The Kenyan scholarly community is proud to celebrate the achievements of Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who is celebrating 50 years since his first novel was published. As a literary giant and a public intellectual, Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o is not new to Kenyans, and many are motivated to be part of his great story and achievements from his humble beginnings in Kamirithu, Limuru.
Besides Ali A. Mazrui, Ngugi remains perhaps one of the most famous Kenyan scholars internationally. He is without doubt the father of Kenyan literature and wrestles for the continental title with great Chinua Achebe. Many Kenyans were weaned on his novels from high school to university. He can rightfully be said to be one of the most visible public intellectuals in Kenya and has been engaged in issues of social justice, some of which got him detained.
I have never hidden my admiration for Ngugi, who helped produce the first generation of Kenyan scholars and pioneered in weaving literature with history in post-modern and post-colonial lenses before the post-colonial era. Some of the best illustrations of the history of Mau Mau and history of the peasantry and hoi polloi in Kenya have come to us through his works.
When I joined the University of Nairobi in the 1980s, Ngugi was one of the most famous names besides B.A Ogot, Godfrey Muriuki, Chris Wanjala, Gideon S. Were, Micere Mugo, Philip Mbithi, and Peter Anyumba, among others.
Literature was huge there at the time because it had famous names such as Ngugi, Micere Mugo, Okot p’Bitek, Taban Liyong, Chris Wanjala, Henry Indangasi, and Peter Anyumba, among others.
When James Ngugi dropped his Christian name, to become simply Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the shift in names of students at the university was visible, and continues to this day.
Ngugi is distinguished for stirring up some of the greatest global debates, such as his take on the use of vernacular as a better way of driving debate from the point of advantage. His argument that linguistic colonialism is the starting form of all kinds of exploitation remains relevant. The global linguistic hegemony exhibited by major linguistic blocs has vindicated Ngugi. The rise of China, Japan, Korea and other powers that have championed their own languages in technology have proved that, perhaps, Ngugi was right to ask us to rethink our own languages as tools of development.
Ngugi has also been regarded as one of the leading proponents of the post-colonial and post-modern theories of development through his take on the perpetuation of post-colonial exploitation after independence, famously known as neo-colonialism of the mind. He is often mentioned alongside dependency theory scholars such as Walter Rodney, Samir Amin, and Frantz Fanon, among others.
Eyebrows were raised when we announced to the world that Ngugi would come to give a public lecture at Kisii University, at Sagini Hall, on August 31, 2015 at 2pm.