It has been like this, always. When poet David Rubadiri goes to Kenya, Nation Media Group gives him special coverage in Daily Nation and Saturday Nation.
Rubadiri was in Kenya for medical treatment in March and April this year and, as always, he filled the pages of newspapers, very much unlike here in Malawi, where profiles are not a tradition in our newspapers.
Lack of profiles is apparent even when Malawi has people who have carved a place in living memory, even after they are gone. Rubadiri is one such person.
And as Michael Elliott, that excellent writer and former editor of Time International says, “if you are a writer on contemporary events and aspire to immortality, you had better have something special in your pen.”
Rubadiri’s pen has something special. And not just his pen. When he opens his mouth to speak, even in informal conversation, the poetry from his heart is loud and clear; visible to the eye, too. No wonder, every time he goes to Kenya, the media rushes after him. Rubadiri is a poet better known across Africa than in Malawi.
The reasons could be understandable. Rubadiri spent decades in East Africa, Uganda for his primary, secondary and college education and a teaching job at Makerere University; thereafter Kenya.
Of course after college he spent a couple of years teaching at Dedza and Soche Hill secondary schools in Malawi.
But at independence he was plucked into diplomatic mission from where he fell out of grace with Malawi's first president Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Rubadiri’s sin was his open support for the ministers who stood up against Kamuzu in September 1964.
Still this is not an excuse for the media in Malawi not to profile Rubadiri. The reason is that newspapers in Malawi rarely do profiles. I mean real profiles not just pseudo-profiles.
Once in 2005, when Rubadiri stopped over in Nairobi, Saturday Nation dedicated four pages to his story in the Society pullout of the weekend paper. This year, when Rubadiri was in hospital, the paper’s writer, Ciugu Mwagiru insisted for an interview.
Rubadiri is 83 and mourning his friend Chinua Achebe who died aged 82. Such deaths prick the heart. Why should those younger than us die early? Beyond this question, such deaths are a reminder that we are on our way too.
But Rubadiri has lived a full life. Once he seemed to have lost his country and his job but he got everything back. In 1964, his teaching career was cut in the bud but he got it back in 2000, and in a bigger way, when he was appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of Malawi. In 1965 his diplomatic career was cut in the bud too, but he got it back in 1995 when he was appointed ambassador to the US and the UN.
Now, as he lives his last days on earth, Rubadiri has become wiser than before. Journalist Jack Macbrams was in Mzuzu in the third week of May and he met Rubadiri twice.
“I asked him to leave some new poetry,” says Macbrams, to which Rubadiri responded, “This is my sickness. I will die because of my books.”
Even in his old age, the man has love for his books and his pen and he is hopeful of some poetry, in his words, “before I leave the world I have served all my life.”
Rubadiri remains an inspiration. No wonder Mwagiru did a wonderful two page profile of a man who has been profiled many times in Daily Nation and Saturday Nation. These are Mwagiru’s first three paragraphs:
Despite his advanced age, he stands proudly tall and straight-backed, his poise radiating dignity, with a sardonic smile.
When he opens his mouth to speak, a strong, slow baritone courses out, evoking power and mystery, perhaps befitting a man of his stature.
For David Rubadiri is one of Africa’s foremost poets, a Malawian double exile and a diplomat, all rolled into one to form an eclectic mix of wit, charisma and measured words.
This is true of Rubadiri, a teacher who has lived a full life and taught many even outside the classroom.
And Macbrams is a witness. Rubadiri is old and still recovering, says Macbrams. But, he says, Rubadiri remains a person you would want to listen to all day because he speaks poetry. True, one would want him speak all day because poetry is the depth of human wisdom.