Kudos to Binyavanga for Kenya’s growing creative economy

Binyavanga Wainaina
Binyavanga Wainaina with writers Yvonne Owuor and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie during a Kwani? book party. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Award-winning Kenyan writer and publisher Binyavanga Wainaina will best be remembered for boldly articulating and opening the space for creative and cultural tolerance and inclusion — all ingredients that will define the future of human economy and socialisation.

Forbes Magazine in 2018 listed critical thinking and creativity as two of the top seven skills that will survive the artificial intelligence onslaught.

As Kenya’s creative economy continues to grow, it is thanks to the disruption of Binyavanga in the past two decades that new art has taken its pride of place. Starting off from a battle with the literary purists of the Kenyan academia on the ‘literatureness’ of the form and content of new writing, Binyavanga asked the critical question KWANI? (so what?), and went ahead to demonstrate the efficacy of the same in the contemporary creative space.

The effect of that KWANI? question has not only been the co-existence and complementarity of all art, but the nurturing of a new, exciting forms and patronisation of literature by a wider consumer base.

"Books didn’t interrupt life, rather, life interrupted books," he said. To this effect, new writers, new stories, new creative experiences and new performances have come up in Kenya. From the KWANI? Open Mic poetry sessions at Club Soundd, to the launch of his memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place, at the Nairobi Railway Museum, to the reading of Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s Dust in Kisumu’s Bootleggers Pub and publishing Tales of Kasaya, the memoirs of a school dropout, it is evident that Binyavanga believed that the place of art is not only the elitist university classrooms, but the everyday social haunts of common folks.


Today, and as espoused by the boldness of the KWANI? literary journals and the KWANI Series of books, new writers, designers, poets, dancers, visual artists and even architects are driving an economy of creativity and innovation that is becoming more profitable than the ‘art makes no money’ jeremiad of old.

Today, we live in an increasingly insufferable society obsessed with unproductive competition over who is better than the other — a contest whose markers of triumph are vain non-achievements and parameters of intolerance that were doled out via accidents of nature. Hence the battles against overt and covert racism, tribalism, homophobia, paternalism and fanatism.

Every day, there are annoying quests by classes of humans to deny others the basic life’s purpose of pursuing happiness and actualisation — men against women, straight against gay, community against community, religion against religion.

It requires bold men and women to straighten folks back to their senses and a minding of their own businesses – if they have any!

Binyavanga’s later life was a successful activism against these threats and he refused to be a conformist to faked love.

Madiang' is a Kenyan creative writer and thespian.