No paradox can be superior to the case of Kenyan writer, Binyavanga Wainaina who died yesterday. He has done so great for Africa with his writing but his sexual orientation is not the type that will make Africa give him a continental burial corresponding to what his referential satire “How to Write About Africa”. It went beyond a satire in its combination of an artistic critique and a civilisational reprimand of what Achebe calls “the desire …in Western psychology to set Africa up as a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest” remains unchallenged.
He took such a well aimed shot at the age-old stereotyping of Africa and Africans as inferior beings and he did not miss. For writing “How to Write About Africa”, Wainaina had done Africa such a great service because the satire has acquired the status of a classic, sitting in the same cubicle as Things Fall Apart, etc.
But for turning gay, he ran too far ahead of Africa that Africa might not be mourning him as one continent at his passage. Such things are still of horrifying concern in much of the continent unlike in the Western world where it is a matter of personal choice. Culture matters although culture is neither homogeneous nor static.
Born in 1971, that makes him a 48 year old genius at death. But, before death, he managed to capture the cosmopolitan spirit of the era: Kenya by birth, undergraduate in South Africa, a Masters Degree in the United Kingdom and an intellectual engagement in the United States. These were before he started unraveling as a series of tragedy. First, he publicly declared his gay status and his preparedness to stand up to be counted on that. Shortly after, he also declared his HIV status and then stroke followed. Is it possible that the imaginative genius that enabled him to write a powerful text such as “How to Write About Africa” equally embodied grains of ‘madness’?