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Ngugi Wa Thiong'o: Ruto's taxes mirror colonial times

Prof Ngugi wa Thiong'o speaks during his book 'Kenda Muiyuru' launch at the Kenya National Theatre in February 2019. [George Orido, Standard]

The legend is at it again. Prof Ngugi Wa Thiong'o’s satire and capacity to mock and ridicule the ruling class that knows no geographical bounds is back.

Today as millions of Kenyans mull the implications of taxes which have been introduced by the government and reinforced in Treasury Cabinet Secretary's statement Thursday, Ngugi who is self-exiled in California, has his most potent tool, the pen to highlight the government’s excesses.

The 86-year-old award winning novelist has not only defied age but technology, resorting to social media platform, TikTok to pen his newest stinging story, Magooti ma Mwaura Andu. Using Mwaura Andu, a character borrowed from Caitani Muthabaini, the author satirizes President William Ruto’s tax policies.

Ngugi has defied prison, age, technology, and geographical distance to afflict the powerful ruling class just as he did at his prime in his seminal novel Caitani Muthabaini (Devil on The Cross) rendered in Gikuyu which he  wrote on toilet paper while in detention half a century ago.

In the short story, Magooti ma Mwaura Andu which means the tax collector who strips people, Ngugi’s poem talks of a fictional character, whose love for coats which in vernacular shares the same name as taxes.

Ngugi in a soft grandfatherly tone  introduces his short story, which is performed by, Ndungi Wa Githuku. The story tells of Mwauraandu avarice sand love of suits which he buys  in all colours, earning himself the nickname, Munene Wa Magooti (the chief tax collector.)

The fictional character loves the  nick name, and lives to its meaning, ordering  his subjects  to kneel before him and then graduates to stripping them their own coats. By play of words, the word magooti gains multiple meanings from coats, tax, kneeling down  and even mutates to maggot. In the meantime, Mwaurandu wa Magooti apes the colonial government which introduced hut tax as a way of subjugating the natives.

He likens what is happening today to the colonial days, depicting a situation where all manner of taxes have been introduced including levies on anybody who builds a rabbit pen, chicken coop, borehole and even toilet.

Ngugi writes about avocado tax where a farmer is supposed to pay a tax for every fruit sold. He predicts that going by the current trend the government may impose taxes on couples and may even start charging a levy on a range of activities including breathing.

The fictional predictions mirror what the author had written in Caitani Muthabaini where one of his fictional characters had invented a method of selling air to the people. The book whose central themes were corruption, exploitation and neocolonialism had scenes of newly minted black millionaires organizing a competition where they were to choose the most innovative thief adjudicated by the former colonial masters .

Ngugi's story of taxes in a follow up of an open letter he recently wrote to the president during his state visit to United States where he accused President Ruto of selling the country to capitalists.

In his letter, Ngugi was unhappy with the symbolism of Ruto’s visit, how he sat on the Resolute Desk at the OVal Office. This is the desk which had been used by many US presidents to issue some controversial edicts which changed the world like the bombing of Japan during World War II. Ngugi also reminded the head of state that by sending 1000 police officers to Haiti, he was being used as a pawn by the US.

According to Ngugi, the deployment negated Kenya's place as a cradle for liberation struggle against colonialists because the Mau Mau struggle had inspired colonies to rise up against their oppressors just as Haiti had motivated slaves to rise up against their masters 200 years earlier when they defeated Napolen Bonaparte’s forces.

Ngugi’s satirical voice joins others raised by Kenyans who are unhappy with a raft  of  new taxes which they fear will make their life extremely difficult.

Some of the new taxes are motor vehicle circulation tax calculated at 2.5 per cent of the value of the car to be paid annually, eco levy tax where  prices of car batteries will shoot by at least 8,000 while diapers will also shoot from Sh30 to Sh70.

The price of bread is poised to increase following the introduction of a 16 per cent VAT tax meaning a 400 gramme loaf could rise by Sh10, while salaried employees will grapple with housing levy, Social health insurance Fund.  The introduction of Charges on money transfer has left many Kenyans grumbling.

However President Ruto’s government has insisted that Kenyans must pay all these taxes so as to bridge the Sh508 billion gap and enable the country to continue servicing theSh11 trillion.