Famed Kenyan satirist Wahome Mutahi feted with book featuring some of his best writings, 15 years after his death
The launch attracted a big number of his fans at the Mageuzi Theatre in Nairobi- a mixture of both young and old fans of the satirical guru’s ‘third rate column’ in the Sunday Nation in Kenya.
Friday July 21, saw the launch of a book’ Best of Whispers; Politics, Family and Society,’ in Nairobi. The book is a collection of the late Wahome Mutahi alias Whispers’ articles in the Sunday Nation Newspaper in Kenya. Wahome- who died in July 22, 2003 was a beloved humourist and satirist in the East African country.
It is undeniable that, many Kenyans who could afford a newspaper in the 90s, looked forward to Sundays when they would be served with his satirical pieces. To some, it was a Sunday comic relief before they could return to the weekly rat race while to others; it was a moment of reflection on the state of affairs in Kenya. The column, also called ‘Whispers,’ ran at a time when Kenya was deeply in the murk of political tension orchestrated by the 1982 attempted coup. It was a time when the freedom of expression and multi-partism had been suppressed by the Kanu Regime.
At the backdrop of such turmoil, Wahome Mutahi begun what came to be known as liberation journalism in Kenya. He would berate social and political vices in his country using humour in his weekly column, Whispers. Around Whispers, he created the name Whispermobile his official car and Whispers junior his son who was also Domestic Thug. Other characters, who surrounded Whispers were Thatcher- wife, The Investment alias Pajero-daughter. These characters together with others like Fr Comissasius- the man with a peeling nose, Teacher Damiano, Uncle Jethro and Auntie Rhoda would regale readers for two decades in Wahomes writings.
The Whispers column debuted in 1983 in the Standard Newspaper before moving on into the Nation Newspaper. Before the birth of Whispers, Wahome had been writing a humour column Masharubu which he took over from Muthui Kariuki at the Standard. However, he felt Karuiki’s shoes were ill-fitting and that’s why he moved to the better shoes called Whispers.
In Whispers, Wahome became a liberation journalist- a title which earned him a room in Kamiti Maximum Prison after he was arrested in 1986 by government officials. During the trial Wahome, also Son of the Soil was charged of knowing about a secret resistance group called Mwakenya, and not telling the police. As he would say, he spent fifteen months being ‘fed on a slice of ugali the size of a razor blade and rumours of beans in the name of supper,’ at Kamiti.
Though Whispers is the most notable work of Wahome, he had overtures in the moving theatre where he successfully staged Mugaathe Ndotono(His highness, the Club) in collaboration with Njuguna Wakanyote, Makarira Kioro(They will cry in the toilet), written together with Ndungi Githuku and Mugaathe Mubogothi(‘His Delirious Highness’) co-written with Wahome Karengo. Besides theatre Wahome wrote several books among them Doomsday, The Miracle Merchants, Mr Canta, Hassan the Genie, The Ghost of Garba Tula, Just Waitand See and How to be a Kenyan.
As Kenyans celebrated 15 years after Wahome’s death, there were calls for more efforts in the struggle against bad leadership and continued use of art in activism. Among the panelists present were Dr. Wandia Njoya, Dr Doseline Kiguru, Boniface Mwangi, Tom Odhiambo and Paul Kelemba (Maddo) all of whom presented a class of both intellectual and active participant in the struggle against oppression led by the political elite in the country. Also present was Tony Mochama a poet, author and columnist who felt the need to have a street name after Whispers just around the Kenya National Theatre- currently The Kenya Cultural Centre in Nairobi.
What came as a surprise though was the choice of Mageuzi theatre as a place to commemorate Wahome Mutahi given that he spent a certain amount of time at the National Theatre- in fact there used to be a restaurant with his name at the premise. However, the political situation in the country is such that those who play roles in serious activism are given a wide berth, it should come as no surprise that Wahome’s name should be edited away until future generations would have nothing to remember of the man.
Wahome Mutahi’s book, Best of Whispers retails at Kenya Shillings 350. It was published under the collaborative efforts of Heinrich Boll Stiftung and Twaweza Communications.