Binyavanga Wainaina is quite an interesting character.
For one, he is an excellent writer. He won the Caine Prize for African writing in 2002 for his short story, “Discovering Home.” In 2005, his satirical essay, “How to write about Africa”, was published, garnering worldwide attention.
He has also published his autobiography, “One day I will write about this place.” I got all that from Wikipedia. He is also gay. Now, that is not on Wikipedia.
I have read his book, “One day I write about this Place”. Epic read.
It tells the story of his life, from his childhood in the agricultural town of Nakuru, Kenya, to his high school days, then to his time in South Africa as a student. He spent 10 years in South Africa, from 1991 to 2000, most of them as an illegal immigrant. It is a gripping tale. You should read it.
Sometime later he published what he calls ‘the lost chapter of his book.’ This chapter talks about his mother’s last days in hospital, about her suffering and pain. It also serves to reveal Binyavanga’s sexuality with the statement, “Mum, I am a homosexual.’
It is important to note that so many people were confused by this last chapter of his book, and some possibly thought that he was joking. Binyavanga Wainaina had to issue a statement a few days after its publication affirming his homosexuality. His statement stirred up quite a hornet’s nest.
This is because he is arguably the most high-profile African yet to come out of the closet. It is easy to understand why people were, to put it lightly, upset, by this turn of events.
Some people, and here I am talking about Africans, termed it as being Un-african (If that’s a word). Interestingly, it is a widely-accepted fact that the Acholi of Uganda did have homosexuals among them. Christians argued that it is against their religious beliefs to be homosexual. Muslims also profess the same train of thought.
When the whole… let’s call it a saga, broke out, people were up in arms. Some modern day activists took to social media to vent their anger and distraught at Binyavanga. In some other African countries, perhaps coincidentally, the Parliaments passed laws making homosexuality illegal (Read Uganda).
One thing people forget, or choose to ignore, is the nature of Binyavanga’s work. To put quite frankly,
there is no such thing as bad publicity. There is an adage, “All publicity is good publicity”. You see, the more people talk Binyavanga’s sexual orientation, more people will talk about Binyavanga’s himself, talk about his book, and hence more people will read his writings. It’s simple really.
Let’s put it in context. Let’s say you are a thirty year old man in Kampala, Uganda, sometime in 2014. Parliament has just introduced a bill seeking to ban homosexuality and make it a capital offence.
Gay right crusaders will protest against this deliberate abuse of human rights, or at least they’ll say it’s something of that sort. And then some Kenyan writer leaving abroad will also speak against it and his writing mates will pay rapt attention and broadcast his message all over.
This thirty year old Ugandan man will wonder why people are making such a fuss about what someone he doesn’t even know is saying. He will wonder who this Wainaina guy is and google him.
The first search result he will get will be Eric Wainaina. However, he will dismiss this first Wainaina as he is not the Wainaina he seeks. He will get another search item for another Wainaina. He will discover that this is the right Wainaina. He will read about him and discover that he wrote a small satirical piece called “How to write about Africa.”
He will read it, find his very funny, and at the same time serious. He will then forward it to a few of his drinking buddies on whatsapp. They will all love it and decide that they must read more writings by this Binyavanga guy. They will buy his book, at least two copies, and all of them will read it.
Binyavanga Wainaina is gay.
Binyavanga Wainaina is a writer.
Two different statements. Most people will pay rapt attention to the first and talk all about it even if they have no idea who the guy is. At the same, they will ignore the second statement the same way you ignore cricket news on the newspaper.
But in the process of talking about the first statement, they will discover the second one. Thus, in this way, more people will have read Binyavanga’s works.
Binyavanga Wainaina is a great writer. He is one of my favorite African writers. No, one of my favorite writers, all continents included.
We all should read him.