13 August 2004

Kenya: Ngugi Attack Too Shameful


Nairobi — The truth or not of the theory that Ngugi wa Thiong'o's assailants were not "ordinary criminals" - but individuals bent on personal revenge - is in some way neither here nor there.

The attack is a national embarrassment. It adds to Kenya's globally sinking image. There is first the recent campaign to paint our country as risky to visit. Our tourist "stakeholders" are still complaining against the US advisory to its citizens not to tour Kenya because of terror threat.

The injustice of it is undeniable. But terrorism is only one among criminal threats to human life. With or without terrorists, Kenya is a risky country to be in even for the inhabitants.

For the fact is that Kenya has become a paradise of crime, an arena for that war of all against all of which Thomas Hobbes spoke, in which life is nasty, brutish and short.

Since this is one of the themes that Ngugi's fiction addresses eloquently, he should know that, in such a situation, there are no sacred cows. Here the Queen of England can be targeted as sharply as can the most penurious job seeker.

To criminals, then, there is nothing special about East Africa's most celebrated writer. Indeed, the writer - because he is imagined to possess much more than the ordinary person - should expect to be targeted much more directly.

Though crime requires socio-historical explanations and econo-material remedies, these take a long time to yield results, especially since our Government has not even begun on the road to that solution.

That is why short-term measures are important. Thematic writing always creates enemies. Thus if you bring a man as important as Ngugi into a crime situation, you must ensure his personal security.

We address this to both the Government and his publishers - the latter being believed to have been responsible for Ngugi's itinerary. It could have liaised with the Government to lend the writer some security detail.

For Ngugi is a national asset. Whether or not we agree with his themes and his art, we must see that his name sells Kenya globally. Thus the attack will be published widely and destroy Kenya's image still more. That is why it will help to bring the culprits to book.

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