Dear Professor Ngugi,
Even I, agree that come back home is a very beautiful phrase. Especially when spoken to a prodigal child, an embittered spouse or an exiled writer. It could even be more tempting when uttered by not just a fellow ‘cowardly’ writer but the head of state himself. And what’s more, in your case, it was told as you received a smile here, a Ketepa cup of tea there and a handshake somewhere. Therefore, I wouldn’t judge you too harshly if you were already thinking of packing your bags once you landed in the good city of California. However, I’d like to give you some counsel on why you shouldn’t move to Kenya just yet…
First of all, moving from University of Irvin to University of Nairobi will mean that you take a huge salary slash. As you might be aware Mr. Ngugi, our local universities can’t afford to pay you even half the salary you are receiving at UCI. That will then mean that you will have to join other intellectuals in the country in carrying placards from time to time and singing along to ‘mapambano’. I can’t wrap my mind around the idea of a legendary Kenyan pioneer writer being tear-gassed at Uhuru park. Professor, please spare this ardent fan of yours such pain.
Because you are a creative mind professor, I know you will soon start contributing to newspapers to supplement your meager lecturer’s earnings. Sadly though, that will be as bad as brain drain because your well thought out, well crafted newspaper articles will be used to wrap meat in butcheries. so No Professor, do continue writing for the New York Post and the Iowa Review, at least you are assured we cannot use the online editions to wrap our nyama.
I read somewhere that your latest book won an award and you were celebrated by your University. Here, sir, things are slightly different. You will win a prize yes. A whooping fifty thousand shillings for the Jomo Kenyatta Literary Prize. I suspect you may have two problems with that. First, the current inflation makes fifty thousand quite a small amount. With it, you cannot even afford to rent a house in Westlands as you wait for your lecturer salary savings to grow.
Also, I doubt you’d be particularly enthused about having the name of the man who had you detained you at the back of your books.
Professor, it is indeed true that the Kenyan citizenry is no longer lying warm and quiet under the blanket of fear as we did during the dictator Moi’s Era but admittedly, this is as bad a time as any other to come back home. Can you name one street in Nairobi that was named after a writer and not a politician? As you toured the city sir, have you seen a monument erected for a writer like the one put up in Dublin- Ireland for the writer James Joyce? We might need talent now sir, but we are still not able to appreciate it or pay so it handsomely.
Another thing bwana Ngugi, you are not exactly a mason and so building the nation requires not your physical strength but your intellect, which can be harnessed even as you sit in your house in California.
Lastly, if we really want you to contribute intellectually to our country, then, surely, we can engage you as a visiting professor from time to time. If as taxpayers we can easily enable our county government officials namely MCA’s to travel back and forth in the universe, then, it can never be too difficult to pay the good professor a few shillings for chai and airfare.
And yes, I might sound like Soyinka’s proverbial guest who mourns louder than the bereaved family. But then which writer wants to see her country’s greatest writer underpaid, unappreciated and drowning in a flooded city when he can has a better alternative? As far as I am concerned, I want to see what my country can do for you, professor Ngugi, not the other way round.
This article was first published in the Saturday Nation.