the top diplomat he was at the time, but still retained his trademark avuncular personality.

“It’s great to come back to a country which gave you status!” he remarked as we chatted.

Recalling the salad days of creativity in Kenya and Uganda, where he had lived and worked in the mid-60s and early 70s, the veteran poet waxed nostalgic and added: “This region is a great store for art and literature.”

Speaking about his connection with Kenya and Uganda, the author, known for such memorable poems as “Stanley Meets Mutesa”, said he would be in the latter country during the following year to marry off one of his daughters.

“When I come to East Africa, and especially Kenya and Uganda, where some of my people still live, I feel as if I am at home again,” he explained.

The remark reminded me of an episode years earlier when I was idling the time away at La Belle Inn, a favourite haunt in Naivasha. I was suddenly accosted by almost the entire Rubadiri clan, including son Kwame.

As it turned out, the family was headed west, deep in the Rift Valley, where Kwame had identified a bride. On the card were negotiations for planned nuptials with the beautiful Kalenjin lady who would later become TV personality Victoria Rubadiri’s mother.

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The poet attended King’s College, Budo, in Uganda from 1941 to 1950. It was while there that the creative bug first bit the young Rubadiri after his African and British teachers planted the seed of love for literature.

After Budo Rubadiri joined Makerere University College, where he was between 1952 and 1956, studying for a BA in Literature, History and Geography, and graduating with a first class honours degree in 1955.

“With me at Makerere was Kenya’s future president Mwai Kibaki, who was studying economics,” Rubadiri said. “He was a year-mate of mine, and we were great buddies.”

After leaving Makerere, Rubadiri joined Bristol University in England, where he studied from 1956, earning a post-graduate diploma in Education and winning the poetry prize.

Soon afterwards he headed back home to Malawi and began work at Dedza Secondary School, a new institution south of Lilongwe, where he was to remain for several years teaching Literature, History and Geography, his majors at Makerere.

Later, between 1960 and 1962, he was at King’s College, Cambridge, where he earned an MA in English Literature.

It was while at Makerere that the budding poet married Gertrude, his first wife. In later years Rubadiri, the quintessential African, was to take a second wife, Janet. A Ugandan nurse of Rwandese origin, she was working at the famous Mulago Hospital, and still lives in Kampala.

During the 2013 interview, Rubadiri remarked that too many writers of his generation had died, among them his old buddy John Ruganda, Chinua Achebe and Cyprian Ekwensi. Also gone was the Cameroonian Ferdinand Oyono, another writer-diplomat who had been his colleague at the United Nations.

Ironically, Rubadiri had himself been ailing for some years, and was not in the best of shapes. In fact, he had come to Nairobi for treatment, in addition to touching base with his progeny.

At Malawi’s independence in 1964 Rubadiri was appointed his country’s first ambassador to the United States and the United Nations.

However, in 1965 he left the Malawian government and broke ranks with President Kamuzu Banda. He was reappointed to the position soon after Banda’s death in 1997.

On completing his diplomatic tenure, Rubadiri was named vice-chancellor of the University of Malawi in 2000.

Years earlier he went through a life of exile, teaching first in Uganda, then Kenya and Nigeria.

During his stint at the University of Nairobi between 1976 and 1984, Rubadiri was a regular at the Kenya National Theatre. He served on the Executive Committee of the theatre for five years.

Before his death, Rubadiri was living in quiet retirement on a two-acre plot located five hours by bus from Lilongwe, not far from his ancestral home of Likoma Island, on the northern extremes of Lake Malawi.

BEGGING AID, BY DAVID RUBADIRI

Whilst our children

Become smaller than guns,

Elders become big

Circus Lions

Away from home.

 

Whilst the manes age

In the Zoos

That now our homelands

Have become,

Markets of leftovers,

Guns are taller

Than our children.

 

In the beggarhood

Of a Circus

That now is home,

The whip of the Ringmaster

Cracks with a snap

That eats through

The backs of our being.

 

Hands stretching

In a prayer

Of submission

In a beggarhood

Of Elders delicately

Performing the tightrope

To amuse the Gate

For Tips

That will bring home

Toys of death.

— David Rubadiri



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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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