Kaela Mulenga

Dr. Kaela Mulenga

In his piece Decolonizing Ngugi’s Mentality, on this site, Field Ruwe (Ruwe) argues that Ngugi wa Thiongò’s protest against English – a colonialist exploiter’s language, in favour of his native Kenyan Gikuyu is bunkum. Ruwe declares Ngugi’s idea if fighting against a colonial language as misplaced because after all – including Ngugi himself African writers have no choice but to use English.

Although Ruwe is free to write as he pleases, I feel that we have a responsibility to clarify to him that, it is not right to try and discredit someone who has done so much for the mostly sleepy Africans. I am happy though that at least he recognizes the reputation of UKZambians site such that he can even use it as a medium to vomit his dislikes of Ngugi.

I have tried before to constrain Ruwe from making sweeping and shallow statements, which have no foundation other than their face value. Repeatedly Ruwe fails to analyze complex issues from a deeper understanding other than on his ‘brainwashed’ level.

Look, attacking Prof Ngugi wa Thiongò’s approach the way Ruwe did, convinces me that – a) Ruwe is a novice when it comes to intellectual affluence; and b) that he doesn’t even understand where he comes from. Thou shall not criticize people who have made a difference in tackling the dominance of racist and fascistic English language.

When Ngugi uses his protest against English as a metaphor, obviously Ruwe fails to comprehend it. Ruwe also fails to see an easy point, that Ngugi maybe prefers to tell off an Englishman in his own tongue instead of going through a 3rd person.

Field Ruwe

Field Ruwe

More importantly, if African intellectuals do not fight for the survival of their local languages, who will? Everybody knows that languages and cultures do die through attrition and inactivity. In our Zambia we have witnessed many small languages being wiped out of the map or swallowed up by bigger languages like Bemba or SiLozi.



If Ruwe did not know, had it not been through the power of the pen of people like Ngugi and his contemporaries – some of whom were listed by Field Ruwe, an “African man” would have been kept in the cave or in perpetual servitude, if not wiped out of existence completely. Thus, fighting for the recognition of African languages had other implications.

To be liberated in mind and have the power and freedom to write and think freely the way even Ruwe does, is thanks to people like Ngugi. I know Ruwe can’t see this – but to an Englishman 50 years ago, an African was simply an idiot, salvage and stupid. He was regarded as someone who is not even capable to think. Those who fought against this mentality and paved the way so that all of us can also be given an opportunity to be listened to are people like Ngugi. So we should not turn around and start calling them idiots. The way to Boston was paved by others – my friend.

Moreover, Ruwe’s adoration for English and the manner in which he jumps on Ngugi clearly shows a certain type of inferiority complex, the very kind Ngugi has been fighting against. That – Africans as soon as they acquire a little education, they are ready to discard every part of their soul. It reminds me of a certain Zambian block from Chilubi Island – who refused to visit his folks upon arriving back from UK because there were no running water toilets in his village.

Ruwe’s thinking seems to fit into this category. It is strange to glorify everything English and Caucasian, to the extent that they even hate themselves being born African. These people must be cursed for worshipping Euro-Judeo- Christian cultures.

It doesn’t occur to these people that, once upon a time, English was also a backward and primitive language just as Ruwe describes those African languages like Gikuyu. And that British (or English speakers) were as brute as a bare-footed villager from Shangombo. Given a little promotion, superiority complex, manipulation, use of force and conniving, who knows, any language like Swahili, Igbo, Bemba, or Zulu could also become formidable.

If you look at it, original English speakers were few. There are less than 100 million people in United Kingdom of today – less than the number of Swahili speakers. But with colonialism, conquest, and expansionism, it became an important global language.

Had Hitler conquered the world, for instance, all of us could be speaking German now. And as China gobbles up the world today to become the strongest economy in the world, English’s importance will probably diminish. At that point in time, English will have a low rank in audiences just as Gikuyu being despised today. Guess what native English speakers will do? They’ll be advocating and fighting for the survival of their language precisely as Ngugi is doing for Gikuyu today. So it is being silly to have a hang up on English.

I therefore plead with Field Ruwe that since he appears not to understand the significance of fighting for the recognition of African languages, he should stay out of the debate. He should leave it to people like Ngugi wa Thiongò’ and other African boomers he speaks ill of.

As a matter of fact, I feel sorry for the Ruwe’s generation, because their representatives have “boxed-in” minds. Slave Trade was imposed on Africans, not only through the use gunpowder, but the African lost the battle as soon as their minds became enslaved. Through brainwashing, our minds were made weak and vulnerable, suffering from inferiority complex. Just imagine, King Leopold of Belgium owned DRC with everything contained there in. Fear and inferiority complex disempowered thousands of locals (in Belgian Congo) who could not find a way to stop a few “musungus” (Whites). The situation was the same everywhere in Africa.

In conclusion, let it be known that Ngugi is not in anyway – “trying to cut off the hand that feeds him with a blunt knife”. Instead, he is trying to open the mind of an African – that, English is just a communicative tool like any language. And he is not a hypocrite, as Ruwe refers to him in a derogatory manner. And by the way, Ngugi is right when he says that the colonial system, “produced the kind of education which nurtured subservice, self-hatred, and mutual suspicion, which resulted in a people dislocated from their culture”. Ruwe fits into this profile.

In Zambia, the UNIP guys – who brought independence, uneducated as they might have been, were strong in opposing the colonialists. They sent a strong message to the White colonialist – that “we are not inferior and are as good as you are”. Any deviation from this philosophical stand will result in losing the way forward. Zambia with its majority black people will continue to survive as is, so long as there are enough of its citizens who can defend it against any foreign intrusion – be it through war, culture or language.

Otherwise Zambia as we know it today could disappear. Imagine waking up in a Zambia full of majority Chinese looking people! Please leave Ngugi alone we need him. Cheers!

Kaela B Mulenga

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