Letters

Why Ngugi wa Thiong’o ‘won’t bag Nobel Prize’

Local media have reported that Ngugi wa Thiong’o has been touted as this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for literature.

However, there are also media stories circulating in Europe and America that point out that the Nobel Academy may have identified Japanese writer Haruki Murakami to be this year’s winner.

There was similar, talk that Ngugi would bag the prestigious prize in 2010, only for the Nobel Academy in Sweden to come up with a new name, that of Peruvian painter Llosa Vergasa. Just like Ngugi, Haruki Murakami was also touted in 2012, but he did not win the prestigious prize.

Alongside Murakami, American writer Joy Carol Oates has also been touted as a favourite. If Haruki Murakami is the winner, then his winning will be based on his main works, The Wind Up bird, Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His years of Pilgrimage. None of Murakami’s works have been translated into English but they are selling well in Japan.

Now, all odds aside, do Ngugi’s literary works really deserve or merit Nobel recognition?

The answers are both yes and no. There are very many in Kenya who will readily say yes, including former University of Nairobi students who were taught by Ngugi. There is also the class of Kenyans who have been conditioned by warped political culture that confines the Kenyan poor into a cocoon of chauvinistic thought that Ngugi should win because he is “one of us” — the same way as Barack Obama and Ezekiel Kemboi when they contest. This must be the same emotional line that the Kenyan media used to almost conclude that Ngugi would win, without telling Kenyans about the other likely winners overseas.

I belong to the school of thought that argues that Ngugi’s literary work does not merit recognition of the Nobel Prize for literature. This position is pegged on the global status of the Nobel Prize in relation to Ngugi’s Gikuyu literary and writing philosophy.

All Nobel prizes are awarded on the basis of particular efforts displayed with peculiarity. The Nobel Prize for literature is similarly awarded in recognition of unique literary efforts displayed by the winner, with the most basic literary virtue being conversion of theory into practice. This was called praxis by Karl Marx, Hegel, Antonio Gramsci and Paulo Freire, especially in Freire’s pedagogy of the oppressed.

The history of literature and politics in their respective homogenous and comparative capacities shows that there has been an eminent level of praxis by previous Nobel Prize winners.

This was the case from Rabitranathe Tagore to Wole Soyinka, from Doris Lessing to Wangari Maathai, JM Coetzee, Gao Tziaping, Alexander Vasleyvitch Solozhenystisn and Barack Obama. This ideological stand of praxis is what made Alfred Nobel deny Leo Tolstoy the prize in 1907 — because there was no clear connection between rudimentary Tolstoy in the nihilism and feasible Tolstoy in the possible manner of the times. In the  same vein, Ngugi’s literary works and his ideological choices are full of ideological theory but devoid of ideological praxis.

      {Alexander K Opicho, Eldoret}

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