Tuesday, February 19, 2008



By Jerry Okungu

Prof. Ngugi waThiongo’ was my teacher many years back in time. He taught me how to think logically at the University of Nairobi at a time when the nation’s consciousness was at its peak.

In those days, the Literature Department was the place to be. A mere department in the Faculty of Arts was larger than life. It was the nerve centre of the University. And the revered Ngugi, the radical and left leaning Ngugi was its chairman. In the supporting cast were Kimani Gecau, Micere Mugo, Taban Lo Liyong, Okot P’ Bitek, John Ruganda, Francis Imbuga and a host of other radicals from the other departments.

To appreciate how dangerous it was to a radical of Ngugi’s stature those days, survivors of that era will recall that Jomo Kenyatta was the President of Kenya then with Charles Njonjo as his ruthless Attorney General, who at one point had no qualms ordering the police to raid the precincts of Parliament to flash out and detain radical MPs that had claimed that KANU was dead. Two other prominent figures that served that oppressive regime were Daniel Arap Moi as Vice President and Mwai Kibaki as Finance and Planning Minister.

They will also recall that this was the era that saw the murder JM Kariuki in 1975. It was the era Jomo Kenyatta was considered a demi-god whose demise could neither be envisaged, contemplated nor dreamt about. Such thoughts were a treasonable offense in Njonjo’s laws.

Prior to the last General Elections, Ngugi appeared in the local media twice. The first time was when he was a guest of honour at some venue in the United States of America. His hosts were GEMA Kenyans in the Diaspora for Kibaki’s Re-election. In that meeting, the media reported that Ngugi had endorsed Kibaki’s re-election. This, in my opinion, was quite in order since Ngugi was a grown up adult and well educated enough to make a choice of his preferred candidate like most of us had done.

However, it was not lost on observers that Ngugi was no ordinary Kenyan staking a claim on partisan politics back home. Here was Ngugi wa Thiongo,’ a world class scholar pitching for the re-election of President Kibaki who happened to be a member of his tribe.

Without appearing to be too quick to judge, it was not lost on observers that the same Ngugi wa Thiongo’ had been in exile since 1982, forced into exile by a regime that was at the time led by President Moi and Mwai Kibaki as his vice president. More than that, the same Ngugi had been detained by Moi together with Raila Odinga for agitating against an oppressive and corrupt regime. That regime was led by Moi and Kibaki at the time.

When Ngugi finally ran away voluntarily in the aftermath of the 1982 coup attempt, he swore never to return to Kenya until Moi was out of power. And true to his word, he never set foot on Kenyan soil until after the 2002 when Moi left the scene.

What baffled many observers was the logic behind Ngugi backing Kibaki against the man who was his cellmate in detention, the man he shared ideals with of a just and prosperous Kenya at one point.

What was more was the fact that despite historical ethnic rivalry between Kikuyus and Luos since independence, history had born it out that twice in forty –four years; one family in Luoland had been instrumental in putting a Kikuyu into State House. Jaramogi did it for Kenyatta in 1963; Raila did it for Kibaki in 2002.

In Ngugi stating his stand, observers could be forgiven if they read a blatant tribal streak in the latter‘s support for Mwai Kibaki.

A few weeks later, Ngugi’s wife came home to Limuru with a special message to the House of Mumbi regarding who his choice for President was. That message was not received well by the people of Kamiriithu. They had outgrown Ngugi’s influence. They heckled his wife.

Soon after Ngugi returned from exile way back in 2004, he went through a harrowing experience with his wife Nyambura. They were raped, sodomized and robbed at gunpoint in a Nairobi apartment. Relatives were suspected to be involved.

Consider the rape case and booing of Nyambura three years later in Ngugi’s birthplace; is it possible to speculate that there are a few close relatives who know something the world does not know about our world class hero? Why don’t his people trust him? Has he betrayed them in the past like his fictional character, Mugo, in The River Between?

This week, Ngugi wa Thiongo’ has been reported in the press as appealing to the UN to investigate genocide in the Rift Valley and bring the culprits to the International Court of Justice. Fair enough; Ngugi is a respected man worth paying attention to. The question to ask is this; who does Ngugi want tried in The Hague? Which victims does Ngugi have in mind? Has Ngugi come to Kenya and toured refugee camps in Nakuru, Jamhuri Park, Eldoret and Kericho to determine the faces and ethnicities of the victims? Does Ngugi know that Kisumu City is no more and that my own children are homeless in my home city of Kisumu? Does Ngugi know that my car was bashed with stones in Kisumu by my own Luo brothers on the rampage? Will Ngugi ask this government to be investigated for shooting and killing 300 unarmed children and women in Kisumu alone? Who will speak for the Luos, Luhyas, Kalenjins, Kisiis and Kambas who have also lost their lives and property in the riots? Who will speak for those Asians who lost everything in Kisumu? Who will speak for slum dwellers of Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa who were robbed, gang-raped and dehumanized by the mob that went berserk! Where will each one of us find holy ground to stand on?

May be Ngugi and his friends will; I won’t.

Maputo, Mozambique