The literary community is mourning the passing of Amka founder Wanjiku Matenjwa.
Her mother, Elizabeth Wanjiru Matenjwa who died in December 2018, was among the women alongside Nobel Laureate Prof. Wangari Maathai camped at a corner in Uhuru Park to pray, fast, read the scriptures, and call out to anyone who cared to listen: God, the public, politicians, and the international community to have their children released from prison as political detainees.
On their first night at the park, the women lit candles and held a vigil vowing not to leave the grounds until their sons were released.
Born on October 17th 1955, Mwalimu Wanjiku Matenjwa as she was fondly called was a student at Makerere in the 1970s.
In an article in the Daily Nation published in 2015, Austin Kukenya, a Ugandan poet, playwright, novelist and academic gave a glowing tribute to Wanjiku Matenjwa. “She is a very special student of mine. She is one of the very few with whom I have had the rare experience of interacting at two, or very nearly three, East African universities”, he said.
Bukenya noted that when they did the Shakespeare show, Matenjwa was a literature undergraduate at Makerere. But then, Esther Chesire, another Kenyan student, was grabbed from Entebbe Airport and “disappeared” by Idi Amin’s killer squads.
The incident caused a major diplomatic row between Kenya and Uganda, which necessitated the evacuation of Wanjiku and many of her fellow Kenyan students from Makerere.
Fortunately for Wanjiku Matenjwa and her colleagues, the University of Nairobi was able to accommodate them. Prof. Bukenya would a year later be forced to flee from Amin terror and became a lecturer at the Department of Literature at the University of Nairobi.
They would later meet at the Department of Literature at Kenyatta University where they were both lecturers.
Eulogizing the icon, Kamukunji MP Hon. Yusuf Hassan said Wanjiku Matenjwa was “a gallant activist in the struggle for change in Kenya. Wanjiku comes from a long-line of heroines like the late Dr Wanjiru Kihoro & Muthoni Matenjwa. My sincere condolences to the family & brother-in-law – my brother Wanyiri Kihoro. RIP.”
Human rights activist Alamin Kimathi noted that Wanjiku was a thinker who helped write ‘The Other Side of Prison: The Role of Women Left Behind.’ She was deeply involved in the struggle for Kenya’s second liberation in the 1980s and 90s.
On her part, Dr. Joyce Nyairo termed her “a kind, selfless being and such a passionate literati.”