Report & Essay

Marjorie's Rejoinder to After The Vote.
Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye

 In his introduction to After the Vote, Billy Kahora asks ‘Where are the texts to explain why, what, where and how’ what we blandly call Mzozo wa baada ya uchaguzi came about?

Of course it is too soon to answer these questions in depth. But we do not have the equivalent of the Viva supplement that so tellingly encapsulated the events of August 1082. I take it that you refer to literary texts, since there is abundant material for an academic assessment of the situation. One of the most illuminating is Tabitha Kanjo’s Squatters and The Rise of Mau Mau. These are not available, through price and erratic distribution, to the majority of readers, but remember that in normal Kenyan parlance ‘novel’ does not mean a work of fiction but any volume read for pleasure rather than for passing examinations of the secular or spiritual variety, and the outstanding bestseller of its day in the home-grown Kenya market was The Kenyatta Succession, by Philip Ochieng and Joseph Karimi, published by Transafrica in 1980. I do not have figures to compare sales with the other trade phenomenon, Charles Mbugua’s Son of Woman (EAPH 1971). I am sure if the NCCK report, The Crooked Arrow, on the land clashes of the 1990s had been presented to the public it would have had similar sales. Well, Philip is still active and exemplary prose stylist; I don’t know whether anyone has asked him what he has up his sleeve.

In fact the consciousness of violence is present in most Kenyan novels and drama, even where it is not the main theme, but we have often shirked the communal aspects of conflict. After all what happened in January was neither unprecedented nor unanticipated. What shocked us was the scale of it. The novel closest to resolving the topic is The Last Villains of Molo, by Kinyanjui Kombani (Acacia 2004), because it depicts a way both perpetrators and victims can go on living after the clashes of the 1990s and effect a partial reconciliation. Though one character is hard to believe in, the writing is not sentimental or evasive. A Friend of the Court, by Murioki Ndung’u (Focus 2004), is not easily readable but it depicts a situation in which a political party masterminds communal violence in order to justify a self-fulfilling prophecy and so stay in power. Much of it strikes the reader as credible. Anthony Waweru Mwangi’s poems reflect his experiences of 1992, since repeated; they remain unpublished, but a few pieces have been accepted for the forthcoming Kwani? poetry anthology.

Kithaka Mberia’s play Maua Kwenye Jua La Asubuhi, performed at the Goethe Institut in 2007 and published by Marimba in 2004, is precisely a reflection of communal violence. The staging of non-Kenyan plays can also be used to highlight local situations.

In fact when the West African play Muntu was set for Form Four about 1980, the authorities stopped performance because it was said to be too violent. The panel had not observed the violence from the printed page. John Sibi Okumu’s Role Play (Mvule 2005), first performed in 2004, includes an account of violence

against Asians in the 1982 abortive coup. His 2007 play Minister Karibu is not yet published. Thomas Akare’s Twilight Women also attempted to deal with the 1982 situation. I am not sure how much it was edited before eventual publication (Heinemann1988).

In generalizing, critics must be aware of the amount of unpublished material circulating privately and of pressures to self-censorship. Akare’s earlier book, The Slums (Heinemann 1981), which received acclaim in African Writers’ Series, can represent the many novels which observe ethnic diversity in ordinary Nairobi life without emphasizing it. The same is true of Meja Mwangi’s stunning trilogy, Kill Me Quick (Heinemann 1970 and AWS), Going Down River Road (Heinemannn 1975 and AWS) and the award-winning The Cockroach Dance (Longman 1979). Keeping a low profile, this author is not always given the pre-eminence he deserves. Even his ‘foreign’ novels centre on themes relevant to Kenyan experience. Wahome Mutahi’s Three Days on the Cross (Heinemann 1991) exemplifies those novels which avoid giving identifiable local names to characters and yet clearly describe political realities. Charles Githae’s A Worm in the Head (Heinemann 1987) draws attention to the difficulties of being a policeman in Kenya.

I had almost forgotten, till taking books from the shelf for reference, Casper Odegi Owuondo’s 1992 pamphlet, The Rise of the ‘Cheering Crowd’: Fiction and Kenya’s Political History. Not at all of us would agree with him, but it is evidence that the topic was under debate.

Yours Sincerely

Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye

Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye is the author of several poetry collections, children’s stories, and novels, including Coming To Birth, winner of the 1986 Sinclair Prize for fiction, and Homing In, runnerup for the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature in 1985.

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