David Mulwa was just emerging from the Literature Department bulding, at Kenyatta University (KU) where he teaches, when he came to an abrupt halt. It was as if he had seen a ghost. For a few brief seconds he stood there, his mouth wide open, as if trying to establish whether his eyes were lying to him. Clearly, they were not.
“Chris Lukorito Wanjala!” he exclaimed finally and rushed forward to hug the other man, and they remained in a tight embrace for a few more seconds. Dressed in a sharp grey pin-stripped suit, Prof Wanjala had just stepped out of his maroon Volvo, and for sure he was a sight for Mulwa’s sore eyes. While Mulwa teaches at Kenyatta University, Prof Wanjala teaches at the University of Nairobi, some 23 kilometers away.
On that day, Friday, November 3, 2007, Prof Wanjala admitted that many years had passed since he last set foot at KU. And for him to appear there now, it really must be a big day. True, it was a big day. The Igbo of Nigeria say that a toad does not jump in broad daylight for nothing. The two lecturers had barely finished exchanging niceties when Dr Ezekiel Alembi appeared on the scene.
Now, Dr Alembi is the chairman of KU’s Literature Department, and he was the reason Prof Wanjala was there. It was a big day for Dr Alembi. Sasa Sema Publications, an imprint of Longhorn Publishers, were honouring him for his contribution to children’s literature.
To be fair to him, Dr Alembi has penned over 39 children’s books! no mean feat by Kenyan standards. This lead to one student in the audience to ask when Dr Alembi finds time to sleep! When he took to the podium Prof Francis Imbuga, who was the chief guest remarked quite rightly that writing for children is not child’s play!
To elaborate on that point, Dr Alembi recounted an encounter with a person who so much took writing children’s stories for granted, that he said that he could write 15 children’s books in a week. That was five years back. To date, he has not written even one.
Er, before I forget, let me add that the event was not a purely literary affair. There were some entertainment too. Serious entertainment at that. Students from the university’s band kept all the guests thoroughly entertained with their masterly of musical instruments. The Salsa group also staged some eye-catching dancing. Cream Group was at hand for some well-choreographed dancing. A comedy group, I cant recall their name, tore our ribs with their improvised narrative on what was taking place at the event.
Talking of performances, perhaps the best perfomance, at least according to me, was when David Mulwa accompanied by Prof Kitula King’ei, with a box guitar, did some two zilizopendwa (Golden Oldies) numbers, Taxi Driver and Dereva Kombo. That was really something coming from the aging university dons.
Now back to the event. Dr Alembi told those gathered at the event that he was really humbled with the recognition, adding that it is not everyday that publishers in Kenya honour their writers. “It is even more heartening that they have decided to honour me while I am still alive. In most circumstances, such honours come after its recipients have died,” he explained.
Dr Catherine Ndungo, who heads the department of Gender and Development studies at the university, hailed Dr Alembi for bring literature to the level of children. She said that among other things, Dr Alembi argues that the interests, needs and responses of child readers must be taken into account. “That a concern with the intended audience is crucial to the critical appraisal of children’s literature,” she explained.
Prof Imbuga thanked Dr Alembi for being ” a conscious writer, dictating to his pen the thoughts that go to the vulnerably receptive minds of his young audience.”
Dr Alembi has written seven books for Longhorn publishers. They are; Jaramogi Oginga Odinga: Peoples’ Revolutionary, Elijah Masinde: Rebel with a Cause, Andisi and the Cat, Brave Girls, The Tortoise Song, Kwa Nini Ndovu Hali Nyama, Teaching Reading in Lower Primary. He has also co-authored the Keynote Primary English Course which is approved by the Kenya Institute of Education (KIE) and widely used in Kenya and Tanzania. The occasion was also use to launch his latest book, A Dream on Wings.
“ It is Alembi’s zeal and energy that made us feel guilty that he is rarely
recognized. We are now working on two secondary school supplementary books
with him, and it’s just great to work with a man who wants to give his readers the
very best,” says Musyoki Muli, the Sasa Sema Publications Manager.
In September Dr Alembi was in Argentina, where he presented a paper tiltled Children’s Oral Poetry as a Channel for Transmitting Social Values at the International Society for Folg Narrative Research (ISFNR). Dr Alembi is ISFNR Vice-President for Africa. Dr Alembi is also the chairman of the National Kenya Schools and Colleges Drama Festival.