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Ngugi: We perfect our English as Europe sharpens tools of plunder

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By JULIUS SIGEI
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Celebrated Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o is in the country to launch his latest book, Kenda Muiyuru (The Perfect Nine), and to promote writing in vernacular languages, a mission he has been on for more than three decades.

In this conversation with the Saturday Nation, which has been condensed for space and clarity, one of the world’s leading intellectuals talks about the Gikuyu epic, his views on the Nobel Prize and his plans to relocate to Kenya.

Most families in Kenya today converse in either Kiswahili, English or Sheng, giving children little or no exposure to indigenous languages. How viable is your campaign to promote local languages?

I am actually very encouraged by the rise of African languages. On YouTube, I see incredible performances in Kenyan languages. I have seen films in Gikuyu, for instance, and over the years I have seen really great improvement in camera work and editing. I have seen films by Kanyanya Stars, very well edited and the acting is very good and smooth. And also other comedies in different languages. I was watching the other day comedy in Ekegusii.

Actually, the best music, for me, is in African languages. But we can’t leave our languages merely as only oral or music. They should be part of the intellectual production of our communities. I know there are difficulties, like cases where teachers would have, say, the hour assigned for African languages used for English practice, which sends the message to children that their language is not important.

Many things have to change. I am very pleased actually to see that the Ministry of Education has now reintroduced African languages and because of that a publishing house like East African Educational Publishers has issued quite a number of books on how to learn Dholuo, Ekegusii and other languages. The hope is that they do all the 40-odd languages.

We have to put in more resources to train teachers and also abolish practices like humiliating or beating students who speak their mother tongue in school. Why are parents happy when those children can’t speak their mother tongue? In a way I don’t blame the parents or anybody for that matter. They may not realise it. They think they are making a decision, yet we were programmed a long time ago. It’s a colonial thing. We have to decolonise our own minds.

We can go to the history of how English came to be seen automatically as the language of intelligence and African languages as peripheral, but remember it was a conscious programme enacted by all colonial powers.

You have for many years now been tipped to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, with your admirers here and across the world holding their breath every time the Swedish Academy is about to make the announcement. What is the wait like for you?

Now that I write in Gikuyu, it becomes more significant that people think that the totality of my work is worth the Nobel Prize. I feel positive about that, but I do not write for prizes. What pleases me more is when I meet people who tell me such and such work of mine had this and this impact upon their lives. I once met a political activist in India who said he was ready to commit suicide when he entered a bookshop and, rummaging through my books, picked up Devil on the Cross, which I wrote at Kamiti Maximum Prison. He told me the book gave him a new purpose for living. As a writer it is very touching when you get such unsolicited confessions.

You were forced into exile in 1982 but despite all the change here, you won’t come back home for good. Why?

Remember in 2003, after 20 years of forced exile, I came back with my wife, Njeeri, and what happened to us? We were attacked by gunmen at Norfolk Towers apartments. But that kind of thing does not deter me from coming back to Kenya. Hopefully, I will retire here.

Remember I carry my Kenyan passport everywhere, although I qualify to take an American passport. I stay with my Kenyan passport and the green card, which means I am a legal alien in America. Of course I appreciate America as it gave me the space when I was being chased from my own country, but Kenya will always be home for me. But for now I want to teach a little bit more.

Yet you have written before that you have never really “unpacked the suitcase” in your mind and settled fully in the West. When will you write about that place that has been your home these 36 years?

I try but I find myself going back to Kenya. Except that I now introduce the connection between Kenya and the West a bit more. For instance, in my novel Wizard of the Crow (Murogi wa Kagogo) and my other book Nyoni Nyonia Nyone (Bird, please open my eyes so I can see), some of the action takes place actually in New York. So I do try to play with connections nowadays.

West Africa seems to have a higher concentration of good literary writers, from your generation all the way to that of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, compared with East Africa. To what do you attribute this variation?

No, we are doing very well in East Africa, actually. Its only when I began to write that there was this lopsided position in relation to West Africa where the region had many writers while Kenya had only me, (Leonard) Kibera, (Sam) Kahiga and (Grace) Ogot. We were sort of struggling. Now there are many Kenyan writers who are comparable to writers being produced in West Africa.

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But the real challenge, quite frankly, really, is that there are not many writers in African languages in Nigeria or Kenya. In that sense the whole continent is almost the same in terms of being captive to European languages and in terms of hostility towards African languages. You get two people talking and one says, “I speak Italian, French, English, German,” and the other says, “Wow!” Then the other one says, “I, too, know many languages — Gikuyu, Yoruba and so on,” and the other says, “Why?”

Africa has really to change because losing a language is losing one’s soul. What we need in Africa is a three-language policy where, in the case of Kenya, we would have every child being grounded in their mother tongue, Kiswahili and then English.

The problem with Africa is this: Europe gave Africa the resources of their accents while Africa gave Europe access to the resources of the continent. So that when we are very busy engrossed in perfecting our English or French accents, Europe is very busy perfecting their instruments of extracting our gold, diamonds, coffee and oil.

You said we now have a good number of acclaimed Kenyan authors. Can you name some?

Take, for instance, Meja Mwangi. He has actually written more novels than I have done. You could say he is the leading Kenyan novelist in terms of the sheer quantity. My son, Mukoma wa Ngugi, is now being mentioned all over the world as one of the leading voices on the detective novel from Africa. My other child, Nducu wa Ngugi, also writes thrillers. My daughter Wanjiku wrote the novel The Fall of the Saints and she is becoming very well known in the world. But it is not only them; there are many others. Don’t forget that there was Grace Ogot. We also have Rebeka Njau and now Yvonne Owuor, who has been winning prizes left and right.

What are you reading now?

I am reading a lot of work on the Egyptian civilisation, which is the missing link in our education system. Remember the 3,000 years of Egyptian civilisation in which they did incredible things.

They cannot even tell now how they did it and remember they were black Africans when they did this. They were leaders in art, sculpture, astronomy. They invented writing and the idea of a state and bureaucracy.

But now we don’t read. Our children don’t know this. This has been an eye-opener for me. I encourage more schools to teach the Egyptian civilisation, long before Greek, Western history. Remember that even the Greeks used to go to Egypt to learn: Plato and Pythagoras, for instance.

What are your thoughts on the circumcision of women, seeing as you appear to give a near sympathetic portrayal of it in The River Between? Do you feel conflicted?

No. You forget that Muthoni, who gets circumcised, dies from the wound. That cannot be high recommendation. I believe in the integrity of the female body. What I was saying was you need to understand both the politics and the culture of a people you are going to change.

You seem to have in recent years been drifting away from your political commitment of the 1980s, when you wrote such books as Petals of Blood, to today’s autobiographical works and also mythology. What prompted this shift, seeing as some of the leadership challenges you grappled with then are still with us?

The one thing I have been fairly consistent about is the empowerment of the ordinary people. If I come to Kenya, as I do, I don’t look at the progress in terms of the skyscrapers. I go in the streets and see how many people live in shacks without school and hospitals. Poverty is connected to the politics and economic policies. There is nothing like poverty coming by itself; it’s produced, it’s manufactured.

Look: I believe in this sincerely that we cannot afford a world where palaces are built on prisons or splendour is built on squalor. Splendour for a few, squalor for many. That world, whether Kenya or wherever, is untenable. Instability is inherent in that society.

When I go through the countryside, as I was in Kisii and Kisumu, I can see there are more houses made of stone and iron roofing. But there are also people living in miserable conditions. On the one hand, there is a lot of progress in terms of the highways, but on the other hand, massive poverty is crawling on our streets.

In much of your anti-imperialist writing you take aim at Western powers for continued economic and cultural colonisation of Africa. What’s your take on what many consider today as Chinese imperialism?

If we don’t control our resources, then we are leaving others to do so. That’s why I keep coming back to our languages because that lack of confidence with ourselves begins by hating our tongues. The history carried by those languages is erased, we don’t have a memory of Africa making things when we abandon our languages.

That’s why my book, Kenda Muiyuru, is very important. The legend is that the 10 daughters didn’t have brothers. So if there was only one man in that home — their father — they must have been able to do things for themselves: build houses, defend themselves, you know, total human beings. From it we learn that in our past there was a period we made things.



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General

Sordid tale of the bank ‘that would bribe God’

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Bank of Credit and Commerce International. August 1991. [File, Standard]

“This bank would bribe God.” These words of a former employee of the disgraced Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) sum up one of the most rotten global financial institutions.
BCCI pitched itself as a top bank for the Third World, but its spectacular collapse would reveal a web of transnational corruption and a playground for dictators, drug lords and terrorists.
It was one of the largest banks cutting across 69 countries and its aftermath would cause despair to innocent depositors, including Kenyans.
BCCI, which had $20 billion (Sh2.1 trillion in today’s exchange rate) assets globally, was revealed to have lost more than its entire capital.
The bank was founded in 1972 by the crafty Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi.
He was loved in his homeland for his charitable acts but would go on to break every rule known to God and man.
In 1991, the Bank of England (BoE) froze its assets, citing large-scale fraud running for several years. This would see the bank cease operations in multiple countries. The Luxembourg-based BCCI was 77 per cent owned by the Gulf Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  
BoE investigations had unearthed laundering of drugs money, terrorism financing and the bank boasted of having high-profile customers such as Panama’s former strongman Manual Noriega as customers.
The Standard, quoting “highly placed” sources reported that Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed Sultan would act as guarantor to protect the savings of Kenyan depositors.
The bank had five branches countrywide and panic had gripped depositors on the state of their money.
Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) would then move to appoint a manager to oversee the operations of the BCCI operations in Kenya.
It sent statements assuring depositors that their money was safe.
The Standard reported that the Sheikh would be approaching the Kenyan and other regional subsidiaries of the bank to urge them to maintain operations and assure them of his personal support.
It was said that contact between CBK and Abu Dhabi was “likely.”
This came as the British Ambassador to the UAE Graham Burton implored the gulf state to help compensate Britons, and the Indian government also took similar steps.
The collapse of BCCI was, however, not expect to badly hit the Kenyan banking system. This was during the sleazy 1990s when Kenya’s banking system was badly tested. It was the era of high graft and “political banks,” where the institutions fraudulently lent to firms belonging or connected to politicians, who were sometimes also shareholders.
And even though the impact was expected to be minimal, it was projected that a significant number of depositors would transfer funds from Asian and Arab banks to other local institutions.
“Confidence in Arab banking has taken a serious knock,” the “highly placed” source told The Standard.
BCCI didn’t go down without a fight. It accused the British government of a conspiracy to bring down the Pakistani-run bank.  The Sheikh was said to be furious and would later engage in a protracted legal battle with the British.
“It looks to us like a Western plot to eliminate a successful Muslim-run Third World Bank. We know that it often acted unethically. But that is no excuse for putting it out of business, especially as the Sultan of Abu Dhabi had agreed to a restructuring plan,” said a spokesperson for British Asians.
A CBK statement signed by then-Deputy Governor Wanjohi Murithi said it was keenly monitoring affairs of the mother bank and would go to lengths to protect Kenyan depositors.
“In this respect, the CBK has sought and obtained the assurance of the branch’s management that the interests of depositors are not put at risk by the difficulties facing the parent company and that the bank will meet any withdrawal instructions by depositors in the normal course of business,” said Mr Murithi.
CBK added that it had maintained surveillance of the local branch and was satisfied with its solvency and liquidity.
This was meant to stop Kenyans from making panic withdrawals.
For instance, armed policemen would be deployed at the bank’s Nairobi branch on Koinange Street after the bank had announced it would shut its Kenyan operations.
In Britain, thousands of businesses owned by British Asians were on the verge of financial ruin following the closure of BCCI.
Their firms held almost half of the 120,000 bank accounts registered with BCCI in Britain. 
The African Development Bank was also not spared from this mess, with the bulk of its funds deposited and BCCI and stood to lose every coin.
Criminal culture
In Britain, local authorities from Scotland to the Channel Islands are said to have lost over £100 million (Sh15.2 billion in today’s exchange rate).
The biggest puzzle remained how BCCI was allowed by BoE and other monetary regulation authorities globally to reach such levels of fraudulence.
This was despite the bank being under tight watch owing to the conviction of some of its executives on narcotics laundering charges in the US.
Coast politician, the late Shariff Nassir, would claim that five primary schools in Mombasa lost nearly Sh1 million and appealed to then Education Minister George Saitoti to help recover the savings. Then BoE Governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton condemned it as so deeply immersed in fraud that rescue or recovery – at least in Britain – was out of the question.
“The culture of the bank is criminal,” he said. The bank was revealed to have targeted the Third World and had created several “institutional devices” to promote its operations in developing countries.
These included the Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, a British-registered charity.
“It allowed it to cultivate high-level contacts among international statesmen,” reported The Observer, a British newspaper.
BCCI also arranged an annual Third World lecture and a Third World prize endowment fund of about $10 million (Sh1 billion in today’s exchange rate).
Winners of the annual prize had included Nelson Mandela (1985), sir Bob Geldof (1986) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1989).
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Monitor water pumps remotely via your phone

Tracking and monitoring motor vehicles is not new to Kenyans. Competition to install affordable tracking devices is fierce but essential for fleet managers who receive reports online and track vehicles from the comfort of their desk.

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Agricultural Development Corporation Chief Accountant Gerald Karuga on the Spot Over Fraud –

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Gerald Karuga, the acting chief accountant at the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), is on the spot over fraud in land dealings.

ADC was established in 1965 through an Act of Parliament Cap 346 to facilitate the land transfer programme from European settlers to locals after Kenya gained independence.

Karuga is under fire for allegedly aiding a former powerful permanent secretary in the KANU era Benjamin Kipkulei to deprive ADC beneficiaries of their land in Naivasha.

Kahawa Tungu understands that the aggrieved parties continue to protest the injustice and are now asking the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to probe Karuga.

A source who spoke to Weekly Citizen publication revealed that Managing Director Mohammed Dulle is also involved in the mess at ADC.

Read: Ministry of Agriculture Apologizes After Sending Out Tweets Portraying the President in bad light

Dulle is accused of sidelining a section of staffers in the parastatal.

The sources at ADC intimated that Karuga has been placed strategically at ADC to safeguard interests of many people who acquired the corporations’ land as “donations” from former President Daniel Arap Moi.

Despite working at ADC for many years Karuga has never been transferred, a trend that has raised eyebrows.

“Karuga has worked here for more than 30 years and unlike other senior officers in other parastatals who are transferred after promotion or moved to different ministries, for him, he has stuck here for all these years and we highly suspect that he is aiding people who were dished out with big chunks of land belonging to the corporation in different parts of the country,” said the source.

In the case of Karuga safeguarding Kipkulei’s interests, workers at the parastatals and the victims who claim to have lost their land in Naivasha revealed that during the Moi regime some senior officials used dubious means to register people as beneficiaries of land without their knowledge and later on colluded with rogue land officials at the Ministry of Lands to acquire title deeds in their names instead of those of the benefactors.

Read Also: Galana Kulalu Irrigation Scheme To Undergo Viability Test Before Being Privatised

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“We have information that Karuga has benefitted much from Kipkulei through helping him and this can be proved by the fact that since the matter of the Naivasha land began, he has been seen changing and buying high-end vehicles that many people of his rank in government can’t afford to buy or maintain,” the source added.

“He is even building a big apartment for rent in Ruiru town.”

The wealthy officer is valued at over Sh1.5 billion in prime properties and real estate.

Last month, more than 100 squatters caused scenes in Naivasha after raiding a private firm owned by Kipkulei.

The squatters, who claimed to have lived on the land for more than 40 years, were protesting take over of the land by a private developer who had allegedly bought the land from the former PS.

They pulled down a three-kilometre fence that the private developed had erected.

The squatters claimed that the former PS had not informed them that he had sold the land and that the developer was spraying harmful chemicals on the grass affecting their livestock and homes built on a section of the land.

Read Also: DP Ruto Wants NCPB And Other Agricultural Bodies Merged For Efficiency

Naivasha Deputy County Commissioner Kisilu Mutua later issued a statement warning the squatters against encroaching on Kipkuleir’s land.

“They are illegally invading private land. We shall not allow the rule of the jungle to take root,” warned Mutua.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee recently demanded to know identities of 10 faceless people who grabbed 30,350 acres of land belonging to the parastatal, exposing the rot at the corporation.

ADC Chairman Nick Salat, who doubles up as the KANU party Secretary-General, denied knowledge of the individuals and has asked DCI to probe the matter.

Email your news TIPS to [email protected] or WhatsApp +254708677607. You can also find us on Telegram through www.t.me/kahawatungu

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William Ruto eyes Raila Odinga Nyanza backyard

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Deputy President William Ruto will next month take his ‘hustler nation’ campaigns to his main rival, ODM leader Raila Odinga’s Nyanza backyard, in an escalation of the 2022 General Election competition.

Acrimonious fall-out

Development agenda

Won’t bear fruit

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