Ngugi wa Thiong’o is a celebrated writer and academic that has inspired a whole generation of writers in the country, across the African terrain and all over the world. Guys like me have always wanted to be him from the first day we read his book. I had already read several of his books by the time I was enrolling into high school a few years ago: a grain of wheat, the river between (my favorite), petals of blood, Matigari, just to name a few.
Him and the late Chinua Achebe, and of course not forgetting Margaret Ogolla, the author of The River and the Source, are some of my favorite African writers. And I respect them so much.
Having said that, I think Ngugi’s recent campaign, or should I call it mission, is a little suspicious for a man of his status. I mean, asking Kenyans to introduce mother tongue in schools at this age!
Ngugi wants schools in the country to start teaching in mother tongue. Like seriously! Bringing up something like that in a country of forty-four tribes – not forgetting Indians, the latest addition – is ludicrous, and even makes one wonder about the sanity of the professor.
Maybe age is finally catching up with the man. We can’t blame him for that, at 81 he’s obviously old. You know old people sometimes tend to think like kids. Or maybe the good professor has been abroad for far too long that he has not been privy to the progress we’ve made as a country as far as fighting and ending tribalism is concerned. He doesn’t know the tribalism nightmare we have to go through each day in this country.
He might not know but while he’s there overseas, enjoying the American Dream, we’re here grappling with this disease. At this age you wouldn’t believe you still have to know someone to get even an industrial attachment, let alone a job. Your last name still defines if you’re going to get that job or not. After the famous “handshake” it did seem like we’ve finally found the cure, but unfortunately, the handshake was just a pain-killer. We still have the real problem. 2022 is just around the corner, wait and see the evil head of the serpent show up again.
Kenya has Kiswahili — plus English — as the official language, which is also the East African official language. And our dream is to see it become the East and Central African official language. Maybe asking schools to adopt Swahili as the teaching language instead of English somehow would’ve seemed like a good idea. One common language like what most European and Asian countries are doing. The likes of China, Germany, Spain, teach their people in their own language instead of English like we Kenyans and most African countries are doing. They have their own language and they’re proud of it.
Imagine the confusion teaching in forty-four distinct languages is going to bring in schools around the country. How does he suppose a student from Western Kenya and who only understands Luhya, the local dialect, and attends a school in Central province where the local language is Kikuyu, is going to learn? Does he mean that this student would have to learn Kikuyu first before being admitted into that school? Or should the student go back to a school in his ethnic region? And what about that Somali or Giriama teacher in that school? Does it mean that they too would have to go and learn the local dialect as well? What would be the consequence of that?
The professor is certainly a tribalist. No apologies. If you are calling for people to start going back to their own ethnic regions, what does that make you? Obviously a tribalist! I am of course aware that he dismisses tribalism in his book, Secure The Base.
“Tribalism is a colonial creation that seeks to make Africans look small, weak and incomprehensible.” — Ngugi wa Thiong’o in Secure The Base
This is a person who is either too obsessed with being relevant in the country again after so many years of living in the diaspora, or only wants to destroy the progress we’ve made as a country in bringing the Kenyan communities together.
This a man who still lives in the pre-independent Kenya, when it was every tribe for itself. Superiority of tribes and their tribe chiefs over others. Kenya today is an integrated community with all tribes and races of the world co-existing in harmony. You go to a classroom in a school in Nairobi and you will see students from almost all the Kenyan tribes; from the Giriama and Taita in the Coastal region to a student from Turkana in the Northern part of the country, and there are students from the Indian community, the Chinese, Europeans and Americans. How does the professor expect these students to learn? Each to be taught in their local dialect?
As much as we agree that we as Kenyans, and Africans in general need to uphold our culture and languages, introducing it in schools is certainly not the solution. This will certainly further drive a wedge between Kenyan people and fuel the already volatile and never ending tribal issue in the country.
The world today is nothing but a global village with very few barriers remaining to a universal language where interpreters would be jobless (on a light note), and where some of the factors that have led to segregation like skin color or the accent of ones tongue will be no more. All the communities around the globe living like one big human family where you can marry or get married to any tribe, or race without too much restrictions.
And here is a professor in the 21st century, a man who should be helping the world achieve that as one of his legacies, asking us to live like the 19th century people. What sort of madness is this? I hope the country won’t buy into his backward vision. Let parents decide on whether they want their children to know their mother tongue or not, and teach them themselves.
I believe this is not exactly what President Uhuru Kenyatta had in mind when he was asking Ngugi wa Thiong’o to come back home.