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Ngugi and Maillu

David Maillu, a Kenyan genre fiction writer, calls Ngugi wa Thiongo out for living and working in America.

Ngugi was forced to flee Kenya following his release from prison in the late 70s. {click here to learn more about his imprisonment.} He has since lived and taught in the US.

Like Soyinka and Nadine Gordimer, I’ve always thought of Ngugi as one of those mid to late century African writers who have paid their dues. If they choose to have a chilled old age, they totally deserve it. Ngugi fought bravely against an oppressive regime, risking everything, and suffered greatly.

Accusing him of “intellectual prostitution.” Isn’t that a bit strong? Here are quotes of Maillu’s accusations. What do you think?

INTELLECTUAL PROSTITUTION:  

Wa Thiong’o, intellectual prostitution is marketable for Kenyans, but at what cost? You used to preach socialism. Have you changed and started preaching and practicing real capitalism? What can Kenyans give you in order to for you to come home and help them bury the corpse of their misery? Do you know how much inspiration you would instill in young people by interacting with them face to face? Surely, Africans need you much more than Americans do. You are an invaluable elder who should be reachable always for consultation.Drop money addiction for a noble course; the more money you make, the more you want to make.If we can’t have a job for you, come and make use of your creativity to set up something which will institutionalize your name.”

FAILING THE MARXIST MANDATE:
“You left the country to live, work and give weight to capitalism, the ideology you had been fighting fiercely against in Kenya. Knowing your value, the capitalist intelligence received you with open arms.”
AIRING KENYA’S DIRTY LAUNDRY: 
“I have to refer to a particular meeting I had with you during a writers’ conference in Stockholm, Sweden, where you breathed fire into white people’s ears with regard to the dictatorship and inhumanity of the Kenyan government. I took you aside to a corner and asked you: “Why do you tell these white people such things about your mother country when you know too well that even if the white people were murderers they would keep silent about it to outsiders?” You answered: “I have the right to speak up my mind about the evils taking place in my country.” I asked you: “Speak your mind to whom?” You replied by shrugging your shoulders and ended the conversation. Mwana wa mutumia, remember Wole Soyinka as one of the speakers at the conference? His powerful voice spoke defensively about Nigeria and expressed how he had missed the Nobel Prize by an inch. When outside their country, the protective Nigerians always give you the impression that their country (kontry) is the best in Africa.”

{Read full letter here.}

 

Ngugi’s son, Mukoma wa Ngugi, defends his dad saying that it’s got to count for something that his father spoke against the government when it mattered. Besides, he has never abandoned Kenya and the continent. {click here to read his reply to Maillu.}

 

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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