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.
Whisper to us in our dreams.
Give flesh to our visions and urgency to our actions.