Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Another African Country Heard From

Mukoma wa Ngugi, in spite of his Kenyan monicker was born in Evanston, Il in 1971 where his already famous novelist father, Ngugi wa Thion’go was teaching at the University of Illinois. Nonetheless Mukoma grew up in Kenya before returning to the United States for both his undergrad and graduate education. (I see this double life in more and more un-American writers.) Currently he is a professor English at Cornell University.

That accounts for many aspects of the book. For example, the narrator Ishmael became a cop in Madison Wisconsin, much like the state university in Ithaca where he now teaches. His pals are O (the Kenyan family name is underpronounceable and easily forgotten) is a Kenyan policeman who has escalated to keeping terrorism in check, and Muddy, a good looking Ruandan who has survived that current horror to be O’s wife to be.

The action opens with their discovery a black man who has been nearly consumed by wild animals in the forest they were making their rounds. They think it Al Kaida they tracking but in disintegrating Kenya nothing could be so simple. As they return to Nairobi to investigate the explosion of a major hotel, The town is alive with an empathic celebration of that son Barack Hussein Obama. Yes, It’s 2008.

Their search for terrorists is unending. Failing to stop terrorism in Kenya, they scheme to examine their hidden foes in California, Berkeley no less. They get there by flying to Mexico where they tangle with the longest border line in America. Oakland displays its radical face and the involvement of their international studies reveals more aspects of the sneaky terrorists.

Back to Nairobi where they display their skills in uncovering deceptions culminates in their preventing the demolition of a huge Kenyatta monument decorating the Kenyan International Conference Center. It was a fascinating adventure, spiced up with descriptions of Kenyan life.

But a strange coincidence intervened. As I connected with my daily internet with the BBC. One Catherine Fellows was exploring with fascinating detail the defects of the Kenyan prison system. There are very few pro bono lawyers in Kenya and the few who work for almost nothing hesitate because they don’t pick up their pittance at the end of the process.

Until Ms.Fellows interviews an “ex con” who never committed the crime he served 13 years for. He started studying law so he could defend himself. He did, and he was discharged! He persuaded other convicts to join his Law behind Bars program. 3000 prisoners are soon to be discharged thanks to his (and her)idealism. That’s a much greater story than the simulated attack on terrorism. Google it by the BBC interviewer’s name to relish her podcast.

Mukoma Wa Ngugi, “Black Star Nairobi” (London, Melville House, 2013) 288pp.,, 12 Euros.

Another version of this essay is published by Broad Street Review.

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