Binyavanga Wainaina, a legendary Kenyan writer, has died at the age of 48. According to his family, he died after suffering from a stroke. He died a few minutes past 10 pm at a Nairobi hospital. The writer is one of the most high-profile individuals to announce their gay sexuality in Africa, coming out to the public in 2014 after publishing an article titled "I Am a Homosexual, Mum" that got Kenya, Africa and the world talking. His death comes days before the expected May 24 ruling on the petitions to repeal article 162 (a) and (c) and article 165 of the Kenyan constitution. The two articles criminalize consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex.
Binyavanga was born in Milimani, Nakuru. By his own admission, he was a shy and timid child. He first wanted to study accounting because it was lucrative. He transferred his credits from the University of Nairobi where he was studying Bachelor's of Education to the University of Transkei where he would study Commerce. However, he never completed his studies. He was soon struggling to make ends meet in South Africa.
He started running a restaurant business to make ends meet. Later, he started writing food and travel articles for Weekend Argus. In 2002, his short story, Discovering Home, won the Caine Prize for African Writing. In 2003, he was recognized by the Kenya Publisher's Association for his services to Kenyan literature.
He was later one of the co-founders Kwani?, a Nairobi-based journal founded chiefly by women amongst them Atsango Chesoni, Ebba Kalondo, Andia Kisia, Irene Wanjiru, Muthoni Wanyeki, and Rasna Warah.
Binyavanga knew he was gay from age 5. He kept his sexual orientation a close secret until 2014 when he came out in a bombshell 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.”
His public coming out was in response to a wave of anti-gay laws that had been passed in Africa. His admission brought on confusion. Some speculated that it was just another of his works, just fiction. To clear the confusion, he simply tweeted, "I am, for anybody confused or in doubt, a homosexual. Gay, and quite happy." This reinvigorated the conversation on gay rights in Kenya. He was later named one of Time's 100 most influential people in the world.
Coming out, for such a public figure as Binyavanga, thrust him into a role of activism. He said, "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."
On World AIDS Day 2016 (December 1), Binyavanga tweeted that he was HIV positive. "I'm HIV positive and happy! That is all I can say," he said.
In May last year, Binyavanga proposed to his long-term Nigerian partner and they were set to marry early this year in South Africa where gay marriage is legal.
Binyavanga suffered a previous stroke in November 2015 after which he appealed for help. He was admitted in the ICU of Karen Hospital and was discharged three weeks later.
Header Image Credit: Daily Nation