Kenneth Binyavanga Wainaina, a renowned Kenyan author, gay rights activist, blogger and 2002 winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing, has passed on aged 48.
Wainaina, an acclaimed African literary giant and founder of the Nairobi-based journal Kwani?, died after suffering a stroke, according to his family and sources at his Kwani Trust.
Kwani Trust Chairman Tom Maliti on Wednesday told the Nation that the writer died a few minutes past 10pm at a Nairobi hospital.
He is one of the most high-profile individuals to announce their gay sexuality in Africa having made the bold move in 2014 after publishing an article titled I Am a Homosexual, Mum that got Kenya, Africa and the world talking.
An excerpt from the piece relieved him his closely guarded secret as he let the world know through a re-imagination of his mother’s last days as she lay on her deathbed.
“Never, mum. I did not trust you, mum. And. I. Pulled air hard and balled it down into my navel, and let it out slow and firm, clean and without bumps out of my mouth, loud and clear over a shoulder, into her ear. “I am a homosexual, mum.”
He later tweeted that “I am, for anybody confused or in doubt, a homosexual. Gay, and quite happy,” putting to rest the debate the article stirred.
That same year, Time Magazine named him as one of the “Most Influential People in the World” in its annual TIME 100.
The celebrated author first had his eyes set on a lucrative accounting career before settling on literature.
He moved to South Africa after transferring his credits from the University of Nairobi, where he was studying for a Bachelor’s of Education degree, to the University of Transkei to study commerce.
However, he never completed the degree.
Struggling to make ends meet as a young man in a foreign country, he began to run a restaurant business.
Later, he started writing food and travel articles for the Weekend Argus.
“I was fortunate to reside in a country that is very annoying to live in,” Binyavanga says of South Africa.
Born in Nakuru’s Milimani, Binyavanga says he was a timid and shy child.
“But I feel like now my season is beginning, in this continent called mine, and I am an African; I want no space to not welcome me,” he said while speaking at TED Talks in 2015.
His confession of being homosexual caught many by surprise.
“I am not afraid to talk. In fact, I am doing a documentary on it because this thing must be discussed.
“Kenyans should discuss it in all platforms but not before they hear the full story.
“I know you called me over this matter of coming out. I will talk but I don’t want the media to manage my story,” he said during an interview.
He added that he knew he was gay from age five.
“I was five when I closed myself into a vague happiness that asks for nothing much from anybody. Absent-minded. Sweet. I am grateful for all love. I give it more than I receive it, often,” he wrote on www.africasacountry.com blog.
“I can be selfish. I masturbate a lot, and I never allow myself to crack and grow my heart. I touch no men. I read books.
“I love my dad so much, my heart is learning to stretch. I am a homosexual.”
And as people were still grappling with this news, he revealed in a tweet on December 1, 2016 — during World Aids Day — that he was HIV positive.
“What I said (in a tweet) is true. I’m HIV positive and happy! That is all I can say,” he said.
“Look out for an essay I’m writing in January.”
In November 2015, he appealed for help after suffering a stroke.
He was admitted in the Intensive Care Unit at Karen Hospital and got discharged three weeks later.
And in June 2016, he claimed to have been viciously assaulted by a taxi driver in Berlin, Germany, as a crowd watched while a Daad Fellowship.
His short story Discovering Home scooped the 2002 Caine Prize for African writing and in 2003 he was given an award by the Kenya Publisher’s Association in recognition of his services to Kenyan literature.