It’s the morning after. The birds are chirping. The sun has risen in its glory. Traffic has already begun to recover from the holiday to prepare for yet another holiday. The weekend is here. But once again, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s much anticipated Nobel Prize for Literature, is not.
Ngugi is arguably the father of modern Kenyan literature and mother tongue psychology, and its impact on our cultures. He has been at the forefront, insisting that we write for ourselves, in our own languages, and has led the charge in this respect as well, literally putting his money and lifeblood where his mouth is. He is also an exiled hero, for dancing with these ideals, and a sorrowful but not complete returnee to the land whose leader rejected him, the land that insists he be awarded this prize (forget all the others) so they can acknowledge he whom we shunned. Year after year, we watch, irritated, as this legend is passed over, often for someone we deem unworthy or unknown. A country singer cum activist. A rapper who is said to be the reincarnation of Tupac. A…who?
The rage is fresh every year, but never unprecedented. It is an old and tiring wound that only flares up against the cold winds of arrogance. Surely, the world knows who Ngugi Wa Thiong’o is, and understands the place he holds in the hearts of every Kenyan schoolchild who either fell asleep to his rhetoric or greatly decided to be him? Surely they see that he deserves this?
No, they don’t, and they don’t care. Unfortunately, we Africans are still addicted to validation outside of our own borders, which, funnily enough, does not sustain the lives and independences we are searching for. Because we have not decolonised our minds, as Ngugi has told us to do several times, we’re still gutted when he is, once again, not mentioned as winner. We’re gutted. Slighted. Angry. All valid feelings, but predominantly insignificant to the people who decide these sorts of things for us.
And that’s where the problem lies. Someone is deciding this stuff for us. We’re not doing it for ourselves, and we’re clearly not done sycophantically pleading our case. A Nobel cannot and should not be the measure of what a good writer is, nor is it given to who is actually the best writer in the world, does it. If that were true, Ngugi would have stopped ages ago to become something safer with a better pension.
Ngugi probably will never get the hallowed Nobel, and that’s all right. It doesn’t change anything about who he is and what he’s done, what he’s accomplished and his prowess. It should, however, change what we think of ourselves, and what we think makes us worthy in the eyes of a global platform that doesn’t care to share.