Wamba died of chest injuries on the way to a hospital after a truck collided with the car he was driving from Nairobi to Mombasa.
Wamba devoted his writing, which included a number of articles and essays, as well as a memoir, to issues of race and culture in the U.S., where he was born, and in Africa, where he lived for many years.
Wamba was born in California in 1971 to Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, a Congolese professor who rose to lead the rebel group Rally for Democracy in his native country.
Wamba spent his early life in both the U.S. and Africa before returning to Cambridge for college.
At Harvard, Wamba found a mentor in DuBois Professor of the Humanities Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., who later hired him to edit Africana.com, the website that culminated Gates’ efforts to spread understanding of African cultures.
“Philippe literally embodied that space between two distinct but related worlds, the African continent and its diaspora,” Gates told the New York Times this weekend.
This two-cultured upbringing formed the root of his 1999 memoir, Kinship: A Family’s Journey in Africa and America, which described his life experiences and explored broader differences between Africans and Americans born of African descent.
“Africans considered him American, but Americans considered him African,” said Richard N. Bazangoula, his cousin. “He was someone that transcended borders in terms of nationality, he transcended race. This was reflected in the friends he made—white, black, Kenyan, African, European.”
“He was offended by distinctions between African nationalities,” he said. “For him, Africa was Africa and he wanted it to be united.”
Since April, Wamba had been travelling in the continent working on his second book, about the African youth movement and its growth within the troubled continent. He also had plans to write about the women’s emancipation movement in Africa.
According to his cousin, Wamba’s musical tastes incorporated these interests in racial and cultural issues.
“He was very attached to reggae music,” Bazangoula said. “Bob Marley was one of his inspirations. He could identify with Bob Marley’s political message.”
Wamba is survived by his mother, father and two younger brothers, one of whom was injured in the accident, as well as his fiancee, Marang Setshwaelo of Johannesburg.
A funeral will be held Saturday in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
—Staff writer Emily M. Anderson can be reached at email@example.com.