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The life and times of Charles Bukeko “Papa Shiradula”



Yesterday the nation was stunned. One of its most recognisable comedians had died. At the climax of his venerable acting career, Charles Bukeko  was a mainstay TV character, playing the lead role in one of the biggest and longest-running television shows in the country and starring in big-budget commercials for some of the largest local and global corporates; from Safaricom to Vodacom and Coca-Cola.

But where did it all begin?

Sometime in 2007, Citizen TV launched the comedy-drama Papa Shirandula, and with it, a star was born. After years of acting in several stage productions at the Kenya National Theatre, Phoenix Theatre and some few screen productions, Bukeko was instantly thrust into global fame with his breakout role as Papa Shirandula.

Interestingly, while most Kenyans only knew about Bukeko from his acting in Papa Shirandula, the actor revealed that his breakout happened much earlier.

“I would say that my breakout role was when I was cast as Herold for the play, Nativity at Braeburn Theatre. I think that is when people saw that I had what it took to be an actor,” Bukeko told a local newspaper.

With his distinct burly frame, larger-than-life persona, natural acting and irresistible sense of humour, Bukeko was perfectly fit for the role of Papa Shirandula, an animated guard who lived a double life and came out as everything from a liar to a polygamist. Many Kenyans agree that Bukeko played the role with such ease; it was almost as if he was born to play this role.

“This is one guy who has three wives and one mzungu girlfriend. Strangely enough the wives don’t know what he does for a living. But again Papa Shirandula is not a bad person.

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The only problem he has is that he lies so much,” Bukeko said of his character during an interview with GoTV. Bukeko’s character and the premise of the show were modelled to mimic everyday Kenyan life. Bukeko believed that he had been born to act.

“I think I was born an actor,” he revealed in an interview with Radio Citizen. However, his talent in acting was a constant cause of conflict during his childhood, and a gift he struggled to accept in his formative years. “I thought I was born a bad kid. If I went somewhere I would disturb people or they would disturb me,” he recounted. Because of this, Bukeko revealed, he was often misunderstood, even by his mother. In school, he recounted struggling to maintain a level head and focus on his studies.

He narrated that he had a difficult time striking the perfect balance between his studies and his mischievous shenanigans.

Most times, what he described as his cunningness and foolishness triumphed, making it difficult for him to focus on studying. Prior to his death yesterday, Bukeko had been victim to multiple internet death pranks, the latest of which was published on June 13, 2019.

“On Wednesday Shirandula had complained of back pain and severe headache and was rushed to Nairobi Hospital for a check-up. His body is currently at Lee Funeral Home pending a postmortem examination,” read the fake news report by a Kenyan website.

Speaking to Pesa Check, Bukeko described the fake news as shocking.Bukeko did not find the pranks amusing, but instead thought of them as rude and disrespectful, as he revealed during an interview.

Appearing on a show on Radio Citizen, Bukeko disclosed that he had been victim to seven death pranks. A visibly upset Bukeko told the programme hosts, Mwala and Melody Sinzore: “It is bad manners and evil. On my side I don’t care much, but I worry about my father and mother and other people I love. I don’t know the motivation, I don’t know if it is about destroying someone’s career or his name, but I can say it is bad manners and a curse.” But Bukeko was more than a caricature.

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He did much more than acting, revealing on several interviews that he helped conceptualise and develop his characters, in the stage and TV shows he played and even in adverts. Beyond his professional life, Bukeko was a loving father and husband, accomplishments he proudly spoke about each time he got the chance. “I am married to Beatrice Ebbie Andega with whom we have three children Tony, Charlie and Wendy. She has been the pillar of my life.

A faithful, humble and loving companion in life’s journey,” he told The Standard in an earlier interview.During an interview with GoTV, Bukeko also revealed that his real-life persona was somewhat a departure from the eccentric and over-the-top characters he often portrays. “I don’t go out so much. I don’t drink alcohol. I am this person who actually loves being around my people, a bit reserved, but not quite reserved. I am a football fanatic, a football critic, ” Bukeko said in the GoTV interview.

Bukeko’s love for football was unparalleled. In interviews, he often boldly professed his love for the game and especially for local football clubs AFC Leopards and Sofapaka.  While his weight contributed to his comedic effect, it was also a source of trouble for him.

Bukeko admitted to his struggle with weight. With the last act on his esteemed life at 58, Bukeko rose to be the top trending topic in Kenya, with thousands of Kenyans recounting his legacy and wishing him a peaceful rest. President Uhuru Kenyatta eulogised Bukeko as a gifted storyteller whose contribution to the development of Kenya’s entertainment sector will be cherished forever.

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“Some truths in life are hard to accept.  Your memories will never be forgotten! Those will always remain with us forever. Rest in Power,” wrote comedian Eric Omondi. “Rest in peace Charles Bukeko alias Papa Shirandula. You were a self-made man who epitomised the joy and optimism of Kenyans. You made a huge contribution to the entertainment industry in Kenya. We will miss you. May God give peace, comfort and strength to your family and fans,” wrote Ezekiel Mutua. “I am lost for words. Rest well Papa Shirandula. 2020 is indeed a dark year,” said musician Suzanna Owiyo.

It was gloomy at the Karen Hospital yesterday as the family and friends came to terms with the death of the veteran actor.

His brother-in-law Rowland Wanyama said Bukeko had visited the hospital on Monday for a check-up a day after coming back to Nairobi and was later discharged.

According to Wanyama, it was not until Saturday morning that Bukeko was rushed to Karen Hospital by his wife after he complained of difficulty in breathing.

He was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

“Papa had travelled from Nairobi. On Sunday he started feeling unwell after returning to Nairobi, and later drove himself to hospital for a check-up,” said Wanyama.

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Kenyans in US grapple with Covid-19 woes



His conspicuous Kenyan name, Kariuki, is what gave him out and attracted the attention of a handful of compatriots working at the Philadelphia international airport.

Recently, staff at the airport woke up to news that scores of homeless people had been rounded up by the airport police and the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Among them was Kariuki (first name withheld for privacy reasons), a Days later, the Nation located Mr Kariuki in a shelter for homeless people on Island Avenue in South Philadelphia.

Mr Kariuki, originally from Nakuru County in Kenya’s Rift Valley, came to the US as an undergrad student at Temple university in Philadelphia five years ago.

“My mom, a hawker in Nakuru, raised the initial $10,000 for my tuition and that could only last me a semester and a half. Fortunately, I got a part-time job at the library in college but I still had to work at a local grocery store in the evenings and play drums for my church on Sundays where I was paid $100 every Sunday. Things were okay until Covid-19,” said Mr Kariuki.

A combination of photos of counsellor and clinical consultant Abel Oriri, who is based in Cleveland, Ohio; Geoffrey Chepkwony, who died in August in Texas, US; and David Bulindah, a clinical counsellor based in Seattle, Washington.

When, towards the end of March, the state of Pennsylvania shut down everything including education institutions, hotels and shops — and restricted movement, his world came tumbling down.

READ ALSO:   Revealed: Distressing last moments of Papa Shiradula

“My roommate, in whose name our apartment was registered cancelled the lease and returned to Memphis, Tennessee to his family. For almost three months, I lived in my car. It was hard to find food. The nights were cold. I started developing regular panic attacks that left me feeling like I was going crazy!” he said.

So bad were the panic attacks that police found him at the busy intersection between Island Avenue and Lindberg shouting at motorists and trying to stop them.

“I cannot remember doing this,” he says, although he describes himself at the time as “stressed, depressed and contemplating suicide”.

Psychiatric help

One day, he woke up in some psychiatric facility in West Chester and was told he had been there for three weeks.

“I was totally confused, and heavily sedated. I had nowhere to go but at least I knew I had to leave that place,” he says

Mr Kariuki finally went to the airport because one of his classmates was working at an eatery that had remained open. His friend would occasionally give him a fresh meal and, at least at the airport, he’d enjoy heating during spring and cold air in summer. That was where the authorities found him and other homeless people who they took to shelters.

READ ALSO:   Breaking: TV star 'Papa Shirandula' dies after testing positive for Covid-19

Mr Kariuki’s story is unfortunately now just one of the many familiar stories of Kenyans living abroad — made worse by the pandemic.

“It’s of course true to say that Covid-19 has led to a significant increase and demand for mental health intervention due to anxiety and depression. In fact, recent research indicates that more than 53 per cent of adults in the US have reported that their mental health had negatively been impacted directly,” said Kenyan-born counsellor and clinical consultant, Abel Oriri based in Cleveland, Ohio.

Recently, Kenyans in Houston, Texas, were shocked by the death of Geoffrey Chepkwony, who is thought to have committed suicide after his body was found on the streets. He was said to have been struggling with mental health problems. The Kenyan community in the US, led by those in Texas, has been raising the money needed to ship his remains home following a passionate appeal from his mother in Kenya.

Another high-profile case is that of the first Kenyan-born National Football League player, Daniel Adongo, who later fell from grace. His worrying state was depicted in a video clip widely shared online. His family later said they had sought help for him. Coronavirus seems to have exacerbated social and health issues like homelessness, depression and domestic violence, among others.

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Support groups

Mr Oriri, who is also a pastor, says most of his clients now describe feelings of depression, anxiety, worry, stress, loneliness, poor appetite, suicidal thoughts and isolation.

“Many report difficulties sleeping, eating, increased alcohol consumption and substance use. Worsening chronic conditions from worry, depression, and stress over Covid-19.

The anger management and domestic violence groups that I have been providing for more than 20 years have surged one hundred percent in enrollment since the pandemic began,” he said in a recent interview.

David Bulindah, a Kenyan Pastoral and Clinical Counsellor based in Seattle, Washington, said the usually structured life of Kenyans in the US was recently disrupted without warning by the coronavirus.

“Most people could not leave their job and or could not go to their second job. For someone who had been enjoying consistent income to suddenly lose all that, stress, anxiety and depression thus kicks in”. he said.

Mr. Bulindah says that the Kenyan community will only deal with these issues if it opens up and discusses mental health and homelessness candidly without pre-judging those affected.

“People should know that it’s okay to lose a job and it’s okay to experience mental health problems. Those affected should not isolate themselves rather, reach out for help,” he said.


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KNH strike claims its first victim



A man died at the parking lot of Kenya’s largest referral hospital where a strike by 5,000 workers paralysed operations on Monday.

The boda boda rider was taken to the hospital by his friends following an accident.

But the management of the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) insisted the patient was in a critical state and that his death was not due to negligence.

Dr Stanley Kamau, a board member at KNH, said the hospital and staff were not to blame for the death.

The strike disrupted services at the hospital and left patients unattended. The striking employees are protesting a delay to effect a pay rise totaling Sh601 million.

Some families were forced to move unattended patients from the hospital as members of the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions and Hospital Workers (Kudheiha), the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN), and the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) commenced their strike.

Workers’ demands

The workers are demanding implementation of resolutions from the State Corporation Advisory Committee, which upgraded the hospital’s parastatal status from 3C to 7A in 2012.

Following the reclassification, all KNH staff were to benefit from enhanced pay but it has never been effected.

READ ALSO:   Revealed: Distressing last moments of Papa Shiradula

Some workers went on strike late last year, prompting a return-to-work formula with management to end the boycott.

But the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) has said the formula is not a basis for demanding a review of remuneration, arguing it’s not fiscally sustainable and will distort the salary structure in the sector.

SRC has asked the referral to retain the current pay structure as it awaits a job evaluation that will inform the remuneration review cycle for 2021/22 to 2014/25.

KNUN Secretary-General Seth Panyako said members were not interested in the job evaluation and wanted their salaries adjusted as the matter had been approved by Parliament.

“We want SRC to write to the CEO giving authorisation for payment because we know the money is there. We will not go back to work until we get the money,” Mr Panyako stated.

SRC the ‘obstacle’

KMPDU’s acting Secretary-General Chibanzi Mwachonda claims SRC is the only obstacle and it is frustrating health workers in the public sector.

The hospital’s chief executive officer in a letter to SRC yesterday said KNH will ensure the Sh601 million budgeted for in the 2020/21 financial year is paid in October.

In a letter dated February 12, 2013, to then Finance Principal Secretary, KNH detailed the breakdown of the salaries from the CEO to the lowest Job Group K16/17.

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The lowest basic salary for the hospital CEO was set at Sh400,000, while the maximum had been capped at Sh560,000. House allowance was to be between Sh60,000 and Sh80,000.

While the CEO’s basic salary was settled at Sh400,000, that of the lowest worker was set at Sh17, 535.


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WATCH LIVE: Covid-19 Conference in Kenya



President Uhuru Kenyatta and other officials are addressing the nation on measures taken to contain the Covid-19 pandemic amid hope for the official declaration of a flattening curve.

Their addresses, which follow a virtual conference on Kenya’s status, come after six months of economic paralysis caused by restrictions instituted to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

President Kenyatta is expected to further ease measures Kenya took after reporting its first case on March 13. Key among them were a nationwide curfew.

As of Sunday, Kenya had recorded 38,115 declared cases, including 24,621 recoveries and 691 deaths. The country has tested 540,308 samples for the disease so far.

More to follow

READ ALSO:   Revealed: Distressing last moments of Papa Shiradula
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