Wanjiku wa Ngugi's novel a metaphor for greed

Wanjiku wa Ngugi's aurthor The Fall of Saints (2015) {PHOTO/STANDARD}

The word saint evokes in us expectations of piety, kindness, love, honesty, integrity, and other such terms associated with virtue.

In May, Kenyans witnessed the beatification of Sister Irene Stefani, on her way to sainthood. Among the many qualities that have been attributed to the blessed nun are kindness and compassion.

It would therefore be unthinkable and a betrayal of our expectations that a saint would exhibit qualities that counter the essence of sainthood. Placing the words “saint” and “falling” together therefore sounds paradoxical. Yet, that is exactly what Wanjiku wa Ngugi’s novel, The Fall of Saints (2015) does. It reminds us that trust is very fragile; that we can be betrayed and disappointed by people we trust.

The Fall of Saints tells the story of Mugure, a Kenyan woman who studies in America and ends up marrying Zack, a white man with Estonian roots.

Hers is what would be considered an ideal family with a husband who makes good money as a lawyer, a bright and happy son, and a home in an enviable address. Mugure does not need to work since Zack earns a good income and she spends most of her time shopping, taking care of her son and visiting beauty spas. However, she discovers that she might be living a lie as her husband seems to be involved in dubious business.

Mugure’s desire to unravel the truth about her husband brings her to Kenya where she receives death threats while trying to reach the root of the intricate web of a seeming global crime network.

She discovers that Zack, in cahoots with her best friend, runs a womb-for-hire and baby sales business in Kenya. Their business associates include a [fake] Catholic priest, a female preacher, doctors, nurses, among other hired goons.

They take advantage of poor young women from the slums, and contract them to bear children, through artificial fertilisation. Their offspring are sold to couples in Europe and America.

The women can have as many as four embryos implanted in their wombs at any one time. They become slaves, and those who try to get out of the arrangement or insist on keeping the babies are killed.

Some of the babies are killed and their parts sold to laboratories for stem cell research and to wealthy people for cloning purposes. Mugure also discovers, to her horror, that her best friend is actually her husband’s mistress.

The Fall of Saints is an apt metaphor of what greed for power and wealth does to a society: it erodes people’s souls and strips them of humanity. Greed can lead a seemingly loving family man to become a monster who can kill his wife and child to protect his business interests. Greed makes a person pretend to be a loyal friend while all the time stabbing the “friend” in the back.

Wanjiku’s novel shows that greed cuts across all spheres of the society — religious leaders, lawyers, political leaders, business people, and medical practitioners.

These are people who are trusted by the society and should set good examples and be role models. Enslaving young women is symbolic of what people who are trusted to ensure the wellness and posterity of a nation often do when they put their interests first. Killing babies and selling their body parts is outrageous!

Unfortunately, that is the kind of society that we have become — a society that consumes its own brood!

What happens when we cannot trust religious leaders? When “doctors are rapists? When the elected representatives forget their mandate and go on a wealth-seeking trip? 

There is no difference between the criminals in Wanjiku’s novel and politicians who allocate themselves huge salaries while their electorate sleep hungry or receive bribes to approve or reject motions in Parliament; pastors who prey on worshippers; government officers who embezzle public funds from heavily taxed Kenyans; teachers who rape school-going girls; or parents who marry off their underage daughters to older men in exchange for a few animals. ?

Just a few months ago we witnessed, in the National Assembly, competence and integrity sacrificed at the table of mediocrity and greed when a person nominated for a public office was rejected, not because of incompetence, but on account of allegations of “arrogance.”

Kenyans have become like the enslaved girls in the novel because our poverty and desperation are exploited from all quarters by individuals seeking to increase their wealth and power.

Just like the babies whose parts are sold to the wealthy, our children are in danger of being sold by unscrupulous nurses and care givers, others die of curable diseases because health centres lack drugs or the medical personnel are on strike.

Others are being killed slowly by being denied an education because the concerned authorities have not found it necessary to build schools, employ enough teachers, or pay the existing teachers decently.

Public companies are on their knees because devious managers have stolen funds.

Young men and women, desperate and destroyed by unemployment, are being exploited by well-protected brewers who, concerned only about wealth, use poisonous substances to make cheap alcoholic drinks.

Deceitful entrepreneurs set up fake schools and colleges to prey on poor unsuspecting citizens.

The novel reflects the proliferation of local and international criminal networks that enslave and violate women by using them as sex and reproduction objects.

Just like in the novel, there exist in the country many fake churches, charity or aid organisations, and children’s homes do the concerned authorities ever probe their alleged philanthropic acts or might some of them be facades for covert violence?

Who will protect us from the Zacks of this world?

Who will stop and destroy those who enslave Kenyans’ wombs?

The overriding message in The Fall of Saints is that unless we stem greed, we are headed for doom.

The writer teaches Literature at the University of Nairobi. [email protected]