Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo’: Literary icon delights as diaspora fetes him

“This one is special and personal”, were the words of Kenya’s literary giant – Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o, as he delivered his acceptance speech following a lifetime achievement award from the African diaspora at an event held over the weekend at Georgia State University, Atlanta. 

Another feather to his crown for his contribution to literature and social activism, awarded under the auspices of the Kenya Diaspora Alliance – USA and several African diaspora organizations.

“I have been awarded 14 honorary degrees from different universities across the world, but this recognition by the African Diaspora and especially Kenyans in the US, feels very special and personal,” said Prof Ngugi, 86, who had received his latest honorary degree in Canada, just two days earlier.

“I appreciate everyone who organized this event. I also urge Africans to write in their mother tongue to conserve their culture and history.” 

Former Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission member Roselyne Akombe and Kenyan scholar Mkawasi Mcharo were the masters of ceremonies at the colorful event, attended by African professionals, authors, business leaders and literature enthusiasts, among others. 

The MCs defined Ngugi as a true Pan-Africanist who has challenged oppression through the power of the pen. 

“His literary works continue to inspire intellectual discourse and will do so for decades to come. He is a global citizen, who the world continues to revere,” said Akombe.

Senior counsel Pheroze Nowrojee, a long-time friend of Ngugi’s who has also represented him in court on a number of occasions, presented the award before delivering a keynote speech to the audience that lauded Mwalimu Ngugi’s works and agitation for social justice since the 1960s.

According to Nowrojee, Ngugi’s consistency in fighting for social justice through his writings had made him an embodiment of resilience, a symbol of commitment to one’s principles and a never-dying resolution to keep oppressive regimes uncomfortable. 

“Prof Ngugi’s intellectual works continue to challenge oppressive regimes and agitate for freedom of expression and justice for everyone,” said Nowrojee.

Kenya Diaspora Alliance president Saisi Marasa said Prof Ngugi’s works have inspired millions of people worldwide in his quest to agitate for decolonization of African minds.

“Mwalimu’s searing pen has been a powerful tool against social injustice, support for cultural identity. As a social-political critic, Ngugi remains a go-to mind when engaging on salient issues,”said Marasa. 

“From things national to personal, his opinion makes for points of debate and departure, and inadvertently, his personal life occasionally becomes a point of introspection into matters as taboo and socially relevant as those in his literary characters live through as art imitates life.” 

There were tributes from far and wide, including by compatriots and comrades of the liberation struggle like former Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana. 

They dubbed the award the People’s Nobel Prize for literature and Ngugi described it as his greatest honor. 

In his acceptance speech, Prof Ngugi clarified that his works of literature are dedicated to freedom of expression and inspiration for all global citizens suffering oppression. 

Speaking just days after a scathing attack on President William Ruto for his dalliance with western powers, Ngugi called for freeing Africa from the threat of neocolonialism, preservation of African culture and languages. He challenged authors to write and publish their works in their mother tongues.  

“Respect your identity and African languages. The power of resilience and enduring story-telling will make the world listen to you,” he said, adding that an artist is the ruler, who leads and shapes the form of community development. 

“Languages are reservoirs of our cultures. They are repositories of our African dreams, hopes and experiences. You must safeguard the words and our history.

“Our mother tongues will be our wings of glory. An awakened people gets self-confidence and the ability to prosper.” 

Diaspora One Voice Consortium founder Robert Chiuri read Kenya Tourism Board CEO June Chepkemei’s tribute citing Prof Ngugi’s works as bold and representing the best Kenya can offer the world.

“We are all gathered here today, not just as Kenyans or Africans, but as global citizens who appreciate the power of words and stories that liberate minds and transform societies. For decades, Prof Ngugi’s writings have stirred our collective conscience, forced us to confront uncomfortable truths, and inspired us to keep fighting for a more just world. 

“His novels, plays, essays and memoirs have had an indelible impact both in Kenya and around the world. KTB is indeed proud to not only be a part of this event but also play a role in investing in the creative arts and cultural experiences that continue to form part of Magical Kenya’s compelling tourism proposition.” 

Chantee Earl from Georgia State University said Prof Ngugi’s contribution to literature and fight for writing in African languages will help preserve cultures and people’s identities. 

“As educators, we have a huge duty to leverage on our African languages and preserve our cultures,” she said.

“Today, we are celebrating one of the most important figures in letters in the 21st century, not just as a writer but also a literary theorist.” 

Biotechnology expert and author Washington Osiro said Prof Ngugi’s literary works will be a reference point for decades, with human rights lawyer Maina Kiai noting how Ngugi’s works have continued to have a profound impact on the ordinary man, including push for change. 

“Changing society for the better can only happen through the grassroots. Ngugi’s works give the poor a voice and ability to demand what they deserve,” Kiai told the forum, revealing how his love for Ngugi’s works landed him in trouble as a teenager.

“One time, in high school, I directed Prof Ngugi’s book “Trial of Dedan Kimathi and got expelled from school, but that triggered a desire to fight oppression at that early age,” said the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights boss.

Communications consultant Mukurima Muriuki read several tributes from around the world, hailing Ngugi as an inspiration to generations of writers and provoking thought among millions of readers. 

He read tributes from, among others, (Kivutha) Kibwana, Dr Kimani Njogu, young author Wahu Njoroge, Mwandawiro Mghanga and Mwangi Mutahi.

Kibwana termed Ngugi as a citizen of the world adding that his creative writing makes him a prophet, who is unfortunately widely respected, but rarely appreciated at his home Kenya. 

Artist Kwame Rigii kept the participants on their toes with his powerful performance of several songs, including the famous one titled, “Mwene Nyaga, twakohoya”, while journalist and social justice advocate Milton Nyakundi addressed the gathering with a presentation of Ngugi’s profile and biography.

“Today, we celebrate a Kenyan, an African, and a child of the world who went on to conquerall limitations of the mind. He is indeed a literary icon and a foundation stone for many present and future budding authors and fighters of freedom and justice,” said Nyakundi.








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