Ngugi’s birth pains
Birth of a Dream Weaver by Ngugi wa Thiong’o Harvill Secker 238 pages R240 at takealot.com
This week, Dr Stella Nyanzi, a Ugandan activist and academic, still languishes in jail in Kampala for calling President Yoweri Museveni “a pair of buttocks” on Facebook. She was campaigning for free sanitary pads for schoolgirls, a promise the state has reneged on. The vilification of Nyanzi began last year in her violent standoff with the patriarchy at Makerere University, a hub of east African learning.
Fifty years ago, as Uganda, Kenya and others fought the final stages of their independence struggles, celebrated novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o travelled from Kenya to the comparatively “black African” world of Uganda to study at Makerere. In Birth of a Dream Weaver, he describes in detail the four years he spent at the university as he found his voice as a playwright, journalist and novelist, writing uncompromisingly about the effects of colonialism and the erasure of black history.
On one level, Dream Weaver is a delightful, insightful and easy read, a useful continuation of the autobiographical writings that began with Dreams in a Time of War (2010).
Delightful because here the grand man of letters is still the little-known underdog, and each of his successes is a blow against the establishment.
Insightful because of the decolonial struggle at our own universities as the effects of rainbowism wear off. The parallels are loaded and Wa Thiong’o offers a frank acknowledgement of European culture’s role in shaping him – but at the same time gives a scathing critique of cultural imperialism.
Dream Weaver is also an angry book in which the author relives every slight against him and warns of the struggle that would later see him imprisoned and forced into exile.
Museveni, who has locked Nyanzi in a cell, has ruled Uganda since 1986. In drawing on colonial-era laws, the courts have ordered she receive a mental examination.
The struggle, as Wa Thiong’o’s book reveals in glorious and petty detail, is far from over.