Maillu to Ngugi: Come Back Home, Kenya Needs You

Writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o. Controversial writer, David Maillu asks "What can Kenyans give you in order to for you to come home and help them bury the corpse of their misery?" PHOTO/FILE

Writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Controversial writer, David Maillu asks “What can Kenyans give you in order to for you to come home and help them bury the corpse of their misery?” PHOTO/FILE

Dear Ngugi, kuhana atia mundu witu?

Allow me to write an open letter to you on behalf of myself, your intellectual fans and the spirits engaged in building our mother continent.

Just in case I sound irritant, bear with me, knowing well that he who cries has no beautiful lips.

This open letter is a cry against your physical disappearance from us. Forget it; your occasional visits to Kenya are not enough.

Allow me to think, dream or conclude that when you die, you will be buried in Kenya.

Think about the African wisdom that says you must eat and drink with people who will bury you. Kenyans will bury Professor Ngugi wa Thiongo’o, because he is a Kenyan Kikuyu. Period.

Way back in 1978, after you were released from detention by the Moi regime, perhaps you could remember the meeting I had with you on Kijabe Street.

You were glowing with bitterness for having been denied your teaching job at the University of Nairobi.

I tried to sell to you the philosophy of magnanimity with which you could handle the nasty political mood in the country.


“Brother,” I said. “You are a very special person to Kenyans. Save yourself for us by diverting from writing raw-nerve books like Ngahika Ndenda in order to buy time for the hostile regime to cool down.”

For an answer, you categorically told me: “David, if they don’t give me my job I am going to fight to the last drop of my blood.” You left the country to live, work and give weight to capitalism, the ideology you had been fighting fiercely against in Kenya. Knowing your value, the capitalist intelligence received you with open arms.

Eventually, when the Marxist cow died a natural death, they would adopt you by offering you a job and unbeatable opportunities with acknowledgement that, henceforth, you would swallow your pride fully and be party to the capitalist empire.

Capitalist institutions in which you live have grown a thick skin to any criticism against their ideology.

You could yell any critical statement against them yet you’d get away with murder because, after all, the crying of a chicken doesn’t stop the farmer from slaughtering it.

You justified your new frontier by promising: “I will return to live in Kenya after the Kanu regime has gone out of power.” To answer your call, eventually your kinsman, Mwai Kibaki, removed Kanu from power democratically in 2002.

What happened that you failed to live up your promise to Kenyans?

The only reason you have for living abroad is purely commercial — you are paid well for your effort there. Within that framework, you have created a philosophy to justify your stay by saying that, after all, your people still benefit from your writing wherever you may be and that you don’t have to live in Kenya in order to write.

If so, for example, what is your philosophy in publishing a Kikuyu magazine in the US, where there are only a handful of Kikuyus, instead of publishing it in Kenya where we have a Kikuyu population of over six million? Misplaced thinking?

You are likely to reply: “Who would support me to publish a Kikuyu magazine in Kenya?”


There’s always a justification for everything. There is a proverb that says if you want to eat a hyena, you say it is too young to have eaten a human being.

I have to refer to a particular meeting I had with you during a writers’ conference in Stockholm, Sweden, where you breathed fire into white people’s ears with regard to the dictatorship and inhumanity of the Kenyan government.

I took you aside to a corner and asked you: “Why do you tell these white people such things about your mother country when you know too well that even if the white people were murderers they would keep silent about it to outsiders?”

You answered: “I have the right to speak up my mind about the evils taking place in my country.” I asked you: “Speak your mind to whom?” You replied by shrugging your shoulders and ended the conversation.

Mwana wa mutumia, remember Wole Soyinka as one of the speakers at the conference? His powerful voice spoke defensively about Nigeria and expressed how he had missed the Nobel Prize by an inch.

When outside their country, the protective Nigerians always give you the impression that their country (kontry) is the best in Africa.

Most Kenyan writers walk outside the country bearing the loudest mouths, airing dirty Kenyan linen in international places. They get awfully excited when they are applauded for their presentation. Why?

One day, I challenged one of your diaspora colleagues, Prof Evan Mwangi: “Why are you working in America instead of coming home to help build the nation intellectually?”

The mysterious soft-spoken scholar replied: “Where are the jobs in Kenya? Who wants us? They pay peanuts forour sweat. That leaves us with no other choice but to engage intellectual prostitution.”

Tell me, what is the cost of that prostitution to the development of our country and the so-called underdeveloped continent?


Your old University of Nairobi colleague, Professor Micere Mugo, a victim of Kanu dictatorship like you, uses diplomatic words to say why she’s teaching Americans. “Give me a job; I’d love to work in Kenya.”

I’ve met some of the Kenyan diaspora intellectuals who have asked me: “David, what magic have you used to make you survive permanently in Kenya?”

They didn’t believe me when I replied, “Sacrifice.”Wa Thiong’o, please, you being a big man in Africa and an intellectual who would make big difference in building Africans intellectually, I am imploring you to reconsider joining hands with us on the ground to intellectually fend for the needy and desperate transitional generation.

You will agree with me that the corpse of African misery can only be buried by Africans.

The world wouldn’t give a damn to see your parents walk in tatters. African misfortune is fortune to outsiders. One of those misfortunes is brain drain, which can only be handled by sacrifice; that you have to eat less in order to make someone else eat.

Please, join hands with me in paying tribute to Professor Wangari Mathai’s pace-setting sacrifice.

The most traumatised woman in Kenya fought relentlessly, surviving all manner of humiliation by a government that saw her as a liability. She died not only for Kenya and Africa but also for the world.

She was never given any of the medals that President Kibaki thought his wife, Lucy, deserved more.

You are an international celebrity who has never been given that medal which, I think, you would not accept. By accepting it, you would be condoning the rot in the government that does not recognise its intellectual heroes.

The government was awfully embarrassed when Wangari was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Even thereafter, she was still treated like any other village woman.

Wa Thiong’o, Kenya’s greatest woman died in Kenya and we buried her in Kenya. She refused to work outside Kenya. She turned down that fat salary.

There is big money in America, where you can even demand $1,000 (Sh85,000) just for giving a public lecturer. In Kenya, you would be lucky to get Sh10,000 for such a lecture.

However, everything has a price. Bearing the cross on behalf of the people would mean accepting a big pay cut. But the value you will have added to the community would be invaluable.


Wa Thiong’o, intellectual prostitution is marketable for Kenyans, but at what cost? You used to preach socialism. Have you changed and started preaching and practising real capitalism?

What can Kenyans give you in order to for you to come home and help them bury the corpse of their misery?

Do you know how much inspiration you would instil in young people by interacting with them face to face?

Surely, Africans need you much more than Americans do. You are an invaluable elder who should be reachable always for consultation.

Drop money addiction for a noble course; the more money you make, the more you want to make.

If we can’t have a job for you, come and make use of your creativity to set up something which will institutionalise your name.

You are already an institution and you must give that institution a true playground.

You could come up with something like Wa’Thiong’o Creative College University, or a research institution, or a drama college, or a literary centre. By so doing, you would also create jobs for others and be bigger than what you are today in America.

Borrow a leaf from Wangari Mathai who created the Greenbelt Movement, which made Africa proud.

Stop eating alone; eat with us! Help reverse the dragon of brain-drain that is killing socio-economic developing in Africa. You will be surprised how many other intellectuals will follow suit if you decide to bear the flag.

Leave America to Americans. Instead, attract and bring Americans to develop Africa.Brother, don’t be scared of Kanu ghosts; they are no longer there. Even Kibaki has retired.

Creatively, there are more expansion opportunities for you in Africa than there are in the US.

– Daily Nation