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Adieu Kaye Whiteman

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Adieu Kaye Whiteman

Dr Patrick Wilmot pays tribute to the writer, historian, editor and friend of Africa, Kaye Whiteman, who died on 17 May 2014. Kaye Whiteman leaves a deep vacuum in the lives of those committed to the African continent.

His work and zeal for African journalism, the history of the continent, and his admirable commitment to the governance and sustenance of the historic Africa Centre in London, where he was Vice Chairman of the Council, and veteran member for almost twenty years, are all areas in which he will be tremendously missed. 

Kaye Whiteman was the Editor and later publisher of the great weekly magazine West Africa. As a writer who hugely contributed to New African, and other publications including the Nigerian Daily Times, and a consultant and frequent columnist for Business Day, he contributed immeasurably to knowledge of the African continent. 

His recent book, Lagos, was a masterpiece of historical interpretation of a neglected and often maligned metropolis. Another of his books is the Story of Ecobank, published to mark the 20th anniversary of the Pan African Bank.

As a fellow trustee of the Africa Centre, for many years I was witness to his tireless efforts, his integrity and commitment to the development of the institution. As one of the oldest members of the Council he was a repository of its history. Even during his illness he never tired, never shirked, never neglected his duties, or failed to give one hundred per cent.

Without Kaye the Centre and other institutions to which he devoted himself will never be the same again. We will miss him. Although not born on the continent, Kaye was an African in every respect, much more than many who were African by birth or origin, who benefited from its riches and betrayed it and its people. Kaye was a monument of a man.

Over the years Kaye sat through meetings of unbearable tedium or provocative controversy but kept his cool. His even temper calmed those of us whose volcanic temper threatened annihilation. His calmness and even temper under fire was of immeasurable value to the smooth running of the Africa Centre. He showed respect even to those worthy of contempt.

Kaye had a wicked sense of humour and many must have been puzzled by some of the private jokes we indulged in, even on very serious occasions. Kaye was a man you could count on as a friend, without doubt or reservations. What we will do without him I don’t know, even though we must urge ourselves to pick up the pieces, continue and make progress.

Kaye’s wife was from Barbados and one of our standard jokes was to blame him for the latest antics of Rihanna. He never failed to see the humour in comparing his quiet, decent, well brought up wife with the bad girl of pop and her naughty ways. Kaye was that type of man, capable of rising above the crudity of reality to see the humour beyond the pain.

For those of us who believe in an afterlife, we can hope to one day make acquaintance with Kaye again, to work with him and share in the richness of his humour. For those of us who believe in nothing after death, this is farewell, and nothing henceforth will lift the cold or the emptiness of passing on. 

We say goodbye, dear friend, and may your soul rest in perfect peace. We wish his family the best, and assure them that the friendship we had for Kaye is now theirs. 

The African press and the Africa Centre will never be the same again. 

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