Dr Thomas Molony from the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh presented renowned author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o with the degree of Doctor of Letters. Much of his work has focused on the “exploration of language as an instrument of subversion of personal identities and cultures through colonization.” Throughout his career Prof. Thiong’o has also used his writing as a form of resistance leading to his exile in the 1980s, first in Britain and later in the United States.
As he Laureated Prof. Thiong’o to the Academic Senate, Dr Molony said. “The University of Edinburgh recognises Ngũgĩ’s significant role in leading a shift in the focus and language of African writing. We wish to acknowledge Ngũgĩ’s assistance in encouraging us to use words – written and spoken, in any language – to decolonize our minds.”
The Laureation highlighted some of his more notable work. One being the “Decolonizing the Mind” published in 1986 which was a key text in the University’s Centre of African Studies in the late 1990s. Prof. Thiong’o who was ahead of his time when he published the book, explains in it that it was an elaboration of statements made and viewpoints expressed over a period of 20 years.
A demonstration of his belief in this decolonisation can be found in his argument for the change of the University of Nairobi’s department name ‘English literature’ from ‘English’ to simply ‘Literature’, to better reflect world literature with African and third world literatures at the centre, when he began lecturing there in 1967.
“With colleagues, he co-authored the polemical declaration, ‘On the Abolition of the English Department’, setting in motion a continental and global debate and practices that later became the heart of postcolonial theories” Dr Molony explained.
In his prison memoir ‘Devil on the Cross’ Ngũgĩ said at the time that writing “has been one way of keeping my mind and heart together,” he also wrote, recalling the brutality of British colonial life in Kenya: ‘a racist ruling-class culture of fear, the culture of an oppressing minority desperately trying to impose total silence on a restive oppressed minority’.
Lauding his effort, Dr Molony said, “His experience, he shows in his prison memoir, was but one link in the manacle of African internment under the colonial and postcolonial regimes. He documents the terror of torture used by Kenyatta senior’s government as a weapon to ensure his fear and silence, and that of the 18 other political prisoners who suffered from beatings, starvation, and were denied outside contact during their incarceration.”
“In Ngũgĩ’s prison diaries he reminds us that freedom is about sustaining a spirit of resistance and freeing the imagination. As he put it to us last year: we must embrace ‘the power of imagination to free us from confinement’.”
However, it was made clear that Prof. Thiong’o contributions were far reaching and not limited to his literature alone.
“Ngũgĩ’s contribution has extended beyond novels – and essays – though. Professor Christopher Odhiambo, Chair of the Kenya National Drama and Film Festival Committee, recently summarised Ngũgĩ’s contribution as also having ‘transformed theatre not only in Kenya but globally by subverting the modes of conventional Western theatre through the privileging of African community theatre aesthetics, forms and content’.”
He finished off his speech saying, “The University of Edinburgh recognises Ngũgĩ’s significant role in leading a shift in the focus and language of African writing. We wish to acknowledge Ngũgĩ’s assistance in encouraging us to use words – written and spoken, in any language – to decolonize our minds.”