Dr Henry Chakava: Father of Kenyan publishing takes final bow

East African Educational Educational Publishers (EAEP) CEO Kiarie Kamau (from left) author Yolanda Chakava and EAEP Chairman Henry Chakava during the launch of 'Super Lisu' book at Sarit centre,Westalnds, Nairobi. [File,Standard]

Dr Henry Chakava, seen by many as the father of the Kenyan publishing, has passed on at the age of 77.

East African Educational Publishers Managing Director Kiarie Kamau said Dr Chakava passed on at 5am on March 8, 2024 while receiving treatment at Nairobi Hospital.

“The Board of Management of EAEP in consultation with the family, wishes to announce the demise of its founder and chairman Dr Henry Chakava. His association with publishing of iconic literary luminaries in Africa,” Mr Kamau said.

Kamau, who is also the chairman of Kenya Publishers Association, said Dr Chakava will be remembered as a father of book publication in Africa.

Kamau said that in a bold entrepreneurial maneuver, Chakava presided over the acquisition of the British multinational, Heinemann (East Africa) and converted the company into a household name that is now East African Education Publishers.

He said his impact to the African publishing industry and on intellectual production in the region is second to none.

In his career, he has nurtured and promoted African writers, furthering indigenous language, and promoting greater access to books and other written materials for children.

He has published, among others, Ngugi wa Thiongó, Grace Ogot, Francis Imbuga, John Kiriamiti, Meja Mwangi, Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye (all from Kenya), Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi (Nigeria), Taban Lo Liyong (South Sudan) Okot P’Bitek, John Ruganda (Uganda) David Rubadiri (Malawi) and Peter Abrahams (South Africa).

Prof Ngugi Wa Thiongó once termed him as a visionary pioneer.

"Without him we would not be talking seriously about the possibilities of publishing in African languages,” Wa Thiongó said.

Dr Chakava had more than 50 years of experience in the creation and publication of high quality reading and learning materials that children need to succeed.

He had vast experience in editing and publishing educational books for schools and universities in the region and is also credited for enabling the use of Kiswahili language in Kenya's education curriculum.

The scholar had several awards under his belt for his contributions to the publishing industry.

This includes a Honorary Doctorate Degree from Oxford Brookes University, a prince Claus Awards from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Head of State Commendations and Moran of the Burning Spear.

He was also a fellow of the Kenya institute of Management.

The scholar served as the chairman of East African Publishers Limited for more than 20 years.

He began his career with Heinemann Educational Books Limited, an international publishing house where he became the organization’s first African editor.

Others notable achievements include the first local buy-out of a British multinational publishing house, being one of the founders of African Books Collective and the African Publishers Network.

After graduating from the University of Nairobi in 1972, he joined Heinemann Education Books Limited and rose in the ranks to become the Managing Director in 1976.

It was in 1974 that he attended the first literature teachers conference in Nigeria, which marked a landmark and game changer of literature in the country.

He retired in 2000 and was appointed the chairman of the Board of Directors of EAEP.

A book, 'Coming of Age: Strides in African publishing', was was launched in honour of Dr Chakava as celebrated his 70th birthday.