Leading African LGBTQ activist and author Binyavanga Wainaina died after a short illness while at a Nairobi hospital, the Associated Press reports. He was 48.
Wainaina was already one of Afirca’s most prominent writers when he came out as gay in 2014. Two years later, in 2016, he announced he was HIV-positive on World Aids Day. And in 2018, he announced that he would marry his boyfriend in South Africa.
“I am very happy and fulfilled now, and nearly healed from the trauma of nearly dying,” he wrote in a Facebook post from 2018 after surviving his stroke. “I do not fear death anymore… I have already reconciled myself with that. I would like to live a long life after I do what I need to do this year. If I don’t live long after this, it is okay. Celebrate my life! Do not mourn me.”
Wainaina won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2002, and he founded Kwani?, a literary journal celebrating Pan-African writers.
His satirical “How to Write About Africa” essay won international acclaim for attacking tropes about the continent.
“In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates,” he wrote. “Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions.”
But his work also distinctly pushed the continent toward tolerance, despite many of the nations there still actively persecuting gays. That including protesting anti-LGBTQ laws in Uganda and Nigeria while taking Russian president Vladimir Putin to task.
He defiantly traveled to Nigeria after the passage of a law imposing life sentences to homosexuals. While that bill was ultimately vetoed by the nation’s president, Wainaina risked a 14-year prison sentence under the nation’s existing laws.
“All people have dignity. There’s nobody who was born without a soul and a spirit,” he told AP in 2014.
His writing and activist landed him on the Time 100 Most Influential People list in 2014.
“By publicly and courageously declaring that he is a gay African, Binyavanga has demystified and humanized homosexuality and begun a necessary conversation that can no longer be about the ‘faceless other,’” Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngoza Adichie wrote for the magazine at the time.