The family of humourist Wahome Mutahi, popularly known as ‘Whispers, Son of the Soil’, will on Friday mark 15 years since his death.
In collaboration with Twaweza Communications and the National Coalition on Human Rights Defenders-Kenya, the event will include a keynote address by Dr Joyce Nyairo and a round-table discussion on 'Humour as Social Commentary,' whose discussions will be led by various scholars, activists and satirists, including Paul Kelemba (Maddo), Dr Wandia Njoya, Boniface Mwangi, Dr Doseline Kiguru and Dr Tom Odhiambo.
A souvenir book,The Best of Whispers: Politics, Family and Society,comprising selected excerpts of theWhispers column, will also be launched.
“We have been holding nearly exclusive family memorials, but this year we wanted to incorporate the public with the aim of celebrating Wahome’s legacy,” said Caroline Muthoni, the daughter of the late journalist. “Many of his fans over the years have also been inquiring if there were plans to publish a book with all his columns. We are glad that we have now been able to accomplish this, although it has not been without challenges.”
The family also aims to shoot a documentary about the life of Wahome and is in the process of pitching the idea to film producers and funders.
Popularly known as ‘Whispers’, after his column in theSunday Nation, Wahome offered his readers a satirical view of the trials and tribulations of a Kenyan under the Moi regime in the 1980s and 1990s.
Many times, he used his own family as characters in the 'Whispers' column. The family setting, with Thatcher, Whispers Jr and the Investment (aka Pajero), was used to lampoon and interrogate the national political landscape.
In his book,The Idiom of Age in a Popular Kenyan Newspaper Serial, Media and journalism scholar George Ogola notes that at a time when the State had all but monopolised public sites of expression in the country, Whispers kept the Kenyan popular media porous, opening up spaces for the discussion of social and political issues that could otherwise only be ‘whispered’.
It became the most visible site of social, cultural and political expression for the last two decades at a time when freedom of such expression was highly constrained by the State.
Wahome started his writing career as a trainee journalist at theNation newspapers in the early 1980s. In 1986, he was arrested, together with his brother, Njuguna Mutahi, also a journalist, for allegedly being a member of the underground resistance movement, Mwakenya.
They were held in the infamous Nyayo House torture chambers before being charged with sedition and transferred to Kamiti Maximum Security Prison. They were jailed for 15 months. After his release, he continued writing and publishing.
“Wahome took theatre and humour to a different level and was a man living beyond his time. We are glad that this publication is coming out 15 years after his death,” said Prof Kimani Njogu of Twaweza Communications, publisher of the book.
According to Kamau Ngugi, the executive director of The National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Kenya, Wahome and other journalists who suffered torture and imprisonment need to be remembered for future generations to know that the freedom of expression that we enjoy today was watered with blood.
He died on July 22, 2003. The celebrations will be held at PAWA254 from 4pm to 7pm and are open to the public.