Revealed: The painful death of Prof Ken Walibora
Suffering a cracked jaw, a broken hand, two missing teeth, and with blood draining into his brain, Ken Walibora, one of the most celebrated authors and scholars in the country, lay waiting for help that never came for 14 hours at Kenyatta National Hospital on April 10.
He had been knocked down by a bus on Landhies Road in Nairobi hours earlier, even though an autopsy would later reveal that he had also been stabbed, throwing investigations into his death into a spin.
This story exposes the string of mistakes and lack of concern by those who were tasked with the responsibility of taking care of him.
The story starts at 7:18am on April 10, when Walibora left his house at Lavington Heights, Nairobi, for Kijabe Street, where he arrived from the direction of Harry Thuku Road shortly before 8am, parked his dark blue Mercedes-Benz, registration number KBJ 802Y, and stepped out.
He was dressed in a striped T-shirt and open shoes, and held the keys to his car in his right hand as he made his way towards the Globe Roundabout, a few hundred metres away.
There are contradictory reports on whether he left on foot or in another car. While some security guards who saw him say he disappeared from their view on foot, others say he was picked up by another car that drove in the direction of the roundabout.
CRY FOR HELP
A few minutes later, as he dashed across the outbound stretch of Landhies Road, next to the entrance to Machakos bus station, he was hit by a bus.
A string of accidents on this dusty and busy stretch of road two years ago forced the government to erect barriers separating the two lanes. Part of the barrier was, however, uprooted, creating an opening for those daring enough to make the 20-metre dash across.
It is believed this was the opening Walibora used to cross as he ran from the Muthurwa side of the road. He never made it.
On being hit, Walibora lay bleeding on the road until a Good Samaritan drove him to hospital. There have been reports that onlookers alerted an ambulance crew to the accident but their calls were ignored.
The Saturday Nation could not establish whether this was true, as detectives told us security surveillance cameras could not capture the exact spot where the accident happened and what transpired soon afterwards.
A police post inside the bus station is roughly 20 metres from the exact spot of the accident, but the incident was not entered into police records until four hours later, at 2pm, and at the Kamukunji Police Station, which is almost a kilometre away.
NO ICU BED
Walibora was wheeled into the accident and emergency department of Kenyatta National Hospital at a particularly bad time when, even though there weren’t many patients to attend to, the few who were coming in required intensive care.
Ever since the government invoked the Public Health Act that introduced a dusk-to-dawn curfew and closed bars and other entertainment joints, the number of people who are rushed into the emergency department with injuries from knife stabs, bar brawls, and drink-driving has dropped.
So the nurse we spoke to had a photographic memory of the 14 hours during which Walibora was swinging between life and death.
He did not have any form of identification, so they recorded him as ‘Unknown African Male’. Or, simply, a John Doe.
Doctors ordered two tests on him, an X-ray examination and a CT scan. The latter showed extensive damage to his head, so doctors resolved that he needed to be put in intensive care.
Unfortunately, all the 22 beds in KNH’s main intensive care unit were occupied, and the five in the emergency section were also unavailable.
Had he been with his identification documents, medics would at this point have reached out to his next of kin for guidance on other available options outside the hospital.
But because he didn’t have any, and couldn’t himself ask to be transferred elsewhere, the staff at KNH decided to let him stay there with them.
And so, still unconscious, he was moved into one of the wards, where he was to wait for an ICU bed to become available. He died waiting for that bed.
Last evening the Senate Health Committee, chaired by Senator Michael Mbito, said it had summoned the hospital’s chief executive officer, Dr Evans Kamuri, to answer to claims of negligence.
“We want to meet the CEO on Monday over what happened at the hospital’s emergency unit, as the inquiry into the death sets off,” the Senate said.
The Saturday Nation has established that the case has since been transferred to the Homicide Unit at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) headquarters on Kiambu Road, Nairobi.
It was initially handled by the traffic department of Kamukunji Police Station before being transferred to the criminal investigations unit at Central Police Station four days later.
Meanwhile, street boys who found Walibora’s press card and car keys took them to Kamukunji Police Station, where officers logged them as lost-and-found items. They never followed up on the matter until it emerged that the author had died.
Consequently, several crucial hours were lost in saving the author’s life, and thereafter at least five days in following leads that could have nailed his killers.
To date, the driver of the Double M bus, Mr George Mburu, has not been arrested despite police saying they were going to charge him for causing death by dangerous driving.
DRIVER AT LARGE
Detectives said Mr Mburu claimed he never saw Walibora running across the road, and that he may have hit the bus from the side.
However, people who witnessed the accident said Walibora was being chased by street boys and was hit as he tried to run across the road.
Nairobi police boss Philip Ndolo said the driver was chased, arrested and made to record a statement after the accident.
But if that is true, why did it take four hours for the accident to be entered in the Occurrence Book at Kamukunji Police Station?
Additionally, why has the driver not been charged in court for causing death by dangerous driving?
Police say they are now focusing their energies on who may have stabbed the author in the minutes leading to his death, after Government Pathologist Johansen Oduor recommended further investigations into the death after he found injuries that he said he could not convincingly link to the accident.
“The wound on the right hand was caused by sharp trauma. When someone is hit by a vehicle, the wound is usually indicative of being hit by a blunt object. This one was sharp,” Dr Oduor said.
How Walibora ended up on the chaotic side of the city centre may provide answers to who exactly stabbed him, and why.
It is not yet known where he was in the one hour between 8am and around 9am, when he was hit by the bus, or if he had any other engagements in town.
Some of his relatives have told the police that he was looking for building materials to send upcountry.
Additionally, an analysis of his mobile phone records shows that at the time of his death he was engaged in a dispute with one of his publishers, and that they were supposed to meet on the day he died.
As in any business, it is common for authors to have disputes with their publishers. The 56-year-old had dozens of books to his name, with the Kiswahili novel Siku Njema the most famous.
The circumstances under which Walibora lost his life are a cautionary tale to the government, which has continuously underfunded the public health system.
One of the questions the Senate will be seeking to answer is how a taxpayer and law-abiding citizen who could afford a private health facility had been let down at his greatest hour of need.
The negligence of the medical staff aside, KNH, like many public hospitals, is grossly underfunded and understaffed.
DEATHS ON ROADS
A 2019 study published by Elsevier showed that emergencies — mostly road accidents and falls — take up the majority of the facility’s traffic.
While most of the patients, at 61 per cent, who walk into KNH are treated in the emergency centre, observed and discharged, another 33 per cent require admissions.
Of those who remain in the hospital, only one in every three that are triaged and found to be in need of ICU admission actually gets it. Walibora was in this unfortunate group.
The World Health Organisation notes that road accidents claim 1.2 million people globally; nine of every 10 of them, or 90 per cent, are in sub-Saharan Africa.
This has baffled experts because Africa has only two per cent of the world’s vehicles, but the deaths on roads are 24 per 100,000 deaths, compared to 10 in Europe.
For the most part of his career, Walibora never needed to open his mouth to introduce himself — his poems, books and essays did that for him.
But on the Friday that he was knocked down, that sense of adopted anonymity, established over the years of his celebrated career as a writer, worked against him.
He couldn’t introduce himself, and none of the nurses who received the battered, middle-aged man recognised him.
And so one of the most famous names in Kenya and the region, a man who had valiantly taken up the ambassadorial role of a Kiswahili agent, lay alone on a stretcher; the bright lights in the casualty section of the region’s biggest referral hospital illuminating the rivulets of blood slowly but steadily soaking his clothes.
Walibora was dying, every drop of blood slowly sapping the life out of him, but no one seemed to care. Because no one knew who he was.
He was laid to rest on Wednesday this week at his rural home in Makutano, Cherangany, Trans Nzoia County.