As a young boy just after primary school, I was introduced to ‘A Freedom Song’ a poem by Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye. This was before I dug deep into our home library and came across Poems from East Africa an Anthology of Poems edited by David Cook and David Rubadiri. I did not know who the two editors were but, the book and I hit it off like hungry lovers, or otherwise lustful. I would delve into the book intoxicating my mind with rich imagery, traversing the works of Jared Angira, Henry Barlow, Proscovia Rwakyaka, Austin Bukenya and you guessed right, David Rubadiri.
By this time, my jittery hands were trying to figure out whether they could write as the names in those books did. I was enamored by the rich poetry, some of which did not make sense to me but still, it was a fascinating experience. One beauty about the book was, it was mine, and the poetry was the music of Africa. I felt that I could relate well with Okot P’ Bitek’s work and with Rubadiri’s rich imagery.
Recently, I had an opportunity to explain to students about Imagery and my eyes naturally moved to ‘The Prostitute’ by Rubadiri and ‘I Met a Thief’ by Austin Bukenya. My thinking here is that teenagers are generally naughty and love is a natural talk given their high sexual hormonal nature. Indeed the two poems hit it off and there was a lot of discussion, some naughty remarks, snide jokes and giggles. At the bottom of all these, the kids could relate to the text messages they send to their intended- objective achieved.
Such is the rich imagery of David Rubadiri, a diplomat, poet, playwright and novelist who, despite not being too prolific as a writer has left an impact to the literary world. As a writer, Professor Rubadiri was exiled twice. First, by his own country Malawi and second under Idd Amin administration in Uganda. His novel ‘No Bride Price’, would be looked at as a serious critic of former Malawi president Kamuzu Banda. In spite of his criticism, the Makerere university graduate would be appointed a UN ambassador by his country twice (1964-1965 and 1997).
Besides diplomacy he was a notable academia teaching in the universities of Nairobi, Makerere, Botswana and Malawi where he was the Vice Chancellor. Also he taught in Nigeria and was a visiting professor of Northwestern University in USA. A University of Nairobi Don eulogized him on Facebook “In David Rubadiri the continent of Africa has lost one of her pioneer poets, teachers, and educational administrators. I learnt so much from David in Nairobi and Kampala. May God Rest his soul in eternal peace.” He is among literary gurus like Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi and Christopher Okigbo- a poet who died in the Biafran war and David wrote a wonderful epitaph of the guy in form of a poem.
Rubadiri leaves behind a vibrant family with children spread across the globe like his academic tentacles. Kenya prides herself of being among the countries in which the Rubadiri’s reside. One of his grandchildren, now an anchor at Citizen Television Kenya, described the man whose poetry has been heavily anthogised as “a literary giant whose words continue to inspire so many in this great continent.”
There is never enough that could be said of the man, we at Afroway wish him well as he joins the ancestors we say:
“In you we felt the African thunderstorm Reverberate as Liberation beckoned on the door, The winds of decolonization blew from You mouth sending you to exiles Where you were received With hungry children saying, “Teach us great teacher.” And doors of theatre Creaking at your soliloquy Until when death found you At Mulago… Rest in peace.”