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We are not savages, Ngugi wa Thiong’o tells politicians

By Wilfred Ayaga | June 5th 2015

NAIROBI: Author Ngugi wa Thiong’o has taken a swipe at the country’s political leaders for fanning ethnic divisions, while ignoring the yawning gap between the rich and the poor.

The academician, in a stinging jibe, described the term ‘tribe’ as ‘a collection of savages’ and wondered why Kenyans were still referring to themselves in terms of tribes, while the rest of the world had long ago abandoned such negative references.

“We are still viewing ourselves in very negative terms. Tribe is a very abusive language. When you talk of George Bush or Tony Blair, you don’t talk about English or American tribesmen, you call them Englishmen or Americans. Let us call people by the names they call themselves,” said Ngugi.

“I only know of two tribes. The haves and the have nots. It is very easy for the elite to tell the people that the problem is the other community. I believe there are conditions and systems that are blinding people to their miserable plight,” said the author, who is in the county to mark the golden jubilee of his novel ‘Weep not Child’.

The novel is a description of the shaping of modern Kenya and a study on the virtue of perseverance in the face of harsh realities.

The don, who spoke during a meeting with journalists, moaned that the country’s elite had taken the dangerous path of subjecting the citizens to tribal feelings, while doing little to improve the lives of the downtrodden.

Ngugi’s sentiments mirror those of his writings where he moans the suffering of ordinary peasants. For this reason, he has often been described as as Marxist writer.

“When we talk about unity, it is not the unity of the elite. It is the unity of ordinary Kenyans. The unity of the elite means people meeting at a five star hotel for a drink,” said Ngugi..

Ngugi also delved into a wide range of subjects, including asking why the country lags behind in development despite its enormous resources.

He later gave a lecture at the Kenyatta University, where he recalled his struggle and those of other dons to promote the use of local languages.


It is at the same university that he gave his last lecture before he was detained in 1977. This was shortly after he and a group of lecturers had set up a modern theatre that became famous for the Gikuyu play, Ngaahika Ndenda (I will Marry When I Want).

Ngugi recalled how security forces raided his home in the dead of the night and confiscated all copies of the play.

“People would come from far and wide to watch the play in their own language. When the authorities came for me, I was lucky that I had some of my clothes on,” said Ngugi in a captivating narration that is so evident in his books.

“I woke the following day at Kamiti, and realised that I was no longer identified by the name, or a Professor at the University of Nairobi. I was identified by a number,” he recalled.

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