- Opinions from Africa -

Joseph Mathenge

Our beloved friend, Joseph Mathenge, passed away Thursday June 25th in Nairobi, Kenya.


Joseph was first and foremost a good friend for 35 years. But since 1992 when Mayday Press moved to Kenya, he worked for us as a driver, fixer, translater, bodyguard and handled a lot of paperwork regarding contact with the authorities.

Everybody who met Joseph had to love him for his smile, his sense of humour, his ability to talk with high and low, rich and poor. He seemed to know people all over Nairobi, you could not move around without him greeting someone in the street.

We have spent so much time together and to go into details about all the things we have lived through in each others company would take a book as thick as the bible to write down.

Joseph, Helle and Paraput in Lugulus, Samburu, 1994

Some of the highlights: Visiting illegal chang'aa (kill me quick) dens in the Nairobi nights when we were young and about to get pissed. Going 180 kilometers per hour in the company Mercedes on the most dangerous road in Tanzania – and survive to tell about it. Visiting our friends up in Samburu-land, Paraput and Gilmar, who named him Yussuf, a nickname he took in and used in his usual easy going way.

Joseph in Lugulus, Samburu, 2005

But the biggest of them all. Driving 4000 kilometers in and around Rift Valley in a small convoy of four cars to set up a hot air balloon in the most remote places. For three weeks.

From the film *Hot air above Kenya'. (in Danish)

For a man with only four years of formal education from a primary school on the slopes of Mount Kenya, Joseph was smart and had a lot to offer the world. He was extremely streetwise which helped out when filming in the big slums surrounding Nairobi. He could sniff out any hoodlum long time before anyone else – that saved many a journalist for traumatic and expensive experiences.

Even when he was himself car-jacked for many hours by four thugs, put in the boot, threatened on his life, then afterwards, he could relive the story, now with all his humour put in the tale.

Having lunch in Karen, 2008

We will forever be in a huge debt to 'Yussuf'. He showed us and many other journalist from Denmark unknown sides of the country.

Joseph managed to move from the slums of Huruma into his own house out near Kahawa. He fed his three children, Peter, Anne and 'Bull' not only their daily bread, but also to think big, for one them maybe to big :)

Last time we saw Joseph alive and kicking ass was back in 2011. He was getting tired of spending half his life in the horrible Nairobi traffic which is getting worse by the day. He dreamt about getting his own small house back at his birthplace facing Mount Kenya.

Nairobi, November 2011

Unfortunately he died way too early to see his dream come through. He was only in the beginning of his 60's. (he was not sure how old he was)

Joseph will not only be missed by us, his family and friends, but also among his colleagues on the corner of Duruma and Accra in central Nairobi where he must have spent most of his life waiting for customers to entertain.

Joseph 'Yussuf' Mathenge will be laid to rest at his mothers place Friday July 3
rd. May he rest in peace.

The whole balloon crew minus the two photographers - in the foreground James Gitari, Josephs
younger brother. Joseph is in the middle, as usual. RIP

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