Dekolonisierung des Denkens, the new German edition of Ngugi’s iconic collection of essays, Decolonising the Mind, is coming with something major: five afterwords by five African writers from different countries—Zimbabwe’s Petina Gappah, South Africa’s Sonwabiso Ngcowa, Senegal’s Boubacar Boris Diop, Cameroon’s Achille Mbembe, and Kenya’s Mukoma wa Ngugi. The collection is translated from the English by Thomas Brückner and was published in October 2017 by Unrast Verlag.
Petina Gappah’s afterword recently appeared as an exclusive in The Johannesburg Review of Books. In it, she discusses Ngugi’s influence on her and her relationship with his proposal of language change.
I had the great privilege to meet Ngũgĩ in 2012 at the Gothenburg Book Festival, where more than sixty writers from across the continent of Africa were guests of honour. I had long been an admirer of his fiction, from the time I read his moving novel The River Between as a schoolgirl in Harare, but it was his polemical work Decolonising the Mind that had the greatest impact on me.
I first read Decolonising the Mind in 1995. I was a postgraduate student in Austria, writing my Doktorarbeit at the Institut für Völkerrecht at the Rechtswissenschaften Fakultät at the University of Graz. Bored out of my mind by my thesis in trade law, I took solace in my real love, which was reading. I haunted the library of the Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, and borrowed books by the bucketload. It was there, in the middle of my first Austrian winter, that I read Decolonising the Mind.
As I would tell Ngũgĩ when I met him in Gothenburg many years later, the book had a deeply profound effect on me—one that was both uplifting and debilitating. His central and irrefutable argument is that Africans have experienced two forms of colonisation: that of their land and of their minds. With every African state now independent, the colonisation of the land is over. What remains is the debilitating colonisation of the mind, which makes colonisation permanent long after its physical aspects end. For what the coloniser achieved was to separate the African from the language of his culture and community by inculcating in him the belief that the language of his education was not only superior, but also the means of his civilisation.
Ngũgĩ’s response to that process is to assert the dignity of African languages as a method of instruction and as a means of writing and seeing the world, to assert once and for all the relevance of our languages, and in that way to bring back the disrupted harmony between language and world-view. The book concludes with a declaration that was, as his consistency and commitment have proven, both a programme of action and a call to arms: From now on it is Gĩkũyũ and Kiswahili all the way!
It seemed to me when I read Decolonising the Mind that Ngũgĩ had looked into my education and written about me. For the experience he narrates of his education in Kenya in the nineteen-fifties was the same story I experienced in Zimbabwe in the nineteen-eighties and nineteen-nineties.
Read the full essay HERE.