Africa kills her sun: Why it’s pointless to belittle Ngugi

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Prof Ngugi wa Thiong'o. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

When Prof Henry Indangasi weighed into Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s acceptance of the Catalonia Prize for Literature last September, it did not end well.

Fast forward. Indangasi is at it again. This time round, in a long, winding piece published last Saturday in these pages where he accuses Ngugi of being made an associate professor without a PhD dissertation.

“Ngugi had apparently been sponsored by the British Council to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Leeds, but returned without this qualification,” he said.

He further tells Saturday Nation: “According to a research Evan Mwangi did for his doctorate, Ngugi’s master’s thesis had been rejected.”

Though the good professor of English literature and stylistics may have had a point or two in his literary barrage on Ngugi-Anyumba-Taban, I think that at the 50th anniversary of University of Nairobi’s Literature Department, he should have picked a worthy discourse, like Ngugi’s classical works: Weep Not, Child (1964) or A Grain of Wheat (1967).

Prof Indangasi’s fragmented attack on Ngugi is a telltale sign of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s short story, Africa Kills Her Sun, published in 1989.

Political activism

The Nigerian writer’s story foreshadows his eventual death six years later when he was jailed and then hanged by Nigeria’s military regime for his political activism.

Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka once averred: “The unethical critic is the greatest professional hazard for the African writer.” In this regard, Indangasi is insolent to the pioneer African writer.

In reference to this “unfriendly letter” to Ngugi and his contemporaries, he is being incredibly belligerent and bellicose for no apparent reason.

Anyway, it is not lost on the literary family that the scholar has of late become a specialist on criticising some of our literary godfathers.

In 2014, in an article titled: ‘Day I Invited Achebe to Taifa Hall’, he argued why Achebe was not so great.

In my rejoinder published a fortnight later, I reminded the writer that critics like him should know that we all live in glasshouses.

Back to indangasi’s last weekend’s missive, which inevitably was destined to elicit an avalanche of reactions within the academy.

Sieving through Twitter rebuttals, one ardent reader posted: “Indangasi’s gripe has been about the person of Ngugi and not about his works or capability. This is a literary tragedy.”

Another one responded: “Prof Indangasi passes as a fence-sitter, a system blue-eyed boy like Dr Josephat Karanja, the then UoN’s Vice-Chancellor who warned them about protesting over Ngugi’s incarceration.”

On the flipside, Kennedy Buhere, a communications director at the Ministry of Education, agrees with Indangasi, save for his smear on Ngugi.

Attack on Ngugi

He says: “I would rather focus on the salient issues Indangasi raised about the current state of teaching literature in our universities than emphasise on the ad hominem attack on Ngugi.”

Dear reader, one may have misgivings about Ngugi, his PhD or none of it notwithstanding, but one thing that stands out, he is a pioneer African novelist who literally dared the gods in the late 1970s when he co-authored with Ngugi wa Mirii Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Mary When I Want), a play that led to his detention during the Moi era.

Unlike Indangasi, Ngugi needs no introduction in any part of the world. I wonder why Indangasi doubts the cult personality bequeathed on the octogenarian scribe.

For 15 solid years as the chaperone of UoN’s Literature Department, Indangasi only takes pride in three PhD pre-eminent scholars — Wanjiku Kabiru, Muchugu Kiiri and Helen Mwanzi. Why can’t he tell us about some of the ‘classics’ he authored or co-authored when he was at the helm of the department?

What noticeable novel or play has he gifted this generation save for school textbooks?

Blame-game

Younger literature scholars like Prof Egara Kabaji of Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology and Dr Tom Odhiambo of the University of Nairobi have done better in the literature goldfield.

I can only term Indangasi’s blame-game on the three epic East African literati for not attaining PhD as “sons of Zebedee” syndrome chronicled in the Bible on who is greatest amongst them.

PhD or no PhD, Ngugi, Anyumba and Taban made an inerasable mark at UoN during the conceptualisation of its literature department.

It is sacrilegious for Indangasi not to demonstrate an iota of respect for his undergraduate teacher and former boss at the much hyped department.

Sadly, with such a mindset, Indangasi may remain uncelebrated many years to come.

The writer contributes on literary matters in the Saturday Nation and is the secretary of the International African Writers Association (IAWA) based in Abuja, Nigeria. [email protected]

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