Northlands saga and lessons from Ngũgĩ, Marx and Fanon

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Celebrated Kenyan author and scholar Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Even from a distance, Northlands farm, the bohemian enclave associated with former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s family, always gives the lush impression of wealth: the trees seem to have a hum—a sombre, cadenced, liturgical sound to them.

It’s a green canopy of tall eucalyptus trees with glittering fringes in the haze of the blazing sun, swaying in the wind and curving out of sight—with secret-seeming alleys underneath, making one imagine of ornate mansions, chic living rooms and private gardens or even a palace of thick, white-washed walls hidden behind the trees.

Northlands always seemed like an unassailable fortress until the perimeter wall was breached in a daring daytime raid accompanied by looting and burning. On Monday, March 27, 2023, all invincibility was shattered when a teeming, hostile swarm of people invaded Northlands.

The media clips were straight out of a horror movie—the men in manic, frenzied movements, unashamed in the harsh glare of the morning sun, the swell and flow of the crowd with the bleating of sheep as they were carted into vehicles or carried on men’s backs—encapsulating the desperate moment it takes for an empire to crumble into formless ruin.

The land looked a little bit frayed around the edges, desolate, stretching empty to the horizon under the open sky and speeding clouds galloping like wildebeests in the sky.

For workers at Northlands, life must have suddenly become disorderly, anxious, taut as a wire stretched to the limit, about to snap. They had woken up to a different place, and the world, as they had just discovered was unsafe and a far bigger place—and a far, far lonelier one.

By evening, part of Northlands farm was on fire. Wisps of pink lingered in the sky as it burnt into the night—the quivering flames biting the skyline like a row of pointed teeth. Northlands looked languished, disintegrated, and forgotten as if Kenya had forgotten the founding father (Mzee Jomo Kenyatta).


It was a spectacle that could sadden one to tears—emotive, harrowing, and devastating. It felt as if something sacred had been touched. A red line had been crossed. It was like peeling away the outer layers of things we know, into an unknown and dangerous zone.

The invasion of former President Uhuru’s farm echoes some aspects of Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, in which he adopts a Marxist perspective. Of course, fiction literature is mostly vague tropes and figures — imperfect estimates by verse or shadowy metaphors by prose.

This means that though literature mirrors society, it is an imperfect mirror, from which we can only pick nuanced clues and approximations. However, the picture of goons invading a former President’s farm is consistent with some of the tropes used by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Karl Marx and Frantz Fanon.

Fanon is famous for the term “wretched of the earth” meaning the poorest of the poor. According to Karl Marx, this group of the “wretched of the earth”, which he calls “proletariat” (meaning workers), are the ones employed by the bourgeoisie who own the means of production (like factories). 

The term “proletariat” dates to ancient Rome and referred to those who did not own property (maybe like “hustlers” in today’s lingo). These proletariats are many, accounting for much of the population that has no property. Marx argued that the world’s capitalist system contained the seeds of its own destruction due to the alienation and exploitation of the proletariats.

He argued that a time reaches when the proletariats are fed up and rise against the bourgeoisie—that the proletariats could take matters into their own hands like in the farm invasion.

And that’s where Ngũgĩ’s novel, Petals of Blood, comes in—when the “wretched of the earth” revolt against the power structures of the day. Petals of Blood follows the characters Munira and Karega, and barmaid Wanja and her boss, Abdulla, as they cope with the rapid changes brought by the modernisation of their rural village, Ilmorog.

To enact changes, the villagers (what Fanon would characterise as ‘the wretched of the earth’) are inspired by Karega to journey to Nairobi in order to confront their Member of Parliament.

The invasion, looting and destruction of property in former President Uhuru’s farm was unfortunate and should be condemned. But the event has reminded us of the clear and present dangers we have as a society—especially the grinding poverty of the masses and the multitudes of unemployed youth.

Invading people’s farms won’t solve this problem. The government has a task at hand to create opportunities for the youth and to reduce the gap between the haves and have-nots. It is also a warning shot that leaders’ words matter, and a few careless statements could spark violence we cannot contain. 

Interior Cabinet Secretary  Kithure Kindiki put it aptly recently that, “We must protect our country from sliding into irretrievable anarchy”. Let’s all step back from the brink and dial down the rhetoric (including social media vitriol). 

As Chinua Achebe wrote in Things Fall Apart, “We pray for life, children, a good harvest, and happiness. You will have what is good for you and I will have what is good for me. Let the kite perch and let the eagle perch too”.