Inadequate Security for renowned writer at hotel

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After 22 years in exile renowned Kenyan novelist and political activist Ngugi Wa Thiong’o recently returned home for a visit. He has taught in the United States for the past several years.

Ngugi’s homecoming was a long-awaited celebration not only in Kenya but all over Africa. Indeed, the welcome he received was overwhelming. Yet, shortly thereafter,
Ngugi was assaulted and his wife was raped by alleged “thugs� during what’s been reported as a robbery. The attack is beyond imagination and leaves a suspicious smell.

According to media reports quoting Ngugi and his wife, the so-called robbers waited at the door of his hotel room. As soon as Ngugi opened the door to check whether visiting relatives had knocked, the “thugs� forced their way into his room. They beat Ngugi, sexually assaulted his wife and robbed $450 in cash, a laptop computer and other valuables.

This all happened even as Ngugi was pleading and his wife was screaming at the top of her voice in the next room. The attackers seemed confident that no help would come and that’s why they took their time. According to Ngugi, one of them perused through Ngugi’s papers for what Ngugi believes was an attempt to find documentation implicating the Kenyan writer in political crimes. This is what makes the whole scenario foul.

Ngugi has made tremendous impact on many Africans, especially those who have read his works. His critique of power, state and social injustice, has become a yardstick by which many Kenyans and Africans have measured the extent of oppression under which they live.

When Ngugi visited the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, last spring, I asked if he was concerned about his safety. He said he hoped the country had turned into a new and better direction. We joked about African leaders such as Kenya’s former president and Ngugi tormentor, Daniel arap Moi, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, all of whom think leadership means president-for-life.

I was impressed by Ngugi’s attitude towards his former oppressors – he had been arrested and tortured because of his writings during the Moi regime. He said he was more burdened by the plight of those who remain under oppression elsewhere without anyone speaking up for them. He knew I was from Acholi, in northern Uganda, currently enduring what the United Nations had described as the “worst humanitarian� crises in the world. Insurgents and government forces have fought for 18 years with innocent civilians being the prime victims.

“I sympathize with you and the Okot P’ Bitek’s people for the suffering they are undergoing today,� Ngugi noted. The reference was to the late P’Bitek, a Ugandan from Acholi, who was one of Africa’s greatest writers and a Ngugi friend.

Although the Moi regime is no longer in power, his KANU party members have probably not forgiven Ngugi for his criticism of the regime’s authoritarian rule. Ngugi wrote “Devil on the Cross� one of his most critical books using toilet paper while imprisoned in Kenya. It is not inconceivable that the “robbery� was simply a ruse as the old guard settles a score –payback for Ngugi’s outspokenness against dictatorship.

It is reported that Ngugi’s publishers were footing the bills for his accommodation. Why was he not provided with adequate security? Both the hotel owners and the Kenyan government should have ensured utmost security. Organized as the attackers were, it is an indication that they had planned the attack earlier.

Njeri Ngugi, his wife, had always wanted the couple to return home. She said she did not want him to arrive in a box – rather while still walking and able to talk. They love Kenya and Ngugi kissed the ground upon landing. Both got their wish: neither could have imagined the cost they were to endure.

The attack is a shame to the perpetrators and the government, given the fact that Ngugi did so much for freedom in Kenya. Now I see why they say a prophet is not accepted by his own people.

Okema Otika is the President of the African Students Organization at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, USA. He may be reached via email at peterotika@hotmail.com

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