Ngugi wa Thiongo is a prolific Kenyan writer whose writing has won acclaim worldwide. His fiction and academic output places him in a class of his own and critics comfortably put him in the same league with Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka both from Nigeria, who have earned themselves the status of father figures of African Literature
Born in Central Kenya in 1938, his first novel Weep Not Child was published in 1964, followed by The River Between, A grain of Wheat, Petals of Blood, Devils on the Cross, Detained ,Matigari, The Wizard of the Crow.
Although as a creative writer he is best known as novelists, he has written plays, short stories and poetry. In his nonfiction books like Home Coming, Decolonizing the Mind, and Writers in Politics, he expounds his ideas on Literature and Politics.
As a novelist his works can be said to be representative of the new literature that emerged from Africa in the 1960s which in his words “created for the first time a genuine pan-African writing. Look at Wole Soyinka or Chinua Achebe. Those people are seen as our writers.
People don’t think of Achebe as a writer who comes from Nigeria, although he does. He is welcomed not as someone who comes from outside, but as one of our own. Whatever other roles they play, they have played a very important role in a very complex form it has created a pan-African awareness”.
Ngugi’s novels educate the reader about African historical development, promote traditional values and puts a high premium on preserving African culture.
The novels chronologically explores the social rupture caused by first contact with colonialism and contrasts the experience with life before the encounter, resistance to and struggle against colonialists and disillusionment with post-colonial states.
Ngugi tells the story of Africa in his fiction in such a way that his ideological stance is clear. He vehemently attacks neo-colonialism and inept African leaders both in his fiction and literary essays and proposes some solutions.
His concern for the disruption of African culture and advocacy for cultural renaissance as a way of countering cultural imperialism and averting what Okot B’Bitek called “ “apemanship resulting from the self- hatred of the educated African who continues to embrace European mode of life he half understands, scornfully rejecting his own African values and living culture” is evident in Ngugi’s fiction particularly in Wizard Of the Crow published in 2006.The satirical novel is set in the fictitious Free Republic of Aburiria, governed by a dictator whose ministers go to ridiculous levels of loyalty by undergoing plastic surgery to their ears, eyes and tongues, to be able to detect and silence dissent.
The ministers who are in competition to flatter the dictator support his attempt to get the Global Bank to fund a multi –trillion Marching to Heaven project. This is absurd given the poverty afflicting the masses of the republic.
The novel depicts urban/rural division, African pride versus class struggles which are not rare phenomena in post colonial Africa. These ills may be attributed to lack of cultural values which is demonstrated through “ whiteache”, a illness in Aburiria, of whose victims suffer a burning desire to be white like their colonial masters.
The message is clear; African should be proud of what they are and seek solutions appropriate to their reality. In this novel Ngugi indicts leaders who connive with foreigners to sell to Africa ideas that only benefit the marauding ‘investors’ at the expense of African masses.
Some scholars, however, hold a contrary view and find fault with Ngugi’s writing or ideas. Historian Professor Wiliam Ochieng in 2nd May issue of Sunday Nation of Kenya, said that Ngugi is fighting a losing battle, accusing Ngugi of preaching politics in his works and persistently attacking imperialism, neo-colonialism, pleading for nationalism, promotion of African languages and his anger at colonial land alienation; outdated issues he asserts.
The professor couldn’t be far from wrong. First of all to suggest that Ngugi should stop preaching politics, imputes Art for arts sake, a notion advanced by Taban lo Liong in The Last Word. About The River Between.
Taban says that Ngugi errors “because he is engrossed in exposing his ideas and ideals than in adhering to artistic precepts”. This view has challenged on the grounds that literature should serve society.
Ngugi says that “ Literature does not grow or develop in a vacuum, it is given impetus, shape direction, political and economic forces in a particular society.”
Jean Satre reinforces the relationship between literature and society when he says that “To write for one’s age is not to reflect it passively: it is to want to maintain it or change, thus to go beyond it towards the future…”, and precisely that is what Ngugi does, showing us as Achebe says ‘when the rain began to beat us’, and the writer as a teacher has to guide society and at the same time act as the conscience of the society, to warn us against the dangers posed by grandiose ‘ Marching to Heaven’ projects. Ngugi has done Africa proud.