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Why Some Kenyans Are So Obsessed With Ngugi Winning A Literature Nobel Prize?

The month of October in Kenya is full of events and literary speculations. For the past five years it has all been about Ngugi wa Thiong’o a Kenyan novelist winning the Nobel Prize. This goes on with a dint of self senselessness among the people involved. This paper surveys why some Kenyans are keen on Ngugi winning Nobel Prize for literature, and it also shows where and why they are wrong. The paper will end up with a comment on the proper position of African or Kenyan literature in the global literary citizenship.

Key words; Literature, Onamastics, Darwinism

It is the year 2015; this year’s announcement of the final winners of Nobel prizes was recently concluded. No sub-Saharan African individuality or organization won any of the Nobel Prizes. Even the most likely literature prize to be won by an African was scooped away by an eastern European, Alexieivich Svetlana for her book Unwomanly Face of War. Anyway, we as Africans solaced our hearts when a black Jamaican, James Marlon won the English Man Booker prize, for his book, Brief History of Seven Killings.

On this sequence of global literary eventualities, I thought it was over, but to a stark contrast, complains by some Kenyans were captured by the papers later on, about why the Swedish Academy had not considered Ngugi wa Thiong’o for the Nobel Prize. Most notable were the complains by one Evan Mwangi as exposed in the literary pages of the Saturday Nation on 17th October 2015.I found it not normal, in the sense that a literary or intellectual civilization must grow above vices of manic, prolixity and self congratulatory cultural propensities like the ones often displayed by Kenyan Ngugi admirers in the likes of Evan Mwangi, Dr. Mbogo, Dr. Ndogo, Ng’ang’a Mbugua and very many others in this lot that only thrives intellectually on chauvinism for Ngugi.

Something of similar nature also transpired in August 2015, at international literature conference at Makerere in Uganda. The program had two sessions on Ngugi. They were packaged as perspectives on Ngugi. Panelists were more than seven. Panelists from Kenya were Dr Ndogo and Dr Mbogo .Their papers were presented nicely in praise of Ngugi. In fact they made Ngugi a fetish. A panelist from the University of Zambia was neutral, his name was Dr.Chilala, and he was very neutral as he was only focused on the literary onamamastics or onamatology and Anthroponamatology in the books of Ngugi, from Ngahika Ndeenda to the Wizard of the Crow.

The most controversial was a Nigerian panelist, a professor from the University of Nzuka, his paper was on the extend of adaptation between Achebe’s No Longer at Ease and Ngugi’s short story of Mpenzi in his collection of the short stories under the title the Secret Lives. He revealed that Ngugi shrewdly plagiarized Achebe’s No Longer at Ease by shrinking it from the length of 150 pages into 7 pages story of Mpezi in the Secret Lives.

What followed was instant sublimation of the audience in the house from the tempo of intellectual vivacity into emotional tension. Given the psychology that most of Kenyans who were the majority in the house hold Ngugi as a fetish of literature, as a spotless religion of prose, poetry and drama in east Africa.Interestingly, Beatrice Akite, a panelist from Makerere University, was supposed to present a paper on perspectives on Ngugi, but she changed her mind on the last minute and instead she presented a paper on cultural lessons from poetry of Okot P’ Bitek. She did not give the reason for her change of mind, but she only quipped that she comes from Northern Uganda , the birth place of Okot P’ Bitek. In a nutshell I enjoyed this experience and realized one thing that just like in the words of Okot P’ Bitek, ‘artists are also rulers’. More so they can rule the audience not only on the basis of aesthetics but also on tribal sentimentality as a substructure of their cultural reign.

Coming back to Ngugi and Kenyans’ obsession for his winning of the Nobel Prize; at the same time in the months of October 2014, Dr Godwin Siundu, lecturer at the University of Nairobi similarly complained like Evan Mwangi as per why the Nobel Prize has always like an eel slipped through the literary fingers of Ngugi wa Thiong’o.That time in 2014, the nominees for the prize in addition to Ngugi were Haruki Murakami, Joyce Oates, and Phillip Ruth just but to mention a few.Surprisingly,Patrick Mondiano came out as a final winner. He was not known in the literary circles.

The Swedish Academy justified his winning for displaying good memory in his work. The Swedish judgment was so novel that it catapulted Dr Siundu out of literary alertness to end up writing in the Saturday Nation, that perhaps Ngugi’s socialist orientation in his intellectual publicity was the main reason why the Nobel committee thinned him now and often from the winning list. Here Dr. Siundu goofed; he was bound to remember that African writers with socialist bent have won most of the literature Nobel Prizes more that writers with market oriented ideology.

Nobel Laureates like Jean Paul Sartre, Pablo Neruda, Nadine Gordimer, Doris May Lessing, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Vitian S. Naipaul, Joshua Maxwell Coatze and Amoz Oz are nothing else but darlings of communism. And Oz, a darling of Kibbutzim. Thus, no ideology whether communism or liberalism has ever denied a writer from winning the Nobel Prize. It is only Wole Soyinka and Naquib Mahfouz that are Nobelites without clear ideological position; their harsh criticism of the West is weightier than Ngugi’s flirting with the west.

In his complains and riposte like ranting published in the Kenya’s’ Saturday Nation on 17th October, 2015, Evan Mwangi accused the Swedish academy of bias against Ngugi for Alexieivich Svetlana. His arguments are that The Swedish academy has picked a person who is not known in the literary circles, he further argues that he thought Alexieivich was a character in Ngugi’s Novel; that she also wrote her books in mother tongue just like the same way Ngugi writes in Kikuyu. It is true, but my opinion contrasts with these arguments of Professor Evan Mwangi. I am aware that Mwangi arguments are feelings of some Kenyans crystallized literary journalism, I am aware that Mwangi is representing the position of some Kenyans. The only problem is that his complains are not intellectually watertight. They are redolent of bias either fuelled by tribal chauvinism or economic avarice, the vices so dangerous to art and civilization that goes with art.

Firstly, the Nobel committee does not reward the number of books written or radical reputation of the author. It instead rewards uniqueness. This can be displayed in a stanza of a poem, a scene of drama or in a micro-novella.Writting nor reading many books is not a measure of excellence. Harper Lee has only written two books; Killing the Mocking Bird and the second one is, Go Set a Watchman, but she dances with the Literary Mighty. It is written that Spinoza of Rome read only seventy volumes but he is a name among names. Günter Grass won the Nobel Prize just after writing the Tin Drum. His first Novel. So Mwangi was not right to doubt the choice of the Swedish academy.

Alexieivich Svetlana wrote her books in her indigenous language just like Ngugi. Yes, her mother tongue is the National Language of Belorusia.Ngugi’s Mother tongue; Kiguyu is a dialect within the broad Culture of the Gema Community from which Ngugi was born. In fact for any Kenyan to write in his or her mother tongue like Kikuyu for the case of Ngugi, when there is region wide African language of Kiswahili is a betrayal and impeachment to national building. It is tribal sentimentality in the full school uniform and official gear of odious deviation from basic requirements for the struggle against an imperialist vice of cultural Darwinism.

My take; Ngugi has not won a Literature Nobel Prize because it is not a must that when you write you must win a prize. We write to communicate and to share out our knowledge with most concern to liberate our societies from burdens of ignorance. This has to be primary motivation for African literature; didacticalism blessed with some basic aesthetics. However, when economic gains come on the way it is well and a good.

Secondly, I personally see Ngugi as a monument of self contradiction; He is a communist living in America, an intellectual crusader for African indigenous languages teaching special English at Irvine in California, a socialist who amasses property on daily basis, an anti colonial writer who has been misleading the world by painting the picture that it is only the Kikuyu MAU MAU that fought for Kenya’s freedom, he has ignored the Nandi resistance, the dini ya Musambwa of Elijah Masinde and as well as the Luo resistance, Ngugi is a victim of dictatorship but only condemning colonial dictatorship and Daniel Moi dictatorship while forgiving the very immediate post colonial dictatorship of Jomo Kenyatta while at the same time deliberately wearing blinkers on the corruption that was and is so rampart in the Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenya political regimes in Kenya. So funny.

Who knows, Maybe the Swedish academy also notices such pockets of selective and discriminate intellectual anesthesia in the writer when selecting a final winner of the Literature Nobel Prize. Lastly, but not least Kenyans as a community must stop personalizing matters that affect global interests. The world is not ready to accommodate the Kenyan political culture that is rooted in the tribal ideology often noticed in the electoral politics in Kenya where one votes for a leader not because of development agenda but because the voter and the voted share a common ethnicity. The way Mwangi and Mbugua were crying when Ngugi missed the Nobel Prize in 2015 not because of anything but they are all of Kikuyu clan.

Alexander Khamala Opicho
Lodwar, Kenya

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Alexander Opicho and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Alexander Opicho