As a schoolboy, Levi Obonyo read every title in the African Writer’s Series courtesy of the mobile library van that passed through their village School in Senende. There were many influential titles, however, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s The River Between and Camara Laye’s The African Child left indelible mark on him.
The story aside, it was the artistry that impressed him most. “I was fascinated with the how of the book: how Ngugi made his characters seem so real and left a thin line between fiction and reality”. Levi’s fascination with the how has since made him one of Kenya’s most accomplished and respected media scholars.
He started his undergraduate career at Daystar University, where he now heads the School of Communication Language and Performing Arts. He completed his PhD at Temple University, writing his thesis on the political economy of cartooning in Kenya. Since then he has coauthored the book Journalism and the rule of law. He has served as Chairman of the Media Council of Kenya and now sits on the board of Communication Authority of Kenya.
As a scholar, Levi has unjustly gained attention as an advocate of “African communication theory,” though he describes himself in actuality as a pragmatist. “I don’t believe in silos. I believe in cross-fertilization and cross-breeding. How can our experience in Africa contribute to a global debate?”
He regrets, however, that East Africa has yet to make its mark on communication theory globally, especially when compared to the work emanating from southern Africa.
Levi has agreed to join the Networked News Lab to help ensure that the work of the network does contribute to theory, but not only for theory’s sake. Levi would like to see more “grounded research” – research that navigates the inevitable tensions between theory and practice, an approach that underpins the work of the Networked News Lab.