Rubadiri was the soul of the pan-african fu­ture

The East African - - OPIN­ION -

He was born in Li­uli, on the Tan­za­nian side of Lake Malawi in what to­day is Mbinga dis­trict of Ru­vuma Prov­ince. That he was Malaw­ian tells us how colo­nial bor­ders have since hard­ened to shape iden­tity and na­tion­al­ity. His birth hap­pened at a time when the bor­der­lines were still fluid.

He went to King's Col­lege, Budo, in Uganda, then to Mak­erere Univer­sity, and on to the UK to do a Masters in Lit­er­a­ture at Cam­bridge. Back in Malawi, he was ap­pointed the coun­try's first am­bas­sador to the United Nations at In­de­pen­dence in 1964.

It didn't last. The strangely An­glophile and au­to­cratic Dr Ka­muzu Hast­ings Banda was pres­i­dent in Malawi, and by 1965 Rubadiri had to flee the dic­ta­tor's men­ace.

Even­tu­ally, he set­tled back at Mak­erere Univer­sity as a lec­turer for seven years, un­til 1975 when an even scarier tyrant than Banda, Field Mar­shal Idi Amin, was on the rampage and tar­get­ing in­tel­lec­tu­als.

By then he had be­come “Ugan­dan,” and so left be­hind a fam­ily, not just poetry and prose. In this pe­riod he be­came deeply etched in the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion, hence the feel­ing that he was Ugan­dan.

He didn't travel far. He pitched up at Nairobi Univer­sity, be­com­ing an in­flu­en­tial mem­ber of the Kenyan lit­er­ary and the­atre com­mu­nity. Kenya was not a paradise for writ­ers too then, as Ngugi Wa Thiong'o – who was de­tained in 1977, re­leased a year later, and forced into ex­ile – will tes­tify. In be­tween his years at Nairobi Univer­sity, Rubadiri did stints at the Univer­sity of Ibadan in Nige­ria.

Rubadiri left Nairobi, and from 1984 to 1997 he was lo­cated at the Univer­sity of Botswana.

The end of the Cold War im­per­illed pro-western dic­ta­tors like Banda. At the age of, ac­cord­ing to some ac­counts, 100, in 1994 he lost an elec­tion, and died de­spon­dent three years later.

In 1997, Rubadiri was ap­pointed Malawi's am­bas­sador to the UN again, and in 2000 be­came vice-chan­cel­lor of the Univer­sity of Malawi.

Rubadiri's itin­er­ary was typ­i­cal of many African lit­er­ary fig­ures of the time, who through a unique and now di­min­ished open­ness, com­bined with flight from mur­der­ous despots, tra­versed the con­ti­nent record­ing what would be­come a uniquely pan-african story. There are vir­tu­ally no African writ­ers to­day who travel these lands in the fashion they did.

Rubadiri, then, was re­ally not Malaw­ian, nor Uganda, nor Kenya, nor Bot-

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kenya

© PressReader. All rights reserved.