The Tragedy of Bantu Mwaura

Update: Shailja Patel has details on memorial/funeral arrangements

Breaking news that Bantu Mwaura has been found dead.

Bantu was a human rights activist and university lecturer. He received his Ph.D. in performance studies from New York University. He was a poet and had published in English, Gikuyu, and Kiswahili, and was also a thespian, director, and storyteller.

I have yet to confirm the circumstances of his death. Assassination and suicide are the two competing narratives.

There are many tragedies here, and I choose an idiosyncratic one: human rights defenders have been assassinated in the past few months, allegedly by government forces. As a result, every single suspicious death of a human rights activist is clouded, and the tag cloud is dominated by government-funded figures.

A few weeks ago, I was on a panel with Dr. Wangui wa Goro, and she drew a parallel between the Moi-era exiles of intellectuals (to which she belongs) and the current Kenyan migrants abroad (to which I belong). I resisted the comparison. I wanted to say it was not applicable, that the Moi-era exiles had been exceptional. After all, they were the Nyayo-house generation: freed from the British to be tortured by the Kenyans.

Now, I am less certain about my resistance.

Under Moi, we survived through a necessary paranoia—the rumors and whispers that allowed some to leave their homes before government agents came for them.

I had thought, mistakenly, that paranoia was no longer necessary. I had thought, wrongly, that life-saving gossip was a no-longer necessary Kenyan genre. While I know Kenya is impossible for me, I had thought others like me, intellectuals, artists, dreamers, and visionaries, could flourish, create art, transform society, as only intellectuals can. I thought that human rights activists could help create a more just Kenya.

It is difficult to let go of this dream. And it is difficult to watch friends and loved ones continue to make themselves visible and vulnerable, because they believe in the promise of Kenya, and they believe their actions can make a difference.

I did not know Bantu Mwaura, but I have close friends who did. Some agreed with his politics, others didn’t. And I repeat, again, I don’t know the exact circumstances of his death.

Bantu, do not rest in peace.
Haunt us.
Whisper to us in our dreams.
Give flesh to our visions and urgency to our actions.

13 thoughts on “The Tragedy of Bantu Mwaura

  1. Those who knew Bantu will laugh at the thought that he may have committed suicide. No. Not Bantu!

  2. I say with Mugo Mote and in furious rage: NO! NOT BANTU! NO! NOT BANTU!

    I am so saddened. And I say like Keguro; No. Do not rest in peace my brother. Haunt us. Haunt us. Haunt us and tell us about it all.

    I have read Keguro’s article with care…

    Keguro, you are so right. Keguro? Where do we go bleeding with pain and mind restless to no closing an eye? I am in the land where they say ‘niet’for nothing. Niet. Niet. Niet. and I can no longer say am happily homebound to Kenya. No. Not anymore. But am bound there for other reasons..I will keep your thoughts in mind.

  3. I am really traumatised by Bantu’s death.

    It’s coming at a time when it’s very hard to understand
    things in Kenya.

    I however refuse to see him in the light of the two ‘human rights’ activists who were murdered.

    Bantu was a true fighter not aligned or having his wallet
    aligned with politicians money. which cannot be said about the other two. The two were fighting for Mungiki which we in west who understand Kenya found rather unbelievable especially given the mascares that have been perpetuated by the sect. It was also very clear that they were ‘ODM’ sympathisers. Most of the Kenyan NGOs have lost credibility especially given the amount of corruption present in the said organisations. It is clear from those of us in the west who care that 95% of the money given to these organisation is used in overheads. But that’s a story for another day.

    I felt I had to say something. I just don’t want to see Bantu’s name bound together with the ‘human rights’ of today.

    I had a chance to sit and listen to Bantu and the cry from his heart was for the Kenyan who neither NGOs nor Politicians of present day Kenya care for.

    He fought so hard and I know he planted many seeds. I am not sure what to say at this moment because I am still in shock. I just keep asking why, why, why.

  4. I had the privilage of working for the Centre for Creative Arts while Bantu was participating as one of the Poets/Writer…wow what a great man..who touched my heart far beyond our cultural barriers..He was a good man! May his soul rest in peace!

  5. All I can say is that the world has lost!
    I met Bantu way back in 1992 and from the word go you could see a defender of people’s righs and values. Uncontaminated!
    I saw him leave live his life as if there was no tomorrow! Indeed, there wasnt!
    Bantu Rest in Peace


  6. I am still in shock. Bantu contributed to an anthology I edited, and we shared many laughs together. We fought a lot as well, especially when he would talk about Gikuyuness. But he always argued his case convincingly. I will miss him a lot. I would like to quote the last para of the obituary “Bantu do not rest in peace” in my column. Not sure who it is by? Keguro? Please confirm and let me know if I can use it by emailing me at


  7. I saw him just before I left the country in October last year. Never thought it would be the last time.

    Rest in Peace.

  8. am very dissapointed , he was being intrviewed in KTN the other day. he is from home
    i used to have his brothers contacts Ndichu, but i lost it anybody with his contacts ..please update us on barial
    God rest his sou; in eternal peace

  9. It has been almost a year since we lost you, but still we remember thee. I will dedicate a book to thee, for ye a true artist, activist and intellect that we canst forget. Adieu Bantu.

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