Joshua Nanjero ‘Makambo’ was so gifted he mocked us, and we laughed

Joshua Nanjero RIP Joshua Nanjero Makambo Joshua Kuya
Cartoonist Joshua Nanjero died aged 50. [File, Standard]

In any newsroom, there are those people who are revered for the talent or authority they command in a certain field.

Talent trumps authority on any given day because talent is the gift that keeps giving. And what a blessing if that responsibility is to breathe humour into newspaper pages? Joshua Kuya, better known as Nanjero, who was found dead in his house last week, was one such guy.

Born on November 9, 1971, Nanjero, who went to Baba Dogo Primary School and Aquinas High School, developed a passion for drawing as a young boy, entertaining his peers with cartoon stories drawn in exercise books. Before joining The Standard as an editorial cartoonist and illustrator for the Nairobian, he worked with Drum and True Love magazines before joining Kenya Times.

Born with a humour bone in the fingers of his right hand, everyone would marvel at his crazy mind in our editorial meetings at the Nairobian. Mostly, we would wonder how he would, week in, week out, manage to draw, different picture-perfect (pun intended), gorgeous, sexy and curvy women to perfection.

He also collected amusing anecdotes from his Eastlands abode, and in the tradition of the man who mentored him, Maddo, offer social commentary. He really had a knack and an ear that brightened our days on Fridays and Mondays.

He was one of the finest, and maybe one of the last of a dying breed. I loved the many times he mocked me on the page for my height, seeing as he was equally tall like me. In-person, Nanjero was a very engaging person, a great conversationist with the knowledge that spans our chequered political past, music (he was a rhumba enthusiast, and we actually became friends’ courtesy of his love for Madilu System), as well as recollections of his triumphs, courtesy of his pen.

One of his favourite stories was being summoned by President Daniel Arap Moi to State House because of a cartoon he had drawn about him in the 1990s. He always cherished this; that with his talent, he was able to meet the most powerful man in the country, who instead of admonishing him, actually celebrated him, as he would celebrate the Redykulas crew of Walter Mong’are (who impersonated him), the indefatigable and versatile John Kiarie (who impersonated the comical ministers of Moi’s last term in office) and Tony Njuguna, much later.

We had a lot of phone engagements with Nanjero, back and forth, and discussed a lot, about our careers, the uncertainty of the future, parenting, and other existential angsts that bother adults. As a senior, no matter how tough a place we sometimes found ourselves in, he remained cheerful. Never once did I see or hear a note of sadness or regret in his voice.

And this was for a reason.

To be a cartoonist, you must never lose the child in you. And this is a lesson we can all learn from him. All cartoonists embrace the child in them, and that is why they are always childlike in their innocence, but never childish. They make you laugh, but also, provoke you to think. He chose a genre of making us laugh, and he laughed at us, at himself and we laughed with him back.

In a city, where people call each other to meet and it never materialises because of commitments, we finally did manage to meet over the Christmas of 2017 at the Harry’s Tavern in Donholm. We enjoyed a drink and nyama choma and had a great evening.

Nanjero had the gentlemanly demeanour of Western Kenyan men and the storytelling abilities of an African griot. Sydney Sheldon said the ability to make others laugh is a wondrous gift from the gods. Nanjero had this gift. He made us laugh, and we thank God for all the memories and the mornings he brightened our days. Dance with the angels, man!

— Silas Nyanchwani is an author, blogger and former writer with the Nairobian.