Dr Kimani Njogu shares a keynote speech by Professor Micere Mugo during the International Conference on Soap Operas held in Nairobi in June 2003, where she emphasised the criticality of our orature heritage.
I first encountered Professor Micere Mugo in the 1970s through her writings which, in a sense, answered some of the questions I had at the time. As a young man, I had been grappling with questions of socio-economic inequality, exclusion, and abuse of power by the political elites. I wanted to comprehend the role of literature in understanding and shaping society. I was reading Frantz Fanon, Fidel Castro, Amilcar Cabral, Kim Chi Ha, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and other writers. On reading Daughter of My People, Sing! I was taken by the accessibility of the poetry and the imperative of the gender lens in the liberation struggle. Then I read The Trials of Dedan Kimathi and noted the power of the female characters. Later, I met Mwalimu Micere at an African Studies Association Conference in the US and we established a connection that saw us work together during the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC) period, particularly on the question of the place of culture in the Constitution of Kenya. Her articulation of culture from a rights perspective was clear and precise; it was embedded in her narrative. Mwalimu Micere was a committed intellectual. She was fully present and shared her knowledge generously. She broke the shackles of containment and engaged varied communities wherever they were located. Her terrain was not confined to the university; it was everywhere in the pursuit of justice.
When I organized an International Conference on Soap Operas in Nairobi in June 2003 I was privileged to host Mwalimu Micere. She gave a powerful keynote speech that I would like to share with you here as we received it then.
This is her voice:
Thank you very much indeed Dr Njogu for that kind introduction. Allow me to also thank Dr Onsongo for a very focused speech, especially in terms of the work that is before us at this summit, and the president of PCI [Population Communications International] for the illustrative remarks following the speech. 
Let me begin by really expressing deep appreciation for the invitation to come to this soap summit as the keynote speaker. When Dr Njogu invited me, I explained that recently I have been cutting down on my speaking engagements for all kinds of reasons — including health concerns. However, in the end there was no way I was going to say no to Dr Njogu as he twisted my hand so hard that I ended up accepting to come. Frankly, were it not for health problems, I would never have needed any arm-twisting to accept an invitation to come to Kenya. Just a mention of the motherland would have definitely done the trick!
So, I am really delighted to be with you all and wish to express gratitude to the PCI for funding my travel here. In particular, I want to thank Lillian Chege for shouldering a lot of work in preparing my itinerary, which was a little problematic. Once more, it is truly a pleasure to be at this summit and to have the opportunity of networking with all of you.
Permit me now to become a bit personal and recognize in our midst here two very special people — my sisters. Mrs Kiereini is a former Chief Nursing Officer in Kenya, currently serving as the Chairperson of the AMREF Board of Directors, and Mrs Marekia, a former secretary/office administrator who is now a businesswoman. Please join me in welcoming them to this soap summit even though they only came to offer me sisterly solidarity by listening to my address. As for all the many friends that I see here and whom I cannot name individually, I embrace each one of you and just want to say how delighted I am to see you at this forum.
At this juncture, I would like to comment in quite some detail on the symbolism of this moment when we find ourselves meeting in Kenya. I feel the need to do so for several reasons that will unfold. But do not worry! Even though I was given up to one hour to make my remarks, I am going to do my best to cut down on my text because there are some people here who need to get away soon. In fact, I am going to speak to my speech rather than read it out and so if it is a little incoherent please understand that it is because I am trying to be sensitive about taking too much space when time is proving to be such an elusive commodity. Moreover, jet lag has been playing tricks on me and I haven’t been sleeping well at all since my arrival. As a result, I am feeling a bit lightheaded.
But, let me move onto symbolism.
The first level of symbolism that I wish to comment on is the tenacity that has made this summit convene at all. Personally, I am quite amazed that it is taking place. Only a week ago, there were e-mail alerts that all international conferences scheduled to take place in Kenya had been cancelled for security reasons. Dr Njogu must have been very vigilant because before I could get onto my computer keyboard to ask him whether the information in circulation was correct, he had sent out an e-mail to all summit participants simply announcing: “The conference is on”. That was how brief and decisive his message was. For me, the symbolism here is not to be missed: we have to design our own agenda and move on with it as opposed to taking our queue from others.
You see, the government of George Bush seems to be determining national and personal agenda through security coding — red, orange, yellow and green. There is so much drama around this that it is creating more fear than a feeling of safety. Now, according to this security system, Kenya is a security liability — in fact, a country that poses a serious terrorist threat. So, I am rather surprised to see that many of you are still living here and remain alive. I am happy too to have been here for three days and to be still alive. Seriously, going by the gravity of these alerts, those of you who live here should presumably have packed your bags by now and fled, while the rest of us would never have boarded the planes to come. But we decided to be crazy and come and it seems that there was some sanity in our madness because we would have been foolish not to come. The lesson is that remaining focused on our agenda and commitments is critical in accomplishing the work that we have mapped out for ourselves.
The second level of symbolism, especially with all these security concerns before us, is that instead of panicking, we should be fired by a sense of urgency to complete the work before us. Speed is critical. It is, in fact, a matter of life and death, particularly when it comes to tackling the AIDS/HIV pandemic, which is more of a source of terror/horror on a day-to-day basis, more devastating than any terrorist attack we could imagine. Please don’t get me wrong, terrorist attacks are lethal and we have already witnessed the extent of their unimaginable terror; but thankfully, in most situations they do not happen every minute of the day. Deaths from AIDS/HIV do. The symbolism of the urgency confronting us becomes a teaching moment, compelling us as artists, culturalists, journalists, writers, activists, etc. We must move forward with all human speed possible. We have to seize every possible moment to intervene in order to avert this human calamity that has gone out of control.
“Remaining focused on our agenda and commitments is critical in accomplishing the work that we have mapped out for ourselves.”
The third level of symbolism — that of the larger historical Kenyan scene — calls for a special, prolonged comment. Please allow me to indulge. I am entering this country for the first time since the December elections that toppled the Moi dictatorship and, for once, I am encountering people with a lot of hope. I am thrilled by it, but I am also reminding all of us to remain cautious and vigilant. This is because as we know, we have lived through euphoria before only to experience huge letdowns. However, we do not want to feed on pessimism; we want to say that things will go right — that we will make them go right. Yes, for the first time after so many years, I am seeing and hearing people express confidence in their ability to create positive change. So, I want to suggest that symbolically, we meet in Kenya at the dawn of a new day and depending on what action we take, we can make a difference that will affect tomorrow. We have met here to propel change and to make a difference. Let us not forget, however, that to be of lasting transformation, the change we make must be collective. This is the symbolism that we can draw from Kenya where we are meeting under a new political dispensation created through the collective will of the people. If we forget the collective nature of this victory and its significance, we will have betrayed history all over again. This will be yet another political disaster.
We have met here to find ways of working together collectively in order to address the countless problems facing us in Africa. As we look at these problems, we sometimes become discouraged and do not know where to begin; yet we know that we need to begin somewhere. I don’t know if all of you suffer from this momentary panic, but I do.
The fourth level of symbolism for me is the celebration of people’s potential in changing the oppressive reality facing them. In Kenya and other countries where windows of democracy have opened up, people have every right to bask in the sunshine ushered in by a new dawn, emerging as it does after a long night of terror. We have the right to enter the spaces we have created in order to enjoy the sunshine that we have been a part of the making and to affirm the fact that the sun’s rays will stretch into the future. So, overwhelming as the task is, let us take comfort in the fact that daylight is on our side!
“If we forget the collective nature of this victory and its significance, we will have betrayed history all over again.”
Having highlighted these levels of symbolism, let me now celebrate all those who have come to this soap summit as creators of one kind or another: artists, who use their imagination to fathom and create new worlds while believing in infinite possibilities; journalists, who have been so vigilant in naming the ills of neo-colonialism; activists, who have been the voice of our collective conscience, especially under silencing; others from various professions who have given their skills to make a difference… Yes, I want to celebrate all of you who are here in the name of naming ourselves and our reality, and in the spirit of making things happen as we all struggle to introduce sanity in a world gone mad. I salute you, fellow travellers, who have chosen to use action to fight pessimism, for we have witnessed the shedding of too many tears.
I truly celebrate the wealth of imagination represented here and just want to give an inspirational speech to say I believe we can change the oppressive reality before us as well as our people. Yes, we can do it. We must believe that as human beings, we have the capacity to transform our world. In celebrating you as cultural agents, I also celebrate our art and cultural heritages. I say, we have here a harvest of multifarious talents and we saw clear evidence of this earlier on in the morning during the opening session. It really was delightful and instructive listening to the members of the opening panel who covered so many issues with such stunning creativity that they have made my task a lot easier. All I need to do now is fire your enthusiasm rather than advice you on what to do. In fact, I am going to narrow my remarks to address the theme of “Transcending Pathology Created by Colonialism and Neo-colonialism in Order to Unleash Creativity”. My argument is simple, until we recover from colonial and neo-colonial pathological hangovers, we cannot create meaningful soaps to address other health issues. Hopefully, the challenges I pose will provide a framework around which to brainstorm on how to move beyond borrowed solutions in order to emerge with our own inventions.
Let me now invite you to participate in the rest of my delivery, as I happen to be a child of orature and so believe in audience participation. In orature style, when I speak, I don’t take the audience for granted. I like having them accompany me on our joint conversational journey. So I am going to give you a cue, indicating where you are supposed to come in. The one I am going to use employs a South African term, “abantu”, which simply means “people”. When I call upon you: “Abantu!”, you are going to respond, “Ii!”, [Gikuyu term for “yes”] telling me you are there. Then I will ask you, “Shall I go on?”, “Shall I proceed?”, “Shall I speak?… and/or other such variations. You will respond: “Ii!” or “Yes!”. However, if you say “No!” I will stop. So, any minute really that you feel tired, you know what to do. But please don’t stop me too soon: let me speak for a few minutes at least.
“Abantu!”“Ii!”“Shall I begin?”“Ii!”
I want to begin by stressing that as we celebrate life and the possibilities before us, we are also situated amidst poverty, disease and other calamities. We convene here at a moment when there are so many wars — actual and metaphorical — raging in Africa. A lot of our children are dying, while others have been turned into child soldiers in unending ugly wars of hatred, bloodthirsty power-mongering and wanton destruction of lives. In the words of Ambassador Olara Otunnu, the Undersecretary General of the United Nations, our children are being taught to kill while being killed before they have time to grow. This is a tragedy, especially when we think of the AIDS epidemic and other killer diseases such as malaria, cancer and so on that are wiping out our people. So, this is a critical moment for us as artists, culturalists and activists to ask: how can we address these issues? How can we use our imagination to bring creativity to these spaces where there is death and destruction?
“Abantu!”“ii!”“Am I making sense?”“Ii!”
“I was nervous that someone would say “no” there because I am not really sure I am making sense.”
With these serious challenges in view, I suggest that we do all in our power to move beyond symptoms and get to the root of the problems identified. Above all, we need to have a clear understanding of “where the rain began to beat us”, to borrow the words of Chinua Achebe. I repeat: it is critical that we understand where, when and why our problems started. Important as this question is, it seems that when some of us raise it there are people who become nervous, asking, “Why do we have to dig up these past issues? Why don’t we just forget?” This self-imposed amnesia is another very severe illness that we have suffered from since colonial times. We are afraid to recall what went wrong, partly because the act of remembering forces us to step in and take action to remedy the offending situation. I want us to remember. I want to take you through some painful moments, not for sadistic reasons, but because they will jack our memories to remember why we are having so many things going wrong scores of years following independence. How can Africa, a continent that had so much hope at independence reek of so much helplessness? I remember the optimism we had when we came out of Makerere in the 1960s. We were so very full of hope. We were so sure we would make things happen. We were full of commitment. We were going to serve the continent as teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, architects, engineers, writers, and so on. We must ask: “Where did the rain begin to beat us? What went wrong?”
For sure a lot of blame goes to our leaders, especially those who have ended up becoming dictators, for, at their hands we have witnessed untold terror and destruction, especially that of human resources. However, as ruthless and pathetic as African leaders have been, the people of Africa must assume collective responsibility for having been largely silent while these destroyers ravaged our countries and resources. Yes, it is a shame that at first only a few people dared to speak out against these crimes. If the entire continent had spoken out loud, do you think these dictators would have had enough jails in which to lock all of us up? That would not have been possible and probably change would have come a lot sooner. Look at the collective psychological trauma this inaction has resulted in! Our countries need therapy. It is indeed my sincere hope that the soaps we create will address these issues of psychological health. Our collective humanity has been brutalized by what has happened over time. The soaps will have the challenge of indicating ways of giving birth to new human beings with a vision and mission that seek to humanize the entire world.
“We are afraid to recall what went wrong, partly because the act of remembering forces us to step in and take action to remedy the offending situation.”
Having said that, I want to believe that there is a reason we have gone through so much pain and that, hopefully, we have learnt a lot through our mistakes. In this regard, I must celebrate the people of Kenya and others from all over Africa for deciding to rise up in the end and say, “No! We are not going to allow terror to continue. We are bringing humiliation to a stop in order to move forward!”
“Abantu!”“Ii!”“Shall I proceed?”“Ii!”
As we try to understand what went wrong, let us not underestimate the impact of an internalized colonial ethos and how the psyche it created shaped the people that we find in ourselves today. But then, some of you will say to me that this is placing blame on colonial masters, turning them into convenient scapegoats. But let me tell you: to understand ourselves fully, we have to comprehend our past. If we don’t understand colonialism and the way it worked in order to leave us in the neo-colonial mess that we find ourselves in, we are failing to understand a very important part of our history. Yet, only proper understanding will help us move forward meaningfully into the future.
We are talking of behaviour change at this summit. In my view, there is no way I can deal with this question without revisiting colonialism. For, if former colonial subjects are to employ behaviour change theory to their lives, they must have the courage to go back to colonization and analyse the consequences of a colonial mentality victimology.
This is the only way we can transform the legacy of abuse, self-doubt (even self-hatred), and an incurable pre-occupation with Whiteness as a coveted state of being. Ladies and gentlemen, those of you coming from a colonial background may not want to hear this, but I want to suggest that we are still suffering from a colonial hangover that has been re-enforced under neo-colonialism. We have grown to not only lose confidence in ourselves, but in our history and culture. Thus, as we seek to create change through soap operas, we need to revisit these abandoned sites — not in a spirit of nostalgia — but in active search of culturally homegrown solutions to our specific, local problems. We need to love ourselves, understand ourselves and re-embrace our heritage. Why? Because when a person really understands himself or herself, when a person has the language and words to name herself/himself and her/his world, then s/he is in control. But once you don’t have a language, once you don’t have a past, when you pass a vote of no confidence in yourself, you lose the ground on which to stand in order to be sufficiently grounded to transform your reality as necessary.
Let me give an illustration. In the last three days that I have been here, I have been looking at television and 90% of the time the programs that are on the screen are from the West — Europe, Britain, or North America. I am asking myself, “How is this so on a continent where creativity is in so much abundance that we should not be knowing what to do with it? How do our people see themselves in the faces that are on these screens? How do the exhibited Hollywood scenes and the reality show characters of the Jerry Springer drama, for instance, reflect Africa’s crying needs? What is going on? For me, there is an obvious problem here, especially for children who are always on the lookout for models. It is as if we are telling our children that they ought to look outside themselves, their societies and their worlds in their struggle to construct their identity.
“We have grown to not only lose confidence in ourselves, but in our history and culture.”
People, there is a crisis here — a big crisis — and I am calling upon all of us to speed up the production of locally generated and oriented soaps in order to speak to Africa’s needs. Where urgency is concerned, I am in agreement with the donors. We need to make those soaps happen today: we needed to have done so yesterday. On the other hand, however, and this is critical, the work must not be done at the cost of cultural authenticity. We must be careful, even as we rush production, to ascertain that whatever is done is rooted in and mirrors the cultural understanding and self-reflection of our people. I am agreeing that there’s urgency and the struggle is at a phase when we really need to speed up action, but not at a cost to our integrity.
“Abantu!”“Ii!”“Shall I proceed?”“Ii!”
With your permission, I will revamp my theorization further and take you back to the question of the urgency in rooting out colonial mentality. I insist that to address Africa’s ills we have to begin with attacking the psychological block that undermines our self-confidence, making us always want to look for answers from the outside. Until we learn to trust the strength, the imagination, the will and the creativity within ourselves, to have abundant faith that we can make things happen, we will continue to helplessly gaze outwards. You see, as agents of change we have to be creative, we have to move from the colonial mentality of self-mutilation, self-destruction and self-doubt, erase from our psyche the culture of self-contempt and even self-hatred, a malady that makes us imagine that whatever we have is inadequate and inferior to things Western. We have to work towards the rehabilitation of our mutilated, dismembered personal and collective self-imaging and come to trust that we have within ourselves the human potential for determining our lives. The inculcation of an inferiority complex among the colonized was a clear goal in colonial education. It happened in India, it happened here, it happened everywhere colonials set foot and it continues to take place under neo-colonialism. We cannot afford to delay the process of creating soaps that will undo this psychological damage/mischief even as we campaign against other visible medical illnesses and health concerns.
“It is as if we are telling our children that they ought to look outside themselves, their societies and their worlds in their struggle to construct their identity.”
There’s a very revealing documentary entitled In the White Man’s Image that narrates the tragic story of North American Indians and the way they were colonized through the elimination of their identity as well as culture. In the documentary, there is a ruthless White educator who makes it his mission to not just educate Indian children but to actually change them, mentally and physically. There is a very chilling recurring line in which the colonizer constantly speaks of the need to “kill the Indian and save the man” — obviously meaning there is a need to erase the Indian in the children by turning them into Whites. This processor of “killing” the Indian is equivalent to exorcising the “native” out of colonized Africans. Within this context, the victims had to be given new names when they entered government or missionary schools under colonialism. In my case I ceased to be Njiru or Micere and became “Madeleine”, acquiring a French name that I could not even pronounce then! So, at one point in my primary school life I was known as “Madeleine Richards”. This would be my name at school and on returning home I would revert to my African name — pick up my identity. In this bizarre situation, some people ended up having double personalities and developed a rather schizophrenic relationship with themselves, their homes, their culture and their identity. Serious stuff!
All of this partly explains why an identity crisis persists among our youth, including those who have never left their homes — yet experience a deep craving for wanting to be either American, or British, or anything that is not African. We have passed on the confusion to them under neo-colonialism. It always surprises me when I hear the older generation accusing the youth of losing their culture and identity. Rather than blame them, we should be laying the responsibility on the collective social ethos of self-devaluation that has emerged over historical times. I say, when we begin with a lack of self-knowledge, we are not in a position to become agents of change. The situation is not getting any better, much as we may pretend it is. As we speak, there is a project of re-colonization afoot, which comes as a part of the globalization package. We need to be fully aware of what the process is all about in real practical terms. Namely, that there is now a single power — America — supported by the international corporate world and dominating the rest of the globe, with poor nations at the bottom of the rubble. Let us not mince words: President Bush of America is out to conquer the rest of the world and to colonize weak states. I am cautioning that this culture of dominating others militarily, economically, politically and culturally is the philosophy behind globalization. We need to be keenly conscious of this.
Some people have been as bold as to openly advocate the re-colonization of Africa. There was a very revealing article in the New York Times around the mid-1990s in which a scholar by the name of Johnson was proposing that Africa was better off under its former masters and that it was high time ex-colonial powers returned to re-colonize the African continent. Now, nobody is disputing the fact that neo-colonial African leaders have turned the continent into a basket case. There is indeed a sense in which the dictatorships we have survived — not to mention the general mismanagement of our resources — have dragged Africa many years back. In Kirinyaga, for instance, where I come from, roads that were in excellent functioning order during the 1960s and 1970s are no longer passable. There was a road between Kutus and Kibirigwi on which I used to drive at about 40-50 m.p.h. in my little Volkswagen beetle, travelling from Kabare High School to Nyeri, but now that road cannot even carry a donkey cart. This state of things is unacceptable. Yet, in the midst of all this, some African rulers have been known to boast of how much they own. You no doubt know the story of the late Mobutu Sese Seko who became furious and insulted when a journalist asked him if it was true that he was the tenth (or some such rank) richest man in the world while he was actually much richer than that. Mobutu nearly swallowed the poor journalist alive! Oh the nerve! Some thief is here, having impoverished his country and having grabbed everything that there is to grab and he is boasting about being a better thief than estimated! Friends, I am saying that there’s a lot of work to be done because to a certain extent we have called upon ourselves the contempt with which we are being treated. But, even with all of this granted, who is Mr Johnson to decide to choose the future for Africa! How does what has happened under neo-colonialism make colonialism right given all the dehumanization and suffering it unleashed on African people?
“When we begin with a lack of self-knowledge, we are not in a position to become agents of change.”
The above reminds us that soap operas have a role to play in filling in the gaps that exist and in exposing the ills that Africa ails from today. If we do not do this, someone else will step in and fill the gap. In cultural terms, this is already happening. At the levels of television, film and media alone, for instance, re-colonization is a real threat.
Let me give you an example. Go to any part of the world, be it in Africa, Latin America, Japan, the Caribbean, etc., and you will find that one of the clearest television stations is CNN. The whole world is being brought up on CNN. Now, I have nothing against CNN, nor cross-cultural convergence of resources for that matter. In fact I was watching CNN only this morning when I lost sleep! What I am saying is that when you go to a country and cannot access programs on the local station because CNN has the clearest beam, then there is a problem. What we are witnessing is the equation of globalization with mainstream “Americanization” and this, in essence, constitutes global colonization. I am arguing that there is something dangerously wrong when the world falls under the superpowership of one country. We need independent film and media to provide an alternative, especially for Africa’s and the world’s poor. This new imaging created by independent media must strive to gather together all cultures and all people — irrespective of race, class and gender — making them a part of global humanity.
There’s a problem here and it is among the root causes that we are needing to address in our artistic products if we are going to make headway.
“Abantu!”“Ii!”“Are you tired?” “No!”“Don’t say yes, just yet. I promise I am coming to an end!”
So, what is the way forward? As we struggle to wean ourselves of the colonial and neo-colonial hangovers that I have talked about, we must simultaneously work on creating alternatives. Soap operas have a very special role to play in this task, as already intimated. Only such alternatives will bring about an alternative form of development — one that focuses on entire human populations rather than on a few privileged individuals. We must move beyond self and realize that without collective development, no given country can make the mark. In the prophetic words of JM Kariuki — a popular politician assassinated in the 1970s [speaking in reference to Kenya]: “We do not want a [country] with ten millionaires and twenty million beggars.” Those of us who are socially privileged ought to seriously take heed of these words. Africa today has armies of poor people while a small elite wallows in obnoxious wealth. This will take us nowhere. Sometimes you wonder how most people live from day to day — how they survive.
Last night I went to bed very humbled and deeply pensive. I had sat next to a young man at dinner — I hope he is here — who told me his story of survival and human triumph. He was born in Mathare Valley, where he grew up — largely in the streets — living on an empty stomach most days. I don’t know how he survived, but today he is here as one of our participating artists and community activists. I was simply amazed by his story and even more so, by the determination with which he emerged out of a human pit where so many others of our children have gone down.
I am trying to say that there is something grossly wrong when we have armies of children in the streets, when so many are homeless and hungry, when sprawling ghettos become eyesores and yet we remain surrounded by so much wealth. There’s clearly something wrong when we are plagued by so much illiteracy — having to deal with people who cannot decipher an iota on paper — while there are so many of us who are educated. It is in view of all this that I am persuaded there is no other way outside collective development. I am positing that, for those of us who are privileged, our privilege is also a responsibility. On this score, Mwalimu Njogu, I celebrate you for having organized this gathering to remind us that we owe the world a responsibility by putting us to work on doing something concrete to change the status quo.
“I am saying that there’s a lot of work to be done because to a certain extent we have called upon ourselves the contempt with which we are being treated.”
“I am because you are, and since you are, therefore I am.” This is a rough quotation from John Mbiti’s African Philosophy and Religion and teaching that we find in most African orature heritages. I subscribe to it — heavily! I tell you, don’t you listen to anyone who suggests to you that this kind of thinking belongs to “primitive” and/or “communist” societies. Every human being should have this as a life motto.
Allow me to belabour the point and ask that we remember we did not make it to where we are alone; that in actual fact we are products and extensions of our communities and that, above all, we are products of the years of historical struggles waged by people before us. Sacrifices liberated a lot of the spaces that we occupy to day. The soaps we create must, therefore, address the dangers of individualistic development. Our soaps must never get tired of naming the dangers of poverty and disease. Indeed, they must make a connection between poverty and insecurity, between impoverishment and disease, etc. They must ask harsh questions regarding the role of the World Bank, IMF and imperialist domination — all of which create an indebtedness that makes the poor of the world even poorer. Above all, acknowledging the importance of collective development, please I beg us all to leave behind existing divisions based on all petty nonsense related to tribalism, ethnicity and other socially created barriers such as gender inequity and discrimination against those with disability, etc. We must never ever forget the tragedy of the Rwanda genocide, of Burundi, the DRC, Sierra Leone, Kenya’s Rift valley massacres and so on. While on this point, let me say that I can never understand how/why — with all our problems in Africa, including the scourge of killer diseases — we succumb to the madness of sharpening machetes, pangas, arrows, spears and loading guns for killing other people simply because some lunatic of a power-hungry warlord convinced us they should die since they don’t come from the same group as us!
“I am because you are, and since you are, therefore I am.”
Sometimes I have wondered, what happened to our psyche? Why have African lives been rendered so cheap… so easily dispensable? Look at this morning’s newspaper and see what happened in Mathare Valley yesterday! Why would a landlord exploit unemployed youth to go and evict tenants by beating them, just to get them and others killed in the process? Where is this kind of individualized greed and thuggery going to take us? These are all serious questions that our soaps must pose. To quote Chinua Achebe, “The house is on fire!”. I am referring to the analogy he gave in one of his essays regarding a man whose house was ablaze and as it was burning down, he saw a rat running away to escape the fire. And you know what the stupid man did? Instead of focusing on rescuing his belongings, he took a huge stick and began chasing after the escaping rat. I recount this story and have done so several times before to suggest, ladies and gentlemen, that Africa — our “house” — is on fire. Please do not let us go chasing rats that are intelligent enough to escape the fire. There are far too many “rats” that we keep chasing even as our house burns: petty “tribalism”, ethnicity, political war games, idle consumerism, competitive parading of wealth, and so on.
In this regard, let us vow to make the soaps we create focus on the core issues that affect the lives and health of our Africa’s majorities most. In creating the soaps, we should engage the question of local languages and involve the masses in the creation of the pieces. Let the people speak for themselves by telling their own stories wherever possible. We cannot possibly replace their voices, however talented or skilful we may be artistically. I keep emphasizing that until we network with the masses in the production of knowledge and other cultural products, intellectual output is going to remain the monopoly of the elites. In this respect, we should recognize the criticality of orature. In African orature we have an incredibly rich heritage that we should truly be proud of. It has an abundant reservoir of stories, allegories, epics, songs, etc., that will greatly enhance our creativity. I remember how at the height of political repression here in Kenya, one of the dramatists (I forget what his name was) used animal character types to populate his political satires. These characters represented real people on the Kenyan political scene — roaming the stage as hyenas, elephants, ogres and so on. Once, a senior government minister that I will not name lavishly praised this use of African culture, little knowing that he was one of the undesirable animal characters on the stage that day. We sniggered all the way from the National Theatre to the Norfolk hotel where we enjoyed tea and jokes at his expense! Orature is a goldmine and a powerful artistic tool at our disposal whether we are operating from the rural areas or urban set-ups. This was ably illustrated during the opening panel to day.
The application of orature in creating soaps and other artistic products will serve a useful purpose in bringing out the interdependence between ethical and aesthetical concerns and this foregrounds the old-time debate regarding “art for art’s sake” and functional creativity. In orature conceptualization, there is no contradiction for it is not a question of either/or, but rather a matter of complementariness. This is to say that in orature, while art is by and large utilitarian, its aesthetic appeal also matters. The orature heritage perceives art as an aspect of human productivity that has a functional purpose, but one that is also meant to express beauty while it entertains the audience. Thus, when we describe soaps as edutainment, we are at one with the orate tradition in which teaching, education and entertainment converge to define a desirable piece of art.
“Until we network with the masses in the production of knowledge and other cultural products, intellectual output is going to remain the monopoly of the elites.”
As we compose, script and produce our soap operas, let us not forget to incorporate the youth as a target audience. If we are not careful, the marginalization of youth in many of our undertakings is going to cost us heavily somewhere along the way. There is an illustrative story that reinforces the aspect of behaviour change theory that posits that habits inculcated early in life are likely to have a more lasting effect on a growing child. The story has it that a Catholic priest was asked by his Anglican counterpart: “How come the Roman Catholic has such a huge, loyal following?” The Catholic priest replied, “Aah! We catch them when they are young!” Please, let us catch them when they are young and if well done, the messages we pass through the soaps we create will rub on, becoming life lessons. Returning to orature yet again, the heritage has genres that naturally attract the attention of young people, especially song and dance. Look at the phenomenal role the two have played all over Africa, especially in liberation struggles!
Only last December, the Kenyan political landscape was a theatre using orature popular art forms to mobilize the people. There is a song that I became so addicted to after my nephew played it in the car for hours that I seem to be constantly singing it in America six months later. I am referring to “Yote yawezekana…”, ”Everything is possible…” without you know whom — no need to mention names! The notion of people embracing their self-empowerment and declaring that they are capable of creating any type of change without dictatorial blocks is most refreshing after so many years of silencing. Soaps should exploit the orature genres of dance and song as they naturally appeal to young people and tend to unleash their creativity while enlisting participation without too much of an effort.
“Orature is a goldmine and a powerful artistic tool at our disposal whether we are operating from the rural areas or urban set-ups.”
In conclusion, let me echo the spirit of this song and say that in the work before us, having shed off colonial and neo-colonial hangovers and then fortified ourselves with self-knowledge and determination, “Yote yawezekana!” So, next time you wake up feeling defeated and tempted to remain between those sheets, just throw off the blanket and tell yourself, “I am unbwogable!” — to evoke another popular election song in which the opposition was vouching, “We shall not be moved!” Let us harvest this field of fertile imagination all around us and get on with creating those overdue soaps and other popular art forms that we need for moving our work forward.
Let us remind ourselves time and again: We can do it! We will do it!
I will stop now. Thank you very much.
This speech speaks to who Mwalimu Micere was: she was a revolutionary; she was a pan-Africanist; she was an intellectual activist; she was a powerful voice in the liberation struggle. She will always be present. May Mwalimu Micere Mugo’s soul rest in peace.
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Dr. Kimani Njogu is a Kenyan linguist known for his role in the study and advocacy of the Kiswahili language.
Micere Mugo and the Struggle for Politics
The Battle of the Mind: A Matter of Life or Death
Africa for Africans
Pan-Africanism in the Age of Globalization: Capitalism and Poverty
The Continued Relevance of Pan-African Marxism in a Time of Crisis
Prof. Ebrahim Hussein: Kiswahili, Poetry and Freedom
Mwalimu Micere Mugo’s intellectual positions were profoundly political. Personalising Mwalimu’s story removes from it the historical and the political context, yet the point of memorialising those who have left us is to enter them in the annals of history.
I wanted to wait until the rites to honour her life were completed before writing about Mwalimu Micere Mugo, because I wanted to respect those who knew her intimately. I didn’t. I met Mwalimu only three times, once at Riara University, another time at University of Nairobi, the third time at the memorial of her daughter Njeri Kui. All were public events, so I’m almost sure she barely remembered shaking my hand, or me reintroducing myself or being reintroduced to her, especially when she was grieving her daughter.
So, I do not grieve Micere Mugo as I would a close friend. Instead, I grieve her as my milestone. Since the day I heard her speak in person, almost ten years ago, at the University of Nairobi, she has been my intellectual north star. My guiding light. When I heard her weave her ideas with her poetry, and engage the audience in her performance, I knew that that is what I wanted to be; not necessarily an oraturist like her, but an intellectual who weaves humanity into her thought, relations and politics. And then being in literature, many of my colleagues were taught by her and were friends with her. So her influence on me is probably what she aspired for, which is to influence humanity through humanity.
I waited for a different time to publicly grieve Micere Mugo because in Kenya, connections like mine to her, based on influence and ideas, are not respected. That’s because Kenya hates ideas, for the simple reason that ideas point to the world beyond the self. And that’s power. I learned to articulate that reality only recently. As I struggled through the hypocritical hijack of the decolonial narrative, and the neoliberal takeover of our education system that culminated in CBC, and as I gained insights through my discussions on my Maisha Kazini channel, I slowly understood that the hostility I faced was due to an entrenched hatred of thinking in Kenya. Thinking, to paraphrase Lewis Gordon’s idea of disciplinary decadence, is to transcend the boundaries of the material and of the imaginary. That means that thinking is necessarily power, because as Gordon says, power is the ability to influence the world beyond oneself.
So the fact that I was so deeply influenced by Micere Mugo is evidence that she was a thinker, which is evidence of her power.
That is why Mwalimu Micere is such a threat. And not her alone. In Kenya, anyone who dares to think is a threat. Her literary son, Binyavanga Wainaina, who organised the Kwani? 10th Anniversary that invited Micere Mugo, once wrote that in Kenya, “We have learned that ideas are dangerous. To innovate is to threaten power.” So during this period of mourning for Mwalimu, I decided that maybe I should maintain my peace, since I did not personally know her that well.
But right from the beginning, I suspected that my position was a problem.
You see, mourning someone in intimate terms, especially when one is not a close relative or friend of the recently transitioned, can sometimes go awry. It can personalise their story too much that we withdraw them from the historical and the political context, yet the point of memorialising those who have left us is to enter them in the annals of history. From what I could see, the memorialising of Mwalimu was getting a little too personalised for my comfort.
The fact that I was so deeply influenced by Micere Mugo is evidence that she was a thinker, which is evidence of her power.
I began to notice this with the media focus on Micere Mugo’s bio-graphy immediately after the sad news broke that she had left us. I’ve deliberately separated “bio” as a prefix, because the media reports were largely on what she did, where she was born, to whom she was born, where she went to school, whom she married and divorced, the children she had, and how she died. Yes, how she died. She had battled cancer for over two decades, had triumphed once and battled the second round for almost two decades. But somehow, the media made cancer the hero of her story, to the extent that one journalist penned a dirge to bone cancer rather than to her. Another media house reported that she had “succumbed to cancer” when actually she had bravely fought it. And had lived for a full eighty years. As a cancer survivor myself, I know the unnecessary drama that circles around cancer patients and never leads to an actual conversation about the stress, the environmental factors that increase the likelihood of cancer, and worse, the extremely high cost of treatment. In fact, Kenya has a deliberate policy of turning cancer treatment into a commercial product called “medical tourism”, meaning that the government’s focus is only on treating the rich.
I seem to be digressing from Mwalimu, but I’m not, because my point still remains that in Kenya, our words and ideas are not allowed to point beyond ourselves. They are channelled to dead ends of pity where we can no longer think about society and what to do about society. And that’s what the media was doing to Mwalimu Micere.
Personalisation can also be sympathetic, but even when that happens, it is no less depoliticising. Worse, it is more difficult to critique. That’s the liberal depoliticization. In Mwalimu Micere’s case, it came in the form of praising Mwalimu Micere for her political resistance when, as the Kenyan capitalist story goes, she didn’t need to. This line was echoed by the veteran novelist and academic Austin Bukenya. Bukenya points to Micere’s fairly privileged background and relatives in high places, and then says that “she could have lived a life of glamour, affluence and tranquillity in her beloved Kenya”. In a group I’m in, people reacted to an extensive obituary that revealed Micere’s rejection of an offer for land from the government by saying what a nice person she was to have sacrificed so much.
Indangasi is not providing facts; he is telling a story based on the very weak idea of “sacrifice” as an anchor of legitimacy.
This thinking is more insidious than the media one, because it is difficult to critique without appearing nasty. However, the problem remains that it fails to understand that resistance to power is often a political decision; not a moral one. Morality is individual; it is about being good. But political decision comes from a consciousness of how one’s individual actions and destiny are connected to those of other people. If anyone knew this, it was Micere Mugo. Her struggle for Utu, or Ubuntu, that sees individuals as inextricably tied to society and vice versa, were the themes of her life, her poetry, essays and performance. Micere Mugo’s intellectual positions were therefore profoundly political. If she was simply moral, or a good person, she might have followed the trajectory that Bukenya says was available to her.
This point is extremely important, because right now, the bulk of Kenya’s resistance to abuse of power is stuck in capitalist moralism embodied in, especially, the liberal academia and civil society. It so happens that at the same time I was concerned about the depoliticization of Micere Mugo, Okoiti Omtatah, himself also a thespian, was talking on different forums about the heist of the Kenyan public through fictitious debt. Omtatah’s message has been profoundly political and philosophical. He has talked about how the Kenyan public mind needs to be revived through political education, so that Kenyans understand the relationship between how we vote and our financial mess. However, it has been frustrating to watch the interviewers miss the political nature of his message. Instead, the conversation goes the way that Austin Bukenya’s tribute to Micere Mugo went: we marvel at the fact that Omtatah did not cave in to withdrawing the legal challenge to the Finance Act in exchange for a hefty sum of money. We praise him as an individual for resisting corruption, when Omtatah is asking us to move our gaze from him to the social issues he is pointing at.
At the heart of this fascination with personal sacrifice for the country is the fundamentally Euro-Christian message embodied in a Jesus who gave up his riches in glory to save sinful creatures of humanity. I profoundly disagree with this reading of Jesus because, like for Mwalimu Micere and Omtatah, it depoliticises Jesus. Jesus was born in the Roman Empire and his message challenged the political establishment at the time, especially the comprador elite in the form of the Pharisees. He was subjected to a political execution, rather than moral stoning, after a corrupt judicial process. That political aspect of Jesus’s story has been dumbed down, especially by the evangelical and charismatic denominations that preach a no-pain Christianity. That no-pain Christianity has suppressed the value of mourning even in Christian worship itself, because mourning interferes with the always-happy faith that they preach.
We praise him as an individual for resisting corruption, when Omtatah is asking us to move our gaze from him to the social issues he is pointing at.
The result is that this charismatic Christianity presents a Jesus who is suicidal and whom Christians must emulate by ignoring the political nature of our suffering. This message was projected by the Kenyan media when Dr Mogusu, a young doctor, died from Covid after working on contract, without receiving his pay, and without resources to pay for admission to ICU when he became sick. The Nation played down the political issues surrounding Dr Mogusu’s death with the headline “Young doctor who gave us his life,” next to a picture of a smiling Mogusu. When Mogusu’s colleagues tried to use his plight to resist the cynicism of the government in its treatment of health workers, they were lectured by the then Cabinet Secretary for Health, Mutahi Kagwe, on how the government expected doctors to mourn their colleague properly – which in essence meant not mentioning the problems of the healthcare system that caused Mogusu’s death.
I have argued elsewhere that this action of Kagwe demonstrates that mourning is a political act that empire seeks to contain by offering us the concept of “sacrifice”. With this concept, empire tells us that victims of its injustice “gave their lives”, or suffered “when they didn’t need to”. However, political resistance despite knowing the risk of persecution does not necessarily mean that you are looking for the worst to happen to you. It means you are living in an unjust society where you cannot do ordinary nice things like healing the sick and teaching the poor without being crucified. In such a context, people need to change the society’s political structure. However, to divert the people from arriving at that conclusion, empire praises its victims for giving up their lives, the way Nancy Pelosi thanked George Floyd for giving up his life for justice. Similarly, to go on about Mwalimu Micere’s “sacrifice” without an accompanying analysis of the politics to which her actions and ideas pointed is a form of depoliticization.
The worst part of depoliticization, however well intended, is that it leaves the ground fallow for a major attack on moral grounds. That attack would come, not surprisingly, from Henry Indangasi, professor emeritus of the famous Department of Literature of the University of Nairobi. Unlike me who was losing patience with the moralist tributes to Mwalimu Micere, Indangasi was profoundly irked, but for different reasons. While I was concerned that the fixation on Micere’s biography was too much, Indangasi felt that that fixation still wasn’t enough, and sought to push it to the extreme by arguing that the sacrifices which Mwalimu Micere is credited for were self-serving, if not immoral.
The political project of Indangasi’s tirade against Mwalimu Micere is simple, and more than that, is explicitly announced. His beef with her, in his words, is that she saw literature as “almost exclusively about politics”. What should concern us here is Indangasi’s definition of politics. In Indangasi’s view, politics is something that can be separated and isolated from other facets of life. In other words, politics is individual, not social, and we can only relate socially through institutions; not with each other through relationships or as a collective.
To go on about Mwalimu Micere’s “sacrifice” without an accompanying analysis of the politics to which her actions and ideas pointed is a form of depoliticization.
This individualist concept of politics leads Indangasi to accuse Mwalimu Micere of failing to “draw the line that separates the personal from the political, or if you like, the private from the public”. But here, the don contradicts his definition of politics as an individual phenomenon that can be isolated, because by contrasting politics to the personal and the private, he is essentially saying that politics is necessarily social and public.
Thus we witness here a convoluted discussion of what politics means. At one point, Indangasi sees politics as individual and therefore requiring divorce from thinking, at another point he sees politics as public and requiring distinction from the private. In the end, Indangasi has no choice but to reveal what his agenda really is, which is to assert institutions of the (colonial) state as the sole site of power, which in this case, would be the University of Nairobi and its Literature Department. For him, the only politics available to Kenyans is through accessing institutions, like that of academia. That is why he concludes that literature is an “institution”, which essentially implies that human beings can only be literary if they do so through academia. And we know the results of such politics. We have heard new literary voices dismissed as “literary gangsters” or Kenyan writers being blasted for producing substandard, rather than “world class” literature. Or worse, graduate students at the University of Nairobi’s Literature Department being failed because they didn’t bow to the dictates of either the gurus of stylistics or of oral literature.
In other words, Indangasi is promoting a particular political ideology while pretending not to do so, and ranting about those thinkers who are not so pretentious as to present themselves as apolitical. His ideology is, in fact, what Mwalimu Micere explicitly disagreed with. Mwalimu Micere belonged to the persuasion of Africana existential philosophy in which, to borrow the words of the philosopher Lewis Gordon, politics is about ordinary life. How we love, how we eat, how we die and how we are mourned, which are the subjects of literature, are profoundly political. In fact, Gordon argues, oppression is the imposition of extraordinary circumstances on ordinary life. From this perspective, politics is not individual views of power, as Indangasi suggests, but the collective discussion of, and decisions about, what power should do.
In the end, Indangasi has no choice but to reveal what his agenda really is, which is to assert institutions of the (colonial) state as the sole site of power.
Mwalimu Micere beautifully articulated this view of politics through the concept of Utu or Ubuntu, where who we are and who others are is inextricably linked. One memorable articulation of this is found in a preface to her poetry collection My Mother’s Poem and Other Songs, where she wrote: “A few have even asked me whether I ever write poetry on love and other ‘non-political’ themes. My response has been that within the context of exploitation and powerlessness experienced by the majority in Africa, the so-called Third World and the rest of this planet called earth, love is a very political theme. I say, for the poor, there is no private space to even engage in love making!”
It is this view of politics that has led me to use Micere Mugo’s poems in my theory and political classes, rather than the typical literature classes where we would do the stylistic analysis that Indangasi is renowned for. In very simple language, Mwalimu’s poems articulate a political philosophy where love, solidarity and collective action are the foundation of healthy politics. I insist on students reading her poems aloud in my classes, especially because that very act of audience participation and refrain in Mwalimu Micere’s poems is a political act that challenges the individualisation and institutionalisation of politics and knowledge.
Which brings me back to the lesson I learned from my failed advocacy against CBC, which is that Kenya is profoundly anti-intellectual and anti-political, and it does so through controlling speech and ideas, so that speech and ideas never transcend the individual. Mwalimu Micere devoted her life to fighting against this idiocy, and she was not alone. Binyavanga did it. Yvonne Owuor does it through her fiction and numerous essays on the imagination. Parsalelo Kantai wrote about it in his essay “The Redykyulass Generation”. ES Atieno Odhiambo called us to reflect on it in his famous article on the “ideology of order”, which he opens with reflections on how Jomo Kenyatta and his government shut down thinking through ideas of development and through state violence. Keguro Macharia has also pointed at it through his essay on the particular vernacular. Even Taban lo Liyong was pointing to it in the 1960s, but his message has been drowned in the hurt feelings of Kenyan academia following his statement wondering if East Africa was a literary desert. These are just some of the other Kenyans, many of them on social media, who are getting tired of the suffocation of ideas and the imagination as a way of suppressing politics from below in Kenya.
Indangasi is promoting a politics of anti-politics that functions by denying people’s political agency and reducing them to their biography.
The weapon in this war on politics is the argument that the academy should be insulated from politics, or the idea that discussing the plight of the poor and the oppressed is the monopoly of Marxism. This Cold War framework was imposed on Kenya through the university from the ’60s to ’80s, when Kenyan higher education policy and the teaching of social sciences was driven by British government and American philanthropic foundations. Aspects of this intellectual engineering have been discussed by scholars like Mwenda Kithinji who looks at the political intrigues behind the establishment of the University of East Africa. So while Indangasi may have “caught feelings”, as we say in Kenya, about Mwalimu Micere’s “spurious dichotomy between the anti-imperialist and pro-imperialist intellectuals in Kenya”, the reality is that imperial interests in Kenyan education remain a big concern, as I learned when studying the ideology behind CBC.
Indangasi is promoting a politics of anti-politics that functions by denying people’s political agency and reducing them to their biography. And we are witnessing that extension of anti-politics in the supporting arguments about the need for two sides of the issue, or the need to accept criticism, as if Indangasi was simply criticising Mwalimu Micere. Such propaganda is related to the Kenyan ideology that depicts disagreeing with someone as an attack on who they are rather than an engagement with what they are saying, which again sends us back to the bio-politics which Indangasi was promoting. It is also based on a Kenyan fascination with performance of thinking as opposed to actual thinking, where Kenyans judge thinking not by the ideas and the conversation but by whether it meets superficial criteria of having two positions at polar opposites. For such people, critique is for the sake of being contrary rather than for advancing a conversation.
Another strategy employed by supporters of the essay entails casting doubt as to whether Micere Mugo made sacrifices for her country or not. Apart from this logic being based on the frivolous, imperial and Euro-Christian idea of self-sacrifice and falling on one’s sword as the ultimate expression of love for one’s country, it forces us into the awkward and toxic position of using Moi’s persecution of his political critics to judge a person’s ideas or legacy. That manipulation into using oppression as the foundation of justice is absurd and unacceptable.
Yet others, including Nation journalists, are telling us that those who disagree with Indangasi should respond to the facts he has provided. Facts? What facts? The article is based on his interpretation of events. If these were facts, they would be verifiable from an alternative source. But conveniently, those who would counteract his “facts” are not there. Bob and Sally Mugabe are gone; and now so is Mwalimu Micere. Since we were not there, how are we to give our account of what happened? And that’s the point, is it not? To put us in a corner where we cannot respond because we were not there, and so we have to take Indangasi’s word for it? How is that not an assertion of power?
As others have pointed out, Indangasi had over a decade to refute Mwalimu Micere’s account of her exile when those who were there could respond to his accusations, but he conveniently chooses to do so now. These are the questions that Nation should have asked. It is interesting that the newspaper accepted Indangasi’s account without asking for empirical proof, when accusing the government of corruption makes journalists cringe and ask for documentation. In other words, Nation is asking us to dismiss a woman’s life’s corpus of work because a man belatedly provided “facts” about events that occurred in the 1980s.
And it is important to note that Indangasi’s tirade is based on a very limited time of Mwalimu Micere’s life, not on her ideas and not on the last three decades of her work. After all, in his words, he is not talking about her work. He announces in the opening line of his article that he is reacting to what is being said about Mwalimu Micere. But more than that, Indangasi is not giving us facts. He’s telling a story. The facts – his or any other – do not really matter. What his article is meant to do is plant doubt and put us who use her work on the defence. Because in Kenyanese, thinking isn’t about people in conversation; rather it’s about the winning narrative.
And that is the crux of the matter. Indangasi is angry less at Micere Mugo, and more at us who speak about her. He is not providing facts; he is telling a story based on the very weak idea of “sacrifice” as an anchor of legitimacy. As I’ve already said, self-sacrifice is an imperial narrative that we should not apply to Jesus, let alone Mwalimu Micere. But Indangasi so owns that narrative, to the point of suggesting he too could be a martyr. And so he declares: “If I am crucified for saying what I am about to say, so be it.” No, professor. We’re not crucifying you. We believe that nobody, not even Jesus, deserved to be crucified. We do not believe that the scars of crucifixion are a mark of pride. They are the scars of pain. A reminder to end oppression. So no, we’re not crucifying you. We’re holding you to account for what you have said.
Likewise, we will not descend to refuting his article by solely pointing to what a nasty person Indangasi can sometimes be. That response keeps the conversation exactly where Indangasi wanted it: in the sphere of the personal.
I wanted to write my memorisation of Micere Mugo after the send-off rites for Mwalimu Micere Mugo were over because I wanted to play along with the Kenyan culture of individualising the political. I wanted to wait because I feared being told not to challenge the political vernacular while people were still mourning. But after reading Indangasi’s article, I realised that if our mourning for Micere Mugo is not a political act, we are going to bury the memory of people like Micere Mugo, and even Stephen Mogusu and many others, under tantalising and nasty bio-graphies from media and academia that deny them their voices beyond their person. And that act perpetuates the depoliticising of our society which Micere Mugo fought against. If, as Adorno said, thinking points beyond itself, then Micere Mugo was simply a thinker, and what Kenya badly needs is simply thinking. “Deep thinking” is a fallacy where the focus is on respecting institutional protocols of thinking rather than on what the thinking is pointing us to. And despite itself, the demand for deep thinking points beyond itself to a war on politics.
By contrast Mwalimu Micere Mugo fought for our right to politics exercised through speech, through thinking and through the imagination. Clearly, that struggle continues. And thankfully, Micere Mugo has not died. She has multiplied. Ase. Ase. Ase.
Speaking on the theme of Imperialism in the Third World World Professor Micere Mugo argues that, depending on who ends up having supremacy over our intellect, we shall live or die.
I would like to dedicate this lecture to Maina wa Kinyatti, the well-known historian of the Mau Mau period who is being held in the notorious Kamiti prison — eight or so miles from Nairobi on trumped-up charges. Maina is the editor of Thunder From the Mountain, a volume of Mau Mau patriotic songs, and author of several other significant publications on this period. At the moment he is in danger of going blind because the authorities will not allow him hospitalisation to be operated upon, in spite of several appeals from his doctor. Several days ago, I received a telephone call from Nairobi, asking me to internationalise the appeal to allow him hospitalisation so that he can undergo the necessary surgery because his eyesight can still be saved at the moment.
This lecture is also dedicated to my former students from the University of Nairobi who are in prison on trumped-up charges for opposing foreign domination in Kenya and in particular, the US military bases in Mombasa and elsewhere in the country. It is also dedicated to colleagues in preventive detention without charges: Koigi wa Wamwere, Edward Oyugi, Kamoji Wachira and George Anyona.
The subject of my address tonight is ‘The Battle of the Mind’. WEB Dubois predicted that the problem of the 20th century would be the colour line, and to an extent he was correct. Paulo Freire later argued that the predominant theme of this century and epoch is that of domination vis-à-vis the struggle for liberation from domination. I would like to support Freire in this observation and to add that the heat of the battle, the firing line, has its barrels directed at the human mind in this war between the oppressor and the oppressed.
Let me illustrate: At the moment, I am winding up a voluntary prison programme at a place by the name of Ogdensburg, near the St Lawrence Seaway, only one minute away from the Canadian border. The place is in Upstate New York, 20 or so miles from St Lawrence University where I have been Visiting Professor since September 1982. I launched this Black Studies Program as part of both my academic commitment and political activism to offer solidarity to these oppressed brothers whose ages range from 19 to 55. I had learnt that the majority of the jail population at this place was black and that there was a lot of fighting among themselves, as would, of course, occur when people are locked up together for days and months on end.
The men are from downtown New York and other cities in the south of New York State, transported miles away from their homes to depopulate the urban jails. For most of them, the distance of 500 miles or so is as effective as temporary exile, for their low income, at times destitute, families cannot afford to visit them even once in several years. A comrade who knew the awareness and sense of self-worth as well as the collective responsibility towards which these brothers and I have been working once told me: ‘Concentrate on these men uncompromisingly. For some of our most inventive brains are locked up in jails.’ This is something that George Jackson had also observed in the 60s and it remains true up to today. We have some brilliant minds in there. Some of those inmates are so deeply engaged in pursuit of an education relevant to their needs that I am more impressed with them than with many of my white middle-class students at SLU; but the students get angry with me when I tell them that they should exchange places with some of these inmates at Ogdensburg. My leading methodology with them is modelled on Paulo Freire’s theory of dialogical education in which teacher and students are learners. We have a lot of free debate as equals. The debates take persistently ironic lines whenever we touch on the world of academia. They are not impressed with the ‘doctors’, ‘masters’, and as they call them, ‘basters’ from what they refer to as the white man’s universities — men and women who are so burdened with white elephants of book volumes that they walk gazing at their toes and cannot see the ghettos around them.
“Concentrate on these men uncompromisingly. For some of our most inventive brains are locked up in jails.”
These men remind me of Lawino in Okot p’Bitek’s Two Songs, who laments for her assimilado-type husband, Ocol, whose testicles she alleges were smashed by huge books in the colonialist classrooms. In recent years I have come to feel the embarrassment of these medals in the names of ‘basters’, ‘masters’ and ‘doctors’ of Western thought. They become quite a burden, in the face of the harsh realities of economic and political/cultural deprivation facing the majority of my people and other so-called Third World peoples. These medals have often proven meaningless in the service of such people, coming as they do from either the colonialist or neo-colonialist classrooms and, much more so, from the academic factories of the West in which we are but mere workers.
Fellow scholars and colleagues, co-searchers of truth and friends, I do not mean to insult you but rather to challenge us at this conference so that we ask ourselves what we will emerge with from these conference halls to change the oppressive reality confronting the majority of our people. Unless we can face this question fully, and I think from the looks of the programme here that we are meant to, we should not really go around calling ourselves African activists.
The battle of the mind is on and depending on who ends up having supremacy over our intellect, we shall live or die. We have to take positions on either side of the battle front line. Let us not engage in academic polemics when our people are dying out there. Let us not be like Chinua Achebe’s proverbial man who was so busy chasing a rat that was escaping house fire that he forgot to save his own belongings. Let us ask ourselves whether we are ready to engage in dialogical education with our oppressed majorities so that together we can reflect upon our reality and creatively transform it to liberate ourselves from all forms of enslavement. It is unfortunate that to date, the major role of our elites and academicians has been to hijack our peoples’ revolutions, to assume power and to continue sitting on them while wining and dining with foreign collaborating forces.
The battle of the mind is on and depending on who ends up having supremacy over our intellect, we shall live or die.
Those of you who have seen Sembene Ousmane’s Xhala know what I am talking about, as do those of you who know the Charles Njonjos of Kenya and the Eugenia Charles’ of the Dominican Republic. Only two years ago did Kamuzu Banda of Malawi launch a school in which the cream of Malawi high school students would be enrolled in a special institute, with posh facilities, of course named Banda Institute. In this institute, students are to primarily learn Greek and Latin, as this will take them to the source of human civilisation. In this school no Africans can be engaged as teachers. White instructors are to be imported if necessary because Africans do not have the necessary brains or skills. This is in the middle of Malawi on the African continent. A project by the head of state himself! Can you blame those inmates at Ogdensburg for making fun of us? Did Ousmane Sembene exaggerate on the assimilado theme as he has been accused of in Xhala?
What I am trying to say can only be illustrated through an analysis of education as a political and cultural institution. I want to begin with agreeing with Freire that s the most important political and cultural institution, education is not and cannot be neutral. The political system that nurtures it into being ensures that it exists to serve its interests, to service its cultural programmes. As recipients of degrees from the institutions of either our former colonisers or present-day dominators, this is a truth that we must continuously keep before our eyes. Through education, we internalise the values of a given econo-political system. Through these values we try to unravel our surroundings to reach into ourselves and into each other. We are using, in other words, the defined aesthetic of a specific socio-cultural background, as our point of reference and even more specifically, we are projecting the worldview and ideology of a given class. And, lest we forget it, Karl Marx had a point when he stated that the history of a given epoch is the history of the ruling class. Often, the education institutions that we are part of are nothing but mere servicing departments for the ideas and social values of the current ruling classes.
It is within this context that we must continuously ask ourselves: What kind of doctors are we? Doctors and masters of what? Are we basters? Whose knowledge have we mastered? Whose values are we doctoring? Cabral once said that only in stories is it possible to cross the river on the shoulders of the crocodile’s friend. Some of us have been happily riding on the shoulders of the crocodile himself. Is it any wonder that we have not yet crossed the river to our side of the bank? In Miseducation of the Negro Woodson graphically describes the calibre of most educationists in the Africana world. The book has been correctly summarised by Wesley and Perry as follows:
Miseducation criticizes the system and explains the vicious circle that results from mis-educated individuals graduating, then proceeding to reach and miseducate others (p. vii).
In history, for instance, we date ourselves as pre-colonial or post-colonial as if colonialism was the threshold of our history. As if we never existed from the beginning of things like all other people in the world. When we teach aesthetics, we go as far back as the Greeks. Greek historical records show that the Greeks learnt many of their ethics and aesthetics from the people of Africa’s Nile Valley Civilisation. For our models we go to Europe, the very predator who destroyed and continues to destroy the very initiative, freedom and wholeness that makes men and women human.
Before we continue with our deliberations at this conference which is touching on issues of death and life in the African worlds as well as other related realities, let us seriously ask what credentials we have, to be dealing with the weighty problems before us. De we truly represent the aspirations of these majorities? If we are not on their side, then we should leave to deliberate on the problems and seek for solutions, for, believe me, they have the capability.
I will give you a good example of this. Two and a half years ago, during one of my field research collecting data on ‘Narratives of Kenyan Women Freedom Fighters’, I met an elderly woman of about 85 at Chura, near Nakuru — in the former White Highlands, now integrated highlands like Malcolm X’s creamed coffee. In this area a lot of former freedom fighters have been settled on small patches of land, awaiting proper land allocation — a whole twenty years after Kenya’s independence. Awaiting land allocation, mind you, in a country where Tiny Rowland, Delmonte, Delamere, Moi, Njonjo, the Kenyattas and the rest of them own miles and miles of whole countrysides. Anyhow, this woman gave me one of the most concise, precise and incisive economic analyses I have heard for a long time on Kenya’s Treasury’s idea of what they call the common man’s budget.
For our models we go to Europe, the very predator who destroyed and continues to destroy the very initiative, freedom and wholeness that makes men and women human.
I loved debating with this elder and she was a solid debater. I often found her seated outside her hut on a sack or on a stool. She has swollen leges inherited from a torture spell in colonialist cells during the Mau Mau war. This day I taunted her: ‘Grandmother, I see that you are smiling today. Is it the news of the common man’s budget?’ She shifted on her stool as if to sit more solidly, as was her habit, gave me one dismissive look and then said: ‘Will you sit down those ndigiris (Kikuyu mock word for “degrees”) of yours and listen to me again.’ She was on the war path. Explain the donkeys: ‘They say it is the common man’s budget, that because we don’t drive cars we will not spend money on petrol. Look at this patch of land out there. The tractor comes to turn the soil for me. Does it drink porridge? In that case, I will make some and have my patch all ready for planting at very little cost. And the matatus [public transport vehicles] on which I risk my life every day riding between here and Nakuru to sell my products, does it drink porridge too? Go away with your poor man’s budget. It is your budget. When it is mine, they will increase the price of maize and beans so that I can make a profit. They will give me some land on which they grow tea, coffee and wheat which are highly priced. You hear me?’ I said, ‘very clearly’ and shut up.
Believe me, we do not have to speak for these people. They know who is sitting on them, they feel the weight, they know how to throw it off. It is the power and the means of accomplishing this that they lack. We can only speak with them, not for them. We can offer our skills to service their needs; we do not need to tell what they need. If we can do this, that is, work in solidarity with them, then like Malcolm X said in the ’60s, ours will stop being sitting down action in the classrooms, libraries and these conference rooms. We will go out there and struggle with them.
The pity of it is that only very few of us are committed to the kind of action and involvement that I have in mind. In The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin White Masks, Fanon does a ruthless analysis of what the so-called intellectual class represents among the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie. They stand for parroting and are very faithful interpreters of the ‘master’s’ intellect.
Under colonialist, neo-colonialist and imperialist education we end up denying our world and what it represents. We end up craving for the very systems that dominate us. Through an analysis of language alone, as one of the weapons that this mental invasion uses to dominate oppressed peoples, Fanon shows that the very tool through which we name ourselves, our surroundings, articulate the depths of our existence — language — is robbed from us. We assume our conqueror’s tongue, dialects, thought patterns … to the level that we completely internalise the values of his system. He says:
To speak means to be in a position to use certain syntax, to grasp the morphology of this or that language, but it means above all to assume a certain culture, to support the weight of a civilisation… A man who has a language consequently possesses the world expressed and implied by that language.
This then is our dilemma. The dilemma of our assimilado-types. Malcolm X spoke of this character in terms of being a house nigger who he said ate well, in the kitchen, what master left over. This creature, Malcolm says, loved his master more than master loved himself. When Master fell sick, he would ask, ‘What’s the matter boss? We sick?’ When master’s house caught fire, he worked harder than master to put out the fire. And when the field nigger asked him to take flight with him and escape, he thought him crazy: ‘What, separate? What do you mean separate?’ Slavery was domesticated in him. The field nigger was the opposite of this. When master ‘s house caught fire, he prayed for a wind to fan it even more. He hated the master and wished him dead… As was the case in the sixties, today there are two kinds of oppressed peoples: those who condone or accept and those who fight resolutely against it. Right here among us scholars are many, condoning the physical and mental destruction through which Europe has enslaved us for centuries.
Under colonialist, neo-colonialist and imperialist education we end up denying our world and what it represents.
Ten days ago, on this very campus, I had a scholar take me to task for challenging Euro-centred philosophical thinking and suggesting that we needed to be African-centred in our analysis of African rural areas. He called the African philosophy that I described something like ‘the primordial state of our psyche’ — something that would not operate today. When I insisted that I spoke of a philosophy of life that lives today and that 80% of our rural masses adhere to, he took me back to Plato. By the way, Plato was a by-product of our mystery schools in the Nile Valley African Civilisation of Antiquity! Now, what do you say to this kind of scholar from the so-called Third World? Paulo Frere describes his position brilliantly in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I read from the section entitled ‘Cultural Invasion’ and at length, because the statement is important:
Cultural conquest leads to the cultural inauthenticity of those who are invaded; they begin to respond to the values, the standards, and the goals of the invaders. In their passion to indoctrinate, to mould others to their patterns and their way of life, the invaders desire to know how those they have invaded apprehend reality — but only so that they can dominate the latter more effectively. In cultural invasion it is essential that those invaded come to see their reality with the outlook of the invaders rather than their own. For the more they mimic the invaders, the more stable the position of the latter becomes… For cultural invasion to succeed, it is essential that those invaded become convinced of their intrinsic inferiority. Since everything has its opposite, if those who are invaded consider themselves inferior, they must necessarily recognise the superiority of the invaders. The values of the latter thereby become the pattern of the former. The more invasion is accentuated and those invaded are alienated from the spirit of their own culture and from themselves, the more the latter want to be like the invaders: to walk like them, dress like them, talk like them.
Freire is quite right to argue that education from the oppressors’ institutions can only end up controlling our thinking and actions, leading us to adjust to his world, inhibiting our creative powers, indoctrinating us to adapt to the world of oppression to the point where complete domestication of oppression makes us happily deny ourselves, accepting manipulation. I quote Frere again on this:
Manipulation, like the conquest whose objectives it serves, attempts to anaesthetise the people so they will not think. For if the people join to their presence in the historical process critical thinking about that process, the threat of their emergence materialises in revolution (sic).
Osman Sembene gives a good example of this kind of mind which is so monitored, so dependent on the conqueror’s viewpoint that to solve a problem under the nose, he/she has to go to W stern books for foreign aid.
I refer to Tiémoko in God’s Bits of Wood who is one of the strikers during the famous railroad workers strike. There is a debate on what is to be done to a co-worker who has crossed the picket line and instead of creatively thinking for an opinion of his own, Tiémoko has to spend an entire day and night looking for something to say about a situation in Dakar, Senegal, from French academic authorities.
And the next day he didn’t leave his house. His wife, a pretty little woman with high cheekbones and slender features told everyone who came to the door, ‘He spent the night with a book.’
I can just visualise this Lawino-type African woman vividly and the contempt/defiance with which she must have uttered these indicting words.
I use this example to direct my address to Amilcar Cabral’s theory on the need for us to return to the source of our being. By the source, I understand Cabral meaning the reality of a colonised people’s history that is still very authentic. He argues that the masses of our people have always remained at the source of our history and culture and that it is the Western educated elite who needs not only to re-authenticate himself/herself, but to learn from the source. I think that to Cabral, the source he asks us to return to is not a past that will involve moving backwards in time or engaging in hind cultural motion, for this is not possible.
History and culture are dynamic and they change as we count hours, days, months and years. Cabral speaks of a reality that is physically, intellectually and emotionally there. He is challenging us to know our villages, our towns, our slums, our rivers, our mountains, our climate and the rhythms that they dance to. To know our societies, ourselves, re-construct our personality. He is asking us to look around ourselves and assert our being, before looking out there. He is saying that if we seriously examine the Afrocentric-world — physically, intellectually and soulfully, we will become ourselves during this painful search. It is in his spirit that I would like to urge this conference to put the theories that we use here into relevant focus and to address our reality in our own dialects, as it were.
As was the case in the sixties, today there are two kinds of oppressed peoples: those who condone or accept and those who fight resolutely against it.
Let me now briefly address the Africana background that I know well to illustrate some of the sources that we could draw upon for our theories, philosophies, ideologies and models.
I would like to draw your attention to published sources that discuss the African philosophy of life, even though their analysis may have ideological biases that we might disagree with. There are many, but I will, for the present purpose, refer you to Cheikh Anta Diop, The Origin of African Civilisation; John Mbiti, African Philosophy and Religion and Janheinz Jahn, Muntu. They analyse the African world that has shaped a lot of our minds over history and deserve serious study even though one may not go with the theories all the way.
At the risk of over-generalising. I am prepared to say that there is a distinct Afro-centric philosophy that is practised indigenously by most African societies, especially outside Feudalism and Capitalism. Its authenticity changes with history, African peoples’ movements and with their dispersal under slavery in the Diaspora. But even among non-Continental Africana peoples, real traces of the Afro-centric view of life persist.
What do I mean by an Afro-centric philosophy? It is best exemplified by comparing it to an onion structure. The onion has many layers: layers upon layers, with inner and outer curves, which maintain perpetual contact with each other harmoniously, making one whole. If you peel off one layer, the onion does not remain the same whole. Like the onion, the African world is in interrelated layers of co-existence. There is the individual, the co-operate personality (the group). There is the family and the extended family. There is the inner world (the soul, the heart, the intellect, etc.) and there is the outer world — the physical form, physical reality, the material culture world that people create outside themselves.
History and culture are dynamic and they change as we count hours, days, months and years.
This African world also represents life in cyclic motions: the seasons rhythmically dance in and out of existence with planting time, harvesting time, resting time, rainy weather, dry weather and so on. It represents the rhythmical milestones of life that individuals and societies live through from birth, through second birth, initiation, marriage, elder status, into the sphere of ancestral spirits and deities. The deities, in turn, are modelled after the world that the humans wrestle with: Natural phenomena and people, as well as mysteries. They can be men or women or things. They can be benevolent or mischievous and for this reason, society will address them both reverently and cynically since they can at times be as whimsical as the human beings themselves. An individual can only be if he/she is part of the collective group. All the layers of the onion structure must harmonise or the world will step out of measured rhythm and cause chaos. Thus in some communities, when people greet one another, monosyllables are not acceptable. The greeting extends over time, going into elaborate detail to ensure that the person addressed is harmoniously wholesome with himself/herself, society and the surrounding world.
There is a distinct Afro-centric philosophy that is practised indigenously by most African societies, especially outside Feudalism and Capitalism.
How are you? Are you well? And your own? How are your children? And your wife? How are her people? What about your mother, is she well? And your neighbour, is he still there? How are your goats? And the chickens? And the plants? etc., etc.
In this world, you become your brother’s keeper. Among the Baganda people of Uganda, the ceremony of greetings can last a whole ten minutes. People seek contact, feeling, understanding, communication. They attempt to break the barriers that silences can create between one person and another. We are dealing with a world that emphasises the ideology of collectivity, groupness, interrelatedness, interdependence and cooperation. This ideology is antithetical to individualism, isolationism, alienation and cut-throat competition. If only we could return to the source and make this philosophy/ideology work relevantly, concurrently with our dynamically changing culture! We would go a lot further than we will using Western models. But we also remember Cabral’s warning in this connection, with this proposed return. I quote him:
… the ‘return to the source’ is not and cannot in itself be an act of struggle against foreign domination (colonialist and racist) and it no longer necessarily means a return to the traditions. It is denial, by the petite bourgeoisie, of the pretended supremacy of the culture of the dominant power over that of the dominated people with which it must identify itself. The ‘return to the source’ is therefore not a voluntary step, but the only possible reply to the demand of concrete need, historically determined, and enforced by the inescapable contradiction between the colonised society and the colonial power, the mass of the people exploited and the foreign exploitative class, a contradiction in the light of which each social stratum or indigenous class must define in position … the ‘return to source’ is of no historical importance unless it brings not only the real involvement in the struggle for independence but also complete and absolute identification with the hopes of the mass of the people, who contest not only the foreign culture but also the foreign domination as a whole. Otherwise, ‘the return to the source” is nothing more than an attempt to find short-term benefits — knowingly or unknowingly a kind of political opportunism.
I would like to close by emphasising that this is the challenge before us today. We must assume sides. The battle of the mind is on and real. A few scholars have already chosen to identify with the hope of the mass of the people to contest foreign domination. I hope that some of us here tonight are in that camp and that if we are not, we truly question who and what our knowledge serves.
Lecture presented at the Fifth Annual Conference of the African Activist Association on the theme of Imperialism in the Third World, held at the University of California, Los Angeles, USA, 23-25 May 1984.
Professor Micere Githae Mugo was an icon of our times, a defender of rights and freedoms, a hero, a fearless feminist, a pan-Africanist and a humanist whose love and warmth brought hope and confidence in those that she interacted with in times of desperation and despair.
Professor Micere Githae Mugo came to Zimbabwe in 1982 and taught at the University of Zimbabwe while in exile. Her being in Zimbabwe at that time was a welcome development as she added value to the education system as well as to the status of women in Zimbabwe. Her presence in Zimbabwe brought hope that activities for the emancipation of women would be resuscitated; they had stalled due to pressure from a patriarchal society that felt threatened by women who were rising to positions of power including in politics. These were women who had been educated in exile, mothers of the revolution during the struggle for independence, and women freedom fighters. The majority of women became afraid to be part of the women’s movement because of intimidation by their husbands, male relatives and even employers.
Some of the Zimbabwean women who had been educated in exile and who had returned home at independence and were already comfortable in their jobs as lawyers, professors, medical doctors and politicians had at one time or another interacted with Professor Mugo, either abroad or on the continent. They were the point of entry for those who had never met her and it was not long before women from all walks of life became aware of Professor Mugo as a champion of women’s emancipation, education, writing and curriculum development.
Women’s organisations that were already in existence, such as Zimbabwe Women’s Bureau (ZWB) and the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA), found new energy and geared themselves towards new developments in women’s rights policy lobbying through dialogue with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Legal Resources Foundation.
The radical Women Action Group (WAG) was born in 1983, with chapters in rural areas. On the evenings of 28, 29 and 30 October 1983, police had picked up every woman that they encountered in the streets regardless of who they were, where they were coming from or where they were going. Most of these women were minding their own business: some were coming from work, others from hospital, from visiting friends or were simply going out to buy something to eat. The police called the arrests “Operation Clean Up”, suggesting that every woman they had picked up was a sex worker. Incensed, Professor Mugo, local feminists and other powerful women mobilised women to take action. WAG became a powerful voice for lobbying for pro-women policies and its weight was felt by all. Followed the Zimbabwe Women Resources Centre Network (ZWRCN) which was created in 1990 to deal with gender and development issues and documentation, becoming a place where women went for appropriate and reliable information.
It had become apparent over time that Zimbabwean women had stories of their own to tell, either through fiction or non-fiction. Seasoned writers such as Barbara Nkala, Tawona Mtshiya, Collette Mutangadura, Chiedza Musengezi, Doris Ndlovu, Jane Chifamba and others came up with the idea of Zimbabwe Women Writers. A series of meetings took place at the University of Zimbabwe and in April 1990, Zimbabwe Women Writers (ZWW) was born. Women had so much to write about from the heart and every woman who wanted to write was given an opportunity to do so in the language that they felt comfortable in. The idea was to come up with anthologies of short stories in English and in the two main local languages, chiShona and isiNdebele.
Professor Mugo not only taught literature but was also a talented author and playwright and there was no question that she had become a role model and mentor for women who were already writing and those who intended to write and be published by Zimbabwe Women Writers. Mainstream publishers had no faith in women writers; their belief was that publishing women’s work was a financial risk. ZWW members came from all walks of life, but those who taught at the University of Zimbabwe had one advantage: These women were fortunate to have Professor Mugo right there with them, learning from her the art of writing stories and poetry. Some students who were ZWW members also benefited and those like me who were not at the University made sure to attend every occasion at which Professor Mugo was speaking or officiating. If it meant gate-crushing these events, we did. We loved hearing her speak, admired her African attires, the way she walked with grace. Professor Micere had style.
As it turned out, Zimbabwe Women Writers Anthologies were published in all three languages, and became popular both for leisure reading and for education. The success of the anthologies was such that in 1995 UNICEF commissioned some members of Zimbabwe Women Writers to write primary school readers, and biographies of women firsts in male-dominated careers so that girls could have role models to emulate and find careers of their choice. This was a welcome project that produced results that are still being appreciated to date.
In the heyday of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, from the mid-1980s to 1999, Harare was the place to find Professor Mugo; she attended the indabas, writers’ workshops, copyright symposiums and the many exciting events that were offered to participants, contributors, publishers, writers, diplomats and other dignitaries. Being on the Board of Zimbabwe International Book Fair, I had the privilege of attending all these events where I observed Professor Micere Githae Mugo mix, mingle, talk and laugh with people. It was an opportunity for me to see and to learn how things were done. I am glad I did that; here I am now speaking, officiating at events and even mentoring others. Professor Mugo’s wisdom contributed to the Virginia that I am today.
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