LITERATURE REVIEW: As ‘Whispers’ dances with the angels, his work remains untapped

Wahome Mutahi. PHOTO/Courtesy.

It could be an empty bed or untouched room. An automated horoscope on his Twitter account or a dormant Facebook profile. All that remains are the fond memories. Things left unsaid. Space left unfilled. Whispers’ shoes were indeed too big to fit.

Wahome wrote with knack and The Sunday Nation was Kenya’s pet, courtesy of his column “Whispers”.

On February 23rd 2003, Wahome Mutahi wrote what was to be his second to the last whispers column. Ominously, the column revolved around his alter ego Whisper’s impeding demise. Titled, “My futile prayer for small miracles,” the Son of the Soil as he was popularly known, was on his deathbed having contracted a serious bout of malaria.

In a state of delirium, while “waiting for Saint Peter to end my contract in this world”, Mutahi hallucinates about his time on earth. Meanwhile, different religious sects urge him to repent his sin to be allowed to enter the Kingdom of God. Parts of the column read as follows:

“I heard another voice over an even microphone:  Desting, desting! Hii ni sauti ya muinjilisti Saulo wa kanisa la Pwana. Nchooni muone muchisa (Trans: Testing, testing. This is the voice of the evangelist Saul of Church of God. Come witness miracles”.

In a humorous self-deprecating style characteristic of the column, Mutahi was immersing his readers into the familiar. He appropriates almost verbatim what had become and presently has become typical themes of preachers and evangelists of the charismatic churches in Kenya to make hilarious what were significant moral and social sanctions.

As fate would have it, two weeks later, Mutahi actually lay on his deathbed. On March 6th 2003, Mutahi went to Thika District Hospital to undergo what was supposed to be a minor surgical operation to remove lymphoma at the back of his neck but the operation was bungled and the 51- year old satirist lapsed to coma.

He was later admitted to Kenyatta National Hospital where he remained unconscious until 22nd July when he surrendered to the unscrupulous Grim Reaper leaving a gap that is yet to be filled in country’s landscape of satire. He became past tense a euphemistic term he was fond of using while referring to death.

Having worked as a District Officer in Meru and Machakos, Mutahi must have come face to face with numerous and disgusting cases of corruption.

In his arts, he painted corruption as being inherent in those in power. Perhaps he resorted to platforms of writers and liberation Journalism.

In a society where truth is swept under the carpet and lies glorified, Mutahi sought to reinvigorate sanity through his column in Sunday Nation by offering satirical views of trials and tribulations of Kenya’s life style.

Through his hard, hitting and biting satire, Mutahi entertained and enlightened Kenyans on their environment. He satirized the society without offending its sensibilities. His art was true reflection of a daily life of an ordinary citizen and wrote for the things that Kenyans were afraid to say in the open, only spoke in whispers hence the name of the column “Whispers”

Mutahi would take mundane situations and turn them into poignant moments. He was keen on events making news every day hence his pen was always in pulse for his readers.


One chilly morning, I decided to dig out the campus life of the renowned journalist and playwright. After booking an appointment, I set off for Kapsogut. A village in the heart of Bureti Constituency, Kericho county. A place where one of Mutahi’s close crony resides.  

I set off on a mission to unearth what precisely nourished or rather lifted Mutahi to be unrivalled satirist of all times. Nobody would be more instrumental in this than his roommate in campus.

I stopped by the road side to inquire how far PS’ home as popularly known could be. An old toothless man points out at the tree-surrounded compound about fifty meters to the right. The gate to the compound is closed with no one in sight to usher me in.

Few minutes later, a jovial balding man, younger than his age appeared and opened the once green gate.  Former powerful Permanent Secretary in Moi’s era Honorable Zakayo Cheruiyot welcomed me to his permanent house at Kapsogut.

The place looked deserted but the breeze from the indigenous trees planted almost everywhere within the compound made me feel that indeed I was in the home of the once powerful man in Government.

I set my pen ready to note down what Mr. Cheruiyot knows of the late humorist. A man who can only be born in a country once in a century as echoed by the literary critic Chris Wanjala.

The other side of Mutahi’s campus and pre-fame life is awfully captured by Mr. Cheruiyot who was his roommate and course-mate at University of Nairobi. His perception of the satirist paints a succinct picture of a real champion for truth, justice and openness.

 Mr. Cheruiyot misses Mutahi and shares the pleasant memories he has of his roommate, the renowned writer and playwright.  He said that Mutahi never sat in any class of Literature in his A levels. A vivid indication that Mutahi possessed the flair of writing in his blood.

From the words of Cheruiyot, Paul as he used to call him was an astute reader with absolute focus on academic performance. He said that he was an extensive reader with amazing grasp of written word.

He was a regular reader of Caribbean, South American and African literature. He spent most of his time reading revolutionary works. That is what might have heightened his thirst for a democratic society.

His particular love for the Encyclopedia of Insulting Behavior is what Cheruiyot believes to have catapulted him to be a revered satirist of all times. He said that Mutahi borrowed a lot specifically on the human behavior since he and the book were inseparable.

Mr. Cheruiyot added that Mutahi’s owes his unrivalled satirical mastery to the Russian satirist Nikolai Gogol since he used to read his works almost daily.

He added that Mutahi had a close attachment to the revolutionary lecturers-Michere Mugo, James Ngugi Wathiong’o, Chris Wanjala and Okot P’Bitek among others. The African elites and freethinkers who championed for a fair society.

He said that Mutahi nourished his humor writing by reading Terry Hirst’s Joe magazine a popular humor magazine in 1970s.

Mr. Cheruiyot proudly attested that Mutahi was a serious scholar who never indulged his studies with intimate relationships with women. “By the time we were in campus, Mutahi was already married to the famous Thatcher,” he said.

Mutahi would walk around hands hanging few inches from his chest with mouth slightly opened and head shaking swiftly. “That was how ladies walked in corridors at University of Nairobi a vivid indication of embracement of western culture thus eradicating African culture. The act of aping Western life style to Mutahi was unforgiveable betrayal,”. He added.

Secondly, getting a girlfriend at University of Nairobi those days was impossible just like trying to milk an elephant considering the fact that Mutahi studied in a village secondary school hence he would hardly utter single syllable to match the strong accent of the flamboyant ladies who spend more than four years in mission schools taught by Europeans. Added Mr. Cheruiyot.

Nevertheless, Mutahi had a strong fear for the then ballooning HIV/AIDS which was only heard oversea back in 1976. That probably gave birth to Mutahi’s novel “The House of Doom”. To Mr. Cheruiyot, that is what propelled Mutahi to achieving the best in campus. “Mutahi was among the excellent graduates of the year 1978,”. Cheruiyot said.

On the other hand, Mutahi was a socialite. According to Cheruiyot, he was always seen in social places. “You would not miss seeing him in hold of an ugly mug in a neighboring estate that was selling illicit brew” Cheruiyot said amidst amusing giggle shaking his entire body.

Besides his immense love for the bottle, he said that Mutahi was a heavy smoker who would not do anything before inhaling a heavy dark smoke of tobacco. He recalls how Mutahi would sleep facing the ceiling in hall nine, his fairly flat nose releasing round smoke.

Mutahi dreamt of a free Kenya, a country that is free from all forms of oppression. He hated everything that reminded him of the colonialists, those who took after them inclusive. “He hated putting on suit and tie since it was an attire that was associated with the colonialists,” Said Cheruiyot.

Mr. Cheruiyot said that Mutahi believed in educating Kenyans to detach themselves from what he termed as idolatry. He added that Mutahi’s love for African culture particularly Kenya was immense, real and sincere. “He deserved the name patriot,” Cheruiyot said facing down.

“After graduating with Bachelors in Government and Literature, we proceeded to Paramilitary camp in 1978. In February 1979 we were appointed as District Officers and deployed to different districts but the bond between us remained intact,”. Said Cheruiyot.

Cheruiyot said that they continued meeting on weekends for a bottle or two but it suddenly came to a stop after Mutahi’s resignation two years later. He added that Mutahi resigned reason being that he hated the fact that on public holidays women of his mother’s age would come entertaining him. Secondly, he wanted to follow his passion in writing.

According to him Paul Wahome Mutahi was the best friend he will miss forever.  He was lively, kind and generous. A man who was willing to lose but to see a smile on one’s face. Mr. Cheruiyot wished that Mutahi was there to witness the bend in Kenya’s politics where mediocrity is glorified while performance is punished.

“Do not cry when sun goes down, tears would not let you see the stars the old adage goes but it is not the case in Kenya for we have not seen a perfect replacement of Mutahi” Cheruiyot said with vivid disappointment as the interview ended.  


Mutahi wrote many novels and plays some written and acted in Kikuyu alongside his column before returning to his creator.

On a thorough scrutiny, it is vivid that Mutahi’s ideas were elaborations of the preceding Kenyan writers for instance Francis Imbuga, Ngugi Wathiongo’o and Marjorie Oludhe among others.

Imbuga’s Betrayal in the City depicts a disillusioned society as painted by the character Mosese “It was better when we waited now we have nothing to look up to, we have killed our past and are busy destroying our future”. Yet with the death of Mulili, Imbuga manages to portray the idea of hope.

Ngugi’s Grain of Wheat explores both political and personal betrayal but as he ends his novel, we experience a glimpse of hope in the shattered remnants of the relationship between Gikonyo and Mumbi.

Marjorie Oludhe’s Coming to Birth reflects birth of Kenya as a Nation and specifically Kenyan women. On close examination, disillusionment is portrayed hand in hand with hope.

Mutahi’s Doomsday and House of Doom portray a treacherous and corrupt disillusioned society full of disastrous events of terrorism and HIV/AIDS but just like his idols, Mutahi’s work portrays shreds of a hopeful future.

Mutahi was influenced by societal experiences in portrayal of themes of disaster, society, corruption betrayal and hope. Wahomes’s works do not reflect Literature as belonging to some odd world. He borrows from real life experiences.

In his book The House of Doom, Wahome takes readers through the main character Mbela. Mbela’s promiscuous life is rewarded with HIV/AIDS infections.

In stream of consciousness, Mbela reflects the kind of life he has lived. His mind is busy as a bee. It flashbacked to the days when he had a relationship with several women from various quarters.

Doomsday shows a decadent society inhibited by corruption and betrayal. The novel portrays tragedy and general situation of hopelessness. Doomsday means the end of the world. The writer tells us how traffic came to a standstill after the final blast.

This symbolizes life coming to a stop. When the news of the blast spread, a man from the Coast called Mayeka exclaimed “la la la laaai”. This world has come to an end. It means that the bomb blast ruin is irreversible, sudden and lasting disastrous effects.

In his novel, Mutahi satirizes insecurity in Kenya that makes it easy for a bomber.

Doomsday paints a society invaded by corruption both in high and low cadres. The bomber gets to fictitious Anyisa due to immense corruption.

Mutahi reflects precisely what has been happening in Kenya daily for instance the saga of the alleged impure sugar and the banned polythene bags that has been making their way to Kenya despite the heavily guarded boarders.

Three Days on the Cross is patently autobiographical. When he is detained for 30 days without charges, Mutahi paints his experience in the basement of the famous Nyayo House torture chambers.

The novel paints Kenya when detention without trial was rampant thus reflecting the current situation in Kenya where political activists are detained while others are deported when they disagree on some issues.

The Jailbugs appreciates the contemporary setting of the novel. The text facsimile jail conditions in Kenya. It reveals a system that subject human beings to treatment and conditions that are dehumanizing.


Wahome Mutahi was a gifted writer who wrote insightful works full of humor laced with suspense. In flashbacks and flash-forwards, retrospection and stream of consciousness, Mutahi created a discrepancy between realities and what is assumed to be.

The discrepancy creates a sense of humor, irony even as it sounds ridiculous. In process, Mutahi ended pocking fun not only in the world of the writing but also in actual world in general.

Mutahi’s narration with poetic accounts makes his work fast reading. He tinted with affluent stylistic devices.

Mutahi’s work relies on satirical humor to tell grizzly tale of treatment meted out to Kenyan political dissidents. Mutahi possessed a rare gift of telling a story of absolute corruption with thick mask of irony and humor.

He used real situations or events to portray his ideas. In his work, ridicule is achieved through special linguistic and stylistic choices. His sordid imagery and buffoonery in telling the bitter truth laughingly is unmatched.

In a nutshell, Mutahi’s work is like an onion whose layers could keep peeling for tears and laughter.

There were those who would peel the first layer in his column for the humor on the surface and those who would peel the first layer and weep a little that their conscience was becoming calloused.

At the core there was deep understanding of culture and life of people “Whispers” wrote for and about.

He adopted socio-stylistic approach and post-colonial theory to understand the issues of terrorism, HIV/AIDS, corruption, misuse of power and hope.

He used a stream of consciousness and adopted Kenyan euphemism to paint the outgrown corruption as well as the unending acts which bordered on neo-colonialism.

Inspite of all these titles, very limited study and appreciation has been done on his works yet criticism of literary work enriches and highlights social and aesthetic relevance.

Since these has not been done, his work needs to be redressed. His ideas are contemporary hence deserve critical analysis.

Mutahi derives his raw materials from the society he lives hence making his work suitable for academic attention.

To appreciate Mutahi’s work, Kenya Literature Bureau should approve one of his novels as a set text for Kenya secondary schools. Government should also name a University after his name for instance “Wahome Mutahi University”.

Wahome is a legend living among the ghosts, a daring Journalist who wrote on the things that many were afraid to say, a voice of the voiceless. Red earth is earth is blood, Red earth is life, Red earth is what takes and keeps safe the lives we lose.

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