Peter Wanyama Madaka. Activist. Educator. Journalist. Walker. Born Oct. 5, 1961, in Busia, Uganda; died Dec. 28, 2020, in Toronto, of heart failure; aged 59.
Peter Madaka was handsome and gregarious, with an irresistible laugh and a ready wit. He spoke passionately against injustice, with vivid descriptions of dictators and their foibles. Born in Busia, Uganda, he came to Canada in 1990 on a scholarship that transported him from a refugee camp in Sudan (where he lived for five years) to Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. While he was leery of attending social functions where someone might ask him for stories of his life before Canada (he described it as “picking a scab”; the trauma couldn’t heal), Peter acted to make the world more just.
In 1994, he graduated with a B.A. and two years later earned a Master’s in political science. He worked as a teaching assistant at Laurier and at McMaster University before moving to Toronto in 1998 where Peter continued his studies: journalism at Centennial College and refugee studies at York University.
Peter also worked for Share News. For more than five years, he was their expert on international politics and a specialist in African affairs; he was also a presenter at a U.S. conference organized by the Center for African Peace and Conflict Resolution.
Peter was a committed NDP volunteer and served on the riding association executive committee in Toronto’s Parkdale-High Park. He even tried door-knocking for candidates at 7:30 a.m. – if he was up and thinking about changing the world, wasn’t everyone? Peter also once showed up at a party, where he knew no one but the hosts, carrying a petition to raise the minimum wage. It was a brilliant strategy, he had thoughtful conversations and got loads of signatures.
And yet, Peter had a terrible time finding meaningful work. He was a journalist and an astute political analyst but as a Black African man, he was often typecast as a labourer. To counter this, and thanks to his mother’s advice, he always wore a suit. He owned 12, all purchased at the thrift store. After a powerful appearance as a commentator on TV news, he hoped to become a semi-regular pundit. Alas, there was too little discussion of African news and Peter was perhaps too smart and too forthright.
He continued volunteering and tutored privately. In 2007 he became a part-time communications professor at George Brown College. Teaching allowed him to pay his rent and student loan, and send money home. When the school year was over, he took whatever work he could.
Peter had high blood pressure and tried to stay healthy by going for long walks early in the morning – sometimes he’d walk for three hours a day. He was unfailingly law-abiding. He wouldn’t cross on a yellow light, never mind a red light, even if there was no traffic whatsoever. He wouldn’t take shortcuts in case someone felt he was in the wrong place and summoned the police. This was terrifying to him.
In recent years, Peter’s fire dimmed somewhat. U.S. politics, ongoing racial and economic injustice and the loss in 2017 of his closest friend caused him great heartache. Still, he continued to plan new lessons and support social justice causes. During a rent strike at his Parkdale apartment, he urged fellow tenants to be steadfast: “It matters that we stand together to fend off unjustified predation.”
In honour of his commitment to education and equity, friends and colleagues have launched the Peter Madaka Scholarship Fund at George Brown College. The first award will be given out this summer.
Beverly Taft is Peter’s friend.
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