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9 - In Exile: Between Britain & Kenya

from Part I - Serenades & Beginnings

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 July 2019

Odhiambo Levin Opiyo
Affiliation:
graduated with a distinction from the London School of Journalism.
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Summary

On January 11, 1985, Kenya's President Daniel arap Moi held a two-hour meeting with Sir Geoffrey Howe, the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs who had called on him in Nairobi. Several issues were discussed during the meeting, among them trade and diplomatic relations. But it was the President's concern over the activities of Kenyan academic and writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, who was living in exile in London, that dominated the meeting.

Declassified British government documents show that Moi accused Ngũgĩ—now a professor based in the United States—of conducting propaganda among Kenyan students in the UK and planning to start a communist party. President Moi also wondered why Britain had allowed Ngũgĩ to live and work freely yet when the President's son Gideon—now Baringo senator and KANU chairman—visited London he needed a visa to stay even for a day. The President's demand was clear: Britain should reject any visa extension application by the Kenyan academic and force him to relocate to another country. But, according to the declassified documents, the Secretary of State told Moi that it was impossible for the British government to take any action against Ngũgĩ unless he committed a criminal offence. The British official also suggested that ignoring Ngũgĩ was a better strategy to avoid giving him publicity.

The renowned author had been detained for a year in 1977 by the Jomo Kenyatta government after his Gikuyu play Ngaahika Ndeenda (‘I will Marry When I Want’), written with Ngũgĩ wa Mĩriĩ, was performed in an open-air theatre in Limuru. After his release, Moi, who took over in 1978, blacklisted him and no university wanted to employ him. In 1982, after the launch of his book, Devil on the Cross, in Britain, Ngũgĩ feared for his life and did not return to Kenya. He would remain in exile in the UK until 1989 when he moved to the USA.

Moi's meeting was not the first time Kenya was expressing concern about Ngũgĩ's stay in Britain. Another declassified document marked ‘confidential’ shows the matter had been raised on November 12, 1984 by the Kenyan High Commissioner to London Benjamin Kipkulei when he called on the British Secretary of State. Kipkulei reportedly said Ngũgĩ was receiving more attention than he deserved.

Type
Chapter
Information
Ngugi
Reflections on his Life of Writing
, pp. 57 - 60
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

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