Reflections on Ngugi’s Home Coming and the 22nd Anniversary of the 1982 Coup Attempt
A Digital Essay from Onyango Oloo in Montreal
Sunday, August 01, 2004
0.0: By Way of Summary:
Twenty two years ago exactly, on a Sunday, just like today, certain political events in Kenya swept me and hundreds of other young Kenyan patriots in their wake and changed my life forever.
Within a matter of days, I was transformed from an idealistic university student to a radical political prisoner.
Kenya’s most revered writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o came back to Nairobi on July 31, 2004- exactly twenty two years after his scheduled landing at JKIA was “postponed” due to news of an imminent arrest which would have most certainly meant another stint in detention.
My essay this morning will focus on those two very intertwined events as I explore the theme of creating a new leadership in Kenya-and I am talking about political leadership at the national level; fresh leadership within the civil society sector; a rejuvenated leadership within the Kenyan progressive democratic movement and a brand new wave of leaders to deal with the changing demands and circumstances of Kenyans abroad.
1.0.The Mandatory Tangent: Obama, Molasses, ECONET, KCA, SNO and Other Side Shows
My readers know by now that my so called tangents usually have a lot to do with the main thrust of my essays.
These tangents are carefully crafted and grafted to my essays to achieve a certain purpose.
At the artistic level, they are closely akin to the prologues and opening skits of many television programs or the overtures that launch musical movements.
These seemingly irrelevant and irreverent forays help to lift my digital contributions above the humdrum treatments of assorted hacks and that is why I always smile indulgently whenever I see a superficial detractor latch on to them as an excuse to deliberately shift attention away from the core issues that I explore...
For the last few days, I have been itching to say something more on the Obama speech. The ensuing love fest has severely constrained me from doing so as Kenyans have gone into delirious overdrive to claim an African-American whose father was a Kenyan. On one Kenyan forum it has been virtually impossible to put a word in edgewise given the fact that one totally obsessed and zonked out twentysomething Obama groupie literally spent entire days upon days posting Obama puff piece after Obama puff piece-a phenomenon which would have elicited a comment along the following lines, had it appeared on the hip hop magazine XXL that the poster should stop riding Obama’s you know what….
Mindless sycophancy is deeply ingrained in the Kenyan psyche.
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Mtukufu Rais Daniel arap Moi taught us very well how to lovingly kiss political butt for extended periods of time.
Now do not get me wrong.
On the morning after the Obama key note speech, I did a commentary on the weekly radio show, DUNIA where I affirmed what millions of people around the world had observed the previous night: Barrack Obama had held all of us spell bound with his electrifying oratory. Given the American penchant for form over substance, the fact that he is in addition extremely photogenic will help to propel Obama's meteoric rise up the ranks of the American political mainstream even more dramatically.
Here is an audio link to my commentary:
click here to listen to Oloo's Commentary on Obama's Speech
In the last few days following that very articulate expression of American political theatre at it prime time finest, I have been reflecting on the essence of what Obama really said-a task made doubly easier by the never ending bacchanal of tumultuous Obamamania in ALL KENYAN cyberspace circles.
Dear readers: are you all ready for an ice-cold shower?
As usual, let me be the first to strike a discordant riff that ruffles the ripples in the ongoing love festival and instant Obama worshipping cult that has sprung up among Kenyans everywhere- from Oakland to Ouagadougou.
But before I do that, let me direct you to the official Obama blog:
Read from Obama,the Blogger
In the cold harsh light of day, one is struck by how CONSERVATIVE the CONTENT of Obama’s speech was, if you shear away the rhetorical outgrowth that it came wrapped in.
Here is the speech again:
FULL TEXT of Obama's Electrifying Speech
The following paragraph provided most of the sound bites for the media hogs, pundits as well as intoxicated Kenyan cheer leaders:
“Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America — there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”
If there was one person that Obama evoked for me it was MR Triangulation Himself- Bill Clinton-the same brimming intellect; the same brilliant eloquence; the same effortless delivery and above all, the SAME PACKAGING OF RIGHT WING LIBERAL ILLUSIONS and DELUSIONS IN POPULIST RHETORIC. Clinton was a superstar salesman who was quite adept at selling Republican policies using demagogic liberal sounding pronouncements, coated with gooey sentimentality and soaked with mind boggling statistics-and yes, his intellect and his middle aged good looks blinded people from grasping the fact that Slick Bill was one of the people who had helped to effectively reduce the progressive and militant wing of the Democratic party to a very marginalized rump.
In all the euphoria, mayowe na vigelegele (ululations) that greeted his speech, Barrack Obama was able to get away with a very deft sleight of hand-effectively convincing a huge chunk of potential Republican voters in Illinois that THEY should cross party lines and VOTE FOR HIM since he, Barrack Obama,is actually, a closeted compassionate conservative on social issues while wowing his global army of fawning Democratic Party faithful worshippers with his populist mild diatribes against some of the excesses of the Bush administration.
For those Kenyans who are already popping a vein while veering close to a massive Dick Cheney style coronary, I say to you, please calm down already.
After all, it is nothing major-you just happen to find yourself trapped in yet another Onyango Oloo essay once again.
Get a grip for goodness sake!
Let us dissect the speech.
And I want to concentrate on that excerpt above:
“Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.”
With all due respect Mr Obama, but is this true? Is it really the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who are “preparing to divide” the American people? Is John Kerry's running mate John Edwards one of those spin masters and ad peddlers? He is the one talking of “two Americas”-not some rightwing spin doctor or Republican strategist.
“Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America-there's the United States of America.”
And Oloo says:
I beg to differ, Senator Elect Obama. There IS a liberal America and there IS a conservative America-and it IS NOT the creation of spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. This very election is BEING FOUGHT on that very premise about the VERY CLEAR ALTERNATIVES facing the American electorate this coming November- and those choices are between electing a liberal Democratic Party candidate OR re-electing a conservative Republican President.
“There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.”
Not so, Mr Barrack Obama. There IS a black America and there IS a white America- JUST ASK Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Danny Glover or the millions of African-American youth who are in the criminal justice system right now- as accused persons, convicts or disenfranchised voters. Ask Mexicans in California if they have the same rights as the patrician WASPS in Simi Valley. Ask Arab-Americans if they get the same treatment at the airports as those waffling Caucasian soccer moms in Iowa.
“The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”
It is NOT the “pundits” who have sliced and diced the United States of America into Red States and Blue States. There ARE Republican and there ARE Democratic strongholds. Any politician who says otherwise is lying through his or her teeth. I notice that Obama is NOT running as an INDEPENDENT, but as a very PARTISAN Democrat.
The official organ of the Communist Party, USA is more HONEST about Obama’s ideological leanings:
Click Here to Read the the People's Weekly World Newspaper of CPUSA
It is in light of his progressive history that some of us on the Left were taken aback by that mushy, touchy-feely, mish mash of we-are-the-world-why-we-can’t-we-all-get- along sentiments in Obama’s key note address.
It was SURREAL, watching John Edwards, the VERY NEXT DAY reiterating his TWO AMERICAS mantra after Obama’s MISLEADING ONE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Republican demagogic vote getter the night before.
In a very deep sense, Barrack Obama’s speech was a SLAP in the face of the American communities of colour, women, workers, gays, lesbians, Indigenous people, youth and an INSULT to other marginalized communities who know only too well how the class, racial, age, gender and other cleavages have made a stratifed America a stubborn social and historical FACT:there ARE SEVERAL Americas in the United States of America and UNLESS political leaders DEAL with the root causes of these divisions, NOTHING FUNDAMENTAL will be solved-no matter how many heart warming speeches evoking Dr King’s dreams are declaimed from convention rostrums along the eastern seaboard of the good ol’ USA.
Strange as it may seem, it is the following CONSERVATIVE assessment (minus their propaganda pot shots at his voting record) that comes CLOSEST to giving a more CREDIBLE assessment of Obama’s speech:
Click Here for the Right Wing Rag
I agree 110% with this portion:
”…There was only one problem: change a few sentences here and there, and the young black Senate candidate from Illinois could have given the same speech at the Republican National Convention. In his speech, Obama said things like "government alone can't teach kids to learn," and noted that inner-city parents know they must "turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white." He all but preemptively refuted the class warfare-promoting "Two Americas" stump speech that vice presidential candidate John Edwards would give the following night when he said of his family's humble origins: "I stand here knowing that . . . in no other country on earth is my story even possible." Obama even cited the Declaration of Independence and its reference to the unalienable right to life in a convention hall packed with avid proponents of abortion on demand. None of this dimmed the excitement of the mostly left-wing delegates, who knew they were not supposed to believe what they were hearing. Obama may talk like Bill Cosby or even J.C. Watts at times...”
Let me wait for the deranged yelps from Obama’s groupies in cyberspace…
Some brief comments on the developing story about the Kisumu Molasses plant and the Odinga family. For the last few days, some TRIBALISTS have been HOUNDING ME to comment on the Maina Kamanda generated allegations of corruption regarding the Odinga family. It has been strange observing anonymous idiots insist that Onyango Oloo and only Onyango Oloo should comment on a corruption scandal which OSTENSIBLY should be a NATIONAL outrage that touches millions of Kenyans, not just certain activists living in Montreal who just so happen to be members of the Luo community.
The fact that some of us have been at the FOREFRONT in exposing the Anglo Fleecing scandal and asking hard questions about the shady deals that seem to have accompanied the awarding of the telephone contracts- both cellular and land line- has made it easier to target us.
This is what I say to folks who are interested in finding out the truth about Molasses plant-go about it diligently, ruthlessly and WITHOUT ANY OTHER AGENDA but fighting and ending corruption in Kenya.
For instance, I do not think it is that far fetched to imagine that the Odinga family COULD HAVE BEEN involved in corrupt deals. Jaramogi accepted millions from Pattni. Raila is said to have been caught on tape getting a pay off from the same business crook. How far this is true can only be proved or disproved by the PUBLIC RELEASE OF ALL THE PATTNI TAPES. A friend of mine who hails from Kisumu District tells me that there are two notorious land and property grabbing families in that town- the Omino and Odinga families. Raila and Oburu are part of the Kenyan comprador bourgeoisie and I will NOT be shocked if it turned out that these two brothers were in fact mixed up in corrupt and even criminal misdeeds.
What is INEXCUSABLE is to try and create a RED HERRING around the Molasses story to TRY AND DIVERT ATTENTION from the IDENTITY of the Cabinet based crooks who are behind Anglo Fleecing and over growing scandals. I find it interesting to see Maina Kamanda make his claims at around the very same time that Mwai Kibaki speaking in Kisumu repeated his unfortunate cover up line on corruption, reducing documented facts to mere allegations. We all know that Maina Kamanda has taken it upon himself to be a PHYSICAL DEFENDER of the Kibaki- NAK regime. I doubt if his public utterances were spontaneous. Why then, is Kibaki speaking with a forked tongue?
There is a SIMPLE & DIRECT way of resolving the speculation regarding the Molasses plant, Anglo Fleecing, ECONOSNOGATE (what Oloo is dubbing the telecom scandal):
HAVE A FULL INDEPENDENT POLICE INVESTIGATION (in other words, Murungaru cannot be investigating a matter where he himself is one of the leading suspects). FIRE ALL MINISTERS WHO CAN BE CREDIBLY LINKED TO CORRUPTION. PROSECUTE ALL THE BAD GUYS. MOVE BEYOND TALK TO ACTION.
Last of my tangential forays has to do with the continuing BASHING I have endured at the hands of the top leadership of the KCA because I raised certain questions recently. I will just reproduce an email response that I fired off in reaction to some of the latest attacks:
From: "Onyango Oloo"
Date: Fri Jul 30, 2004 5:19 am
Subject: Attacking "The Blogger, Onyango Oloo"
again, it is with a deep sense of amusement that i see someone else
decide that it is safer to stomp on oloo rather than deal with the
issues he raises; it is safer to DISTORT what he says, rather than
absorb the ramifications of his exposes; more convenient to lump him
with detractors when as a matter of fact, posterity will be on his side when the dust finally settles.
i said, and i repeat:
the way we kenyans abroad have reacted to the questions raised about
the third mobile licence/process of selecting the second land line
operator is very indicative of our capacity to deal with graft
it has always been easier to attack oloo rather than challenge the
FACTS he raises. last year when on my return from kenya and in a spirit
of good will i shared with netters widely held concerns within the
country and fears about the president's health, i was attacked as a
tribalist who wished the president's death. of course, exactly a month
later when the daily papers in nairobi were saying the
exact same thing, there was not a single person who stepped forward to
apologize to oloo for those scurullious personal attacks. two and a
half weeks ago, when i spoke about the people behind the anglo leasing
scandal, there was a demand in certain quarters that i withdraw my
statements. some of you here, unable to face me here, hid under the
cover of anonymity and threatened to sue me if i went on with my
promise to write up what i knew about the scandal. now, when an
independent police investigator is essentially fingering the same guy,
i notice that everyone is tongue tied.
before this matter came out in the kenyan press; before tuju announced
the suspension of the sno bid process, onyango oloo had asked publicly
about the shady deals; asked publicly why the ktig group was betrayed;
raised the possibility of foul play-
and did so without malice and without playing favourites.
surely no one can accuse onyango oloo of being a bosom buddy of
angaluki muaka. but you see, i am not like some fairweather friends i
see here. i really do not care whether so and so will come and jump on
me for speaking the truth.
however, i will not keep quiet when i see wrong things going on. i
predict that sooner or later this matter that is now being turned into
an oloo affair will be a NATIONAL scandal. some of the very people who
are now busy deriding our efforts here will completely change their
tune- when it is the edward clays and william bellamys saying THE
SAME EXACT THINGS THAT I AM SAYING TODAY. Such is the depth of the
neocolonial mentality among the kenyan middle class professionals
inside and outside the country that an issue IS NOT a serious issue
until a mzungu envoy says it is.
before that, the current kca president will launch personal attacks
unaccompanied by facts;
his deputy will call me an egotistical blogger;
his predecessor will accuse me of standing in the way of honest
capitalists and wonder why i am raising issues about possible
corruption because it is not of the magnitude of the goldenbergs and
angloleasing- things that i have been at the forefront in exposing by
the way, contrary to the counter myths;
before that, a former kca secretary will log on to call me a
tribalist and dredge up an old essay i did in november 2003 to prove
his dubious point;
while other attack dogs weill go to town calling me "olow" "kavirondo"
and the like....
and yet, at the end of the day, the questions that i raised, will still
1. was the process of awarding the bid to econet free, fair and
2. did some powerful politicians and businessmen use undue influence
to determine who got the second landline operator licence?
3. were some individuals known to kca participate directly or
indirectly in 1 and/or 2 above?
4. were the stories planted in the standard and other sections of the
kenyan media casting aspersions on the reputations of the ktig
directors accurate and without malice?
5. is the kca as an organization, capable of rising above ganging up
on oloo and dealing squarely with the troubling questions he raised?
i know that i am not inspired by hate; i know that i am not a liar; i
know that some of the very people attacking me know what i am saying
is just the tip of the iceberg; i know that i sleep soundly every day
knowing that i will always speak my mind, not looking over my shoulder
to see how many people will back me up; i know that i have survived
personal and tribal attacks in the past and will continue surviving
them in the future.
the good thing is that this issue that SOME kca officials are ignoring
is way beyond the kca now.
I CHALLENGE ANYBODY TO COME UP WITH FACTS TO SHOOT DOWN A SINGLE
THING THAT I SAID.
if it can be demonstrated that i fabricated an email and maliciously
slandered and defamed any individuals, i will offer a public apology.
if on the other hand the facts bear me out, may be it will also be
time for me to talk to my lawyer friends.
for far too long, it has been way too easy to beat up on oloo, knowing
that other attack dogs will follow suit.
well folks, this is about to change.
2.0 On Ngugi’s Home Coming
There is virtually NO KENYAN LEFTIST above the age of 35 who has NOT dealt with Ngugi wa Thiong’o directly or indirectly.
A colossus on the Kenyan socialist scene, the world famous novelist, playwright and essayist has been part and parcel of the Kenyan anti-imperialist scene for close to forty years now. He has been associated with many of the underground and exile based anti-imperialist groups like the December 12 Movement (sometimes known simply as DTM or the Pambana group) Mwakenya (he became their public spokesperson after October 1987) UKENYA, Umoja and other democratic formations like the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya which was set up in London in 1982.
Ngugi has traversed the world using his words and his art to sensitize the world about neo-colonialism and imperialism in Kenya.
And of course he paid a very heavy price.
In 1977 he was detained partly because of the controversial play, "Ngaahika Ndeenda" but chiefly because the KENYATTA regime saw him as growing thorn in their sides especially after the publication of “Petals of Blood”. The Moi regime quickly realized that releasing Ngugi from Kamiti would not buy his silence; denying him his teaching job at the university would not cow him, brow beat him, or make him bow down to the mammon of the Nyayo dictatorship.
I have seen people trashing Ngugi for his audacity to live outside the country for so long. When we were in prison in the 1980s we used to see in the smuggled papers that we read furtively under our blankets in our solitary cells-we saw the likes of Ng’weno and William Ochieng’ (and yes, Kalonzo Musyoka) deride Ngugi for being in so called “self-imposed exile” working presumably at the behest of unspecified “foreign masters”.
Anyone who had to endure the death of relatives while they were away in prison and exile can relate to the pain that can not be described or even transferred from one person. For instance, even though I lost siblings, uncles, aunties, cousins, friends during my stint of proper exile (for me it was the period between 1987 and 1994) I can not pretend that I KNOW what Ngugi went through when his first wife passed away; I am not therefore going to join the canine raucous discordant chorus barking at him for not coming home to bury her. It is not in my place to judge him.
What I can relate to however are the free flowing tears that gushed from the great writer when he did his own Retour au Pays Natal yesterday. All of us who have had to come back to Kenya after leaving abruptly, reluctantly and unwillingly have the same frog choking our throat, squeezing tears of nostalgia, accumulated pain, joy, sadness, relief… made even more poignant if you encounter a loyal sibling, like Ngugi did waiting ever so patiently to engulf you in a long fraternal embrace that seems to last forever.
Coming back home one has the frozen mental Polaroid of the last snapshot the mind took before it sped off towards years of uncertain exile. Often of course, that withered snapshot has little or no semblance with the unvarnished reality that has seeped to the surface in the intervening years…
When, in addition, you happen to be a Ngugi wa Thiong’o, you have a further burden discharging all these burdens, slightly lighter than the one that fell of Mandela’s shoulders when he walked out of Pollsmoor that February close to fifteen years ago; the burden of expectations is something that one has to decide immediately to unload or carry; in my opinion, there is no obligation for Ngugi to live up to the often unrealistic expectations of starry eyed, newly found acolytes who would make of him a twenty-first century Mugo wa Kibiru with a weight of a nation’s future aspirations to discharge. Ngugi should shun any messianic role thrust on him by the founding members of any potential millenarian personality based cults that would abuse his stature for parochial and esoteric purposes…
As I write these lines, I am thoroughly conflicted of course-Ngugi and his contemporaries were LITERALLY the teachers of a younger crop of Kenyan Marxist-Leninists who came on their own in the early to mid 1980s. If we could, we would have slipped Ngugi a hastily composed message to the Kenyan people to be declaimed from the lobby of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport; we all have ideas of what we think Ngugi should or should not say….
Certainly, I wish that the people who had organized his homecoming would have been more cognizant of the fact that the great writer is a NATIONAL figure, and NOT just an icon among the Agikuyu- there should have been a more conscious attempt to prepare a national welcome for this great son of the soil who fought for the Adungosis, the Onyango Oloos, the Oginga Ogegos, the Kituyi Simiyus and the Thomas Mutuses.
If there is a slight pang of regret that I feel at Ngugi’s decision to say goodbye to the English language it is to mourn the muting of a national voice on the national cultural stage- since the 1990s I have not read anything new from Ngugi- and I used to own all of his works save the Black Hermit. It would appear that when Ngugi said goodbye to the English language he did not say hello to Kiswahili or any of the other Kenyan languages outside his lugha ya mama; to the native Gikuyu speakers who could appreciate his facility in his mother tongue as he became more and more immersed with the Mutiiri project the voice of Ngugi has boomed ever so strongly still; some of us were simply excluded from these patriotic cultural conversations that we knew were taking place through mutual friends who did subscribe to that Gikuyu language journal.
What is also unfortunate is that some cultural nationalists from Central Kenya have reclaimed Ngugi wa Thiongo as an ethnic icon rather than the internationalist and Pan Africanist hero who made all of us so proud to call ourselves Kenyans; Kenyans who were part of the homungati tradition that Ngugi pilloried now want to reduce him to a tribal ideologue extolling the virtues of Gikuyu na Mumbi- I have no doubt that Ngugi will gingerly sidestep these Mamba infested waters with their explosive Mambos.
Sadly we are living through a period when everything in Kenya has been so retribalized- Raila is a King of the Luos; Musyoka is an icon of the Kambas; Ligale is insisting for a Luhyia ministry to be stacked by cronies from Ingo and Ingwe; Ngugi must be aware of the renaissance of Gikuyu culture which has contradictory positive and negative components.
The progressive part is the portion that Ngugi has always extolled- a rediscovery and return to our native tongues that had been tied with the slavish attachment to English and all things Eurocentric- one sees this progressive tinge bursting forth at that mugithi place in Ngara that Njuguna Mutahi took me to, formerly owned by his famous whispering sibling; it can be seen in the theatrical revivals of "Ngaahika Ndeenda" and the creative hip hop fusions of a Ndarling P and other younger exponents of this global youth culture…
At the negative end there is the triumphalism of the arrogant andu aitu tribal ideologues; the aberration of pseudo (or is it the real) Mungiki zealots who strip women naked and threaten to slice off their clitorises; it is an exclusivist revisionist look back at the Kenyan history reclaiming the exploits of Kimathi wa Waciuri, Muthoni, Kaggia and Mathenge- not for Kenyan independence, but rather for a narrow ethnic based agitation for ancestral Gikuyu lands; one sees it in the blatant tribal tirades that greet some of us on the Kenyan forums where people trash the Onyango Oloos of this world based on such arcane machismo yardsticks as proof that one has a circumcised penis or not…
The Ngugi wa Thiong’o who came home yesterday IMMEDIATELY denounced tribalism and that was a good sign because it reminded me of the opprobrium that the Ngugis and Miceres earned back in the seventies when they publicly defied and denounced a Gikuyu led comprador dictatorship
There is a real danger however, of Ngugi been sucked into the uncertain shoals of big power ethnic chauvinism without even realizing it.
I have often posited that Kenyans who come from the so called Big Tribes have to be extra conscious that their utterances, actions or lack thereof are not construed, rightly or wrongly, as giving succor to the ethnic chauvinists in our midst. It is easy for instance, for a Raila Odinga, a Kalonzo Musyoka or a Moody Awori to pander to the worst excess of tribal chauvinism within their respective ethnic communities. It is a constant challenge to resist the label of a tribal paramount chief who speaks for the tribe. The task is made doubly hard if one comes from the same community as the President- and especially after one of his chief lieutenants made a more than casual reference to “andu aitu.”
In fact, since I do not like speaking to people’s backs, maybe Ngugi wa Thiong’o should take this early opportunity to clarify his relationship (if any) to the Mungiki cultural group. I have persistent reports from credible sources within the Kenyan Left that both Ngugi and Maina wa Kinyatti are leading ideologues for the Mungiki movement. Is this true or this false?
If true how does Ngugi explain his involvement- and which “Mungiki” is he affiliated with- the original non-violent Gikuyu cultural movement or the shadowy terrorist gang that has beheaded some of its former members?
2.0. Remembering August 1, 1982 and Contemplating a New Kenya
From the foregoing, it should be clear that some of us have a very nuanced and multi-layered history with Ngugi wa Thiongo. As comrades in the struggle against the neo-colonial dictatorship, sharing many a hush hush meeting after sunset in various locales around the world. Anyone who has ever met Ngugi in person is immediately struck by how reserved and down to earth the great writer is- and how full of infectious humour he is. Ngugi is essentially a good man; a sincere patriot; generous in spirit and self-effacing in temperament- the very antithesis of the male Prima Donna. I remember calling him when he was still lecturing in New York University asking him if he could oblige us in Toronto with a statement affirming human rights atrocities to help assist Kenyan political asylum seekers and Ngugi responding swiftly; I remember Ngugi in the early 1990s always seeking out Kenyans in Canada whenever he was here on a speaking engagement for PEN or the Harbour Front Writers Reading Series- Ngugi would give you his hotel number and share a drink and a long conversation with you- in sharp contrast to the civil society champions who sneak in and out of town, not returning phone calls and email messages.
That is why the fondness of a nephew for a favourite uncle will always permeate any reflections that Onyango Oloo has of Ngugi.
But just like with all families, we have fought ideologically and politically with Ngugi for years- the Left all over the world, has a well-deserved reputation of staging some of the most ferocious and enduring family cat fights that often degenerate into festering feuds that have seen former life long friends stop talking to each other.
I want to go back nine and a half years to retrieve a document that I wrote for a clandestine journal we launched in the early to mid 1990s called “Itikadi” (Ideology).
At that time I was not using my real name (this is a very recent phenomenon). I went by the nom de guerre, “Zinduka U Pambane” (Awaken and Struggle).
I completed that document at 5:11 am in Toronto on January 8th, 1995 and it was circulated widely (within the limits imposed by clandestinity). That monograph, ‘Every New Beginning Has an Old Origin” is familiar to many veterans of the Kenyan underground. Recently I saw chunks of it reproduced in “We Lived to Tell: The Nyayo House Story”.
Essentially that document is one of the very first (to my knowledge) to attempt a serious, detailed history of the Kenyan socialist underground. Even today, comrades are very reluctant to document that history.
I refer to it today because any person who wants to appreciate what Ngugi wa Thiong’o has done to the struggles in this country must trace his political evolution especially from 1965 when he burst out of the gates with his seminal “A Grain of Wheat” to 1969 when he resigned in protest from the University of Nairobi following the detentions of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and the KPU to his work with first the group that later became the December 12 Movement. My document, which remains safe in my clandestine archives goes beyond the 1982 crackdown, talks about the regrouping of the Kenyan Left in London, Stockholm, Oslo, Harare, New York, Toronto, Copenhagen and elsewhere; talks about the emergence of the KPF, KAIF, MDK, HDK and later the Me Katilili Revolutionary Movement; reveals the circumstances behind the formation of Mwakenya between February 1985 and June of the same year; discusses the tensions between nationalists and Marxists in what later turned out to be Mwakenya cells; talks about the series of ultra-leftist adventurists mistakes and anarchical excesses that set the stage for the infiltration of Mwakenya by the Special Branch in February 1986; details the series of arrests that kicked off the horrendous Mwakenya crackdown that consumed most of that and the subsequent year; goes into a great deal of detail documenting the heated discussions among the jailed Mwakenya militants at Kamiti and how they essentially split into two groups- a Marxist break away discussion group and a stubborn core of Mwakenya nationalist hold outs; outlines how one former university lecturer flip flopped from attacking the excesses of Mwakenya to becoming one of its chief ideologues; follows some of us from Kamiti straight into the underground structures within the country in mid to late 1987; records the second wave of internal debates that took place among present and former Mwakenya militants living in exile in Dar es Salaam and shows how this in turn set the stage for two developments- one, the emergence of Ngugi wa Thiongo and the London UKENYA group as the overseas arm of Mwakenya; and two the formation in June 1988 of the Me Katilili Revolutionary Movement by Kenyan Marxists living in Dar es Salaam with the present writer being at the very core, helping to write the manifesto and draft program of this nascent group; documents the even bigger fallout among the Kenyan Left following the collapse of the October 1987 Umoja Conference in London that Ngugi was instrumental in organizing; maps out the morphing of the Dar es Salaam Mwakenya group into an appendage of the London based Umoja group and the crowning of Ngugi wa Thiongo as the titular Mwakenya leader by the end of 1987; these 1987 events marking by the way a very definitive split between long time comrades and friends who happened to be in opposing camps- Koigi and his KPF; Gutto and Micere and the Harare based KAIF; Onyango Oloo, Adongo Ogony, the late Kaara wa Macharia and the Me Katilili Revolutionary Movement-
And how these divisions on the Kenyan Left rendered Kenyan socialists quite unprepared for the breakthrough into the legalization of multi-party politics in 1992 and how we collectively remained largely irrelevant to the national democratic project for the next ten years as an organized political force.
I am mentioning these matters publicly because as far as I know some of these Kenyan comrades HAVE NOT SPOKEN TO EACH OTHER POLITICALLY SINCE 1987!
Ideological grudges on the Left can be borne for entire lifetimes.
This is indeed a very sad phenomenon- especially at a time when we see the complete bankruptcy of the mainstream political parties.
That is why I see Ngugi wa Thiong’o long awaited return as a historic opportunity to heal old wounds.
There are so many questions still left unanswered about Mwakenya, about Umoja about how Kenyan anti-imperialists can work together.
The objective conditions in Kenya today call for a revolutionary leadership of the calibre once provided by the Ngugis, Miceres, Abdilatif, Yusuf Hassans, Wanjiru Kihoros, Shadrack Guttos, Mwandawiro Mghangas, Mwakdua wa Mwachofis, Mwangi wa Githinjis, Wangari Muriukis, Adongo Ogonys. Omondi K’Abirs, Willy Mutungas, Edward Oyugis, Oduor Ongwens, Kamonye Manjes, the Mungai Brothers (at least 4 of them) the Peter Young Kiharas, the Kishushe Mzirais, Karimi Nduthus, Zarina Patels, Zahid Rajans, Shiraz Durranis, Sultan Somjis, Al Amin Mazruis, Kamoji Wachiiras and Njeri Kabeberis.
It is true that some of the names above have effectively “retired” from the struggle while others have reduced the scope of their operations and limited their interactions to a close knit circle of neighbours, drinking buddies and social friends.
However, for those of us whose eyes are still locked on the prize, we must start meeting again. We must complete those difficult conversations and look each other directly in the face as we answer the uncomfortable questions and bring to account those comrades who by their reckless behaviour set the stage for one of the longest estrangements in African political history.
We must realize that time has not stood still. Kenyans have continued to struggle for change.
We as Kenyan socialists must continue injecting our anti-imperialist content into this struggle to ensure for example that a Katiba Watch is NOT HIJACKED by the American and British envoys in Nairobi in much the same way that the MDC of Zimbabwe was derailed.
And it is on that somber, sobering note that I end by saying:
Karibu Nyumbani Mwalimu Ndugu Ngugi!
Sunday, August 01, 2004
5:28 PM EST
PS: The Itikadi Dossier will be unleashed before the end of the year in a different, updated format……
NB: If you are looking for me online to start a fist fight on this August One Sunday evening, you will not find me- a Zambian platonic friend is accompanying me to the House of Jazz where we will be entranced by the gorgeous