Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Brutal Assualt On Ngugi And His Wife

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye
For about two weeks now, Kenya has been in the news for the very wrong and shameful reasons.

On the night of Wednesday, August 11, 2004, four hoodlums, armed with two pistols, a machete and a pair of wire cutters forced their way into the apartment of East Africa’s foremost writer, Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o, at Norfolk Towers, Nairobi, and severely brutalized him and his wife, Njeeri.

They took away a number of valuables including Ngugi’s laptop computer, and severally burnt the writer’s face with cigarettes.

NGUGI: Brutalized And Humiliated
In His Own Country

While Ngugi fought with the hoodlums in another room, one of them found his way into the bedroom where Mrs. Ngugi was already in bed. He cruelly hit her with gun-buts, overpowered her, and, then…raped her!  

What a most chilling way to welcome home 65 year old Ngugi after 22 years of self-exile in Europe and the United States. In that very hour, the shame of Kenya, nay, Africa, was writ large on the world’s blackboard of infamy.

 “We assumed no one could hurt Ngugi,” said Assistant Minister, Office of the President, Prof. Kivutha Kibwana. “As it turned out, there was a major lapse. We should have offered some security even if the family did not request it.”

This is one of such irritating after-thoughts that make one terribly sick in these parts. If a prominent person like Ngugi could be honoured with this kind of humiliating welcome in Kenya whose liberation and betterment he has most zealously fought for with his entire life and talent, what then happens to the ordinary Kenyan on the streets of Nairobi? Why would a government appear so helpless and incapable of securing lives and property unless requests are made by prominent people for “special” security arrangements?

Ngugi and Njeeri at the University of Auckland
Ngugi and Wife, Njeeri, at the University 
of  Auckland 

Now, what of the ordinary people who lack the requisite clout to request for protection, what happens to them? That they are still alive is simply because nobody has thought about them enough to want to effect their slaughter. Security after all should rank among the most basic expectation of every citizen from those that purport to govern them. 

For me, the attack on Ngugi is a big issue even if it happened in far away Kenya. All lovers of the continent should find in this tragedy a unique opportunity to lament the absence of any form of governance in several African countries.

I do not always agree with Ngugi, especially his extreme views about Christianity and language use in African literature, but he is, no doubt, a writer of great stature and commitment, an important icon in the African literary landscape, whose influence transcends boundaries of nations and regions. His current travail should attract the condemnation of writers of African descent wherever they are, if only to highlight the security situation in which we all exist in these parts.

 I find it totally scandalous that no form of statement of solidarity has come out from the umbrella body of writers in Nigeria, unless, perhaps, I missed it. I suppose that would be asking too much from a body whose main preoccupation these days is how attract the friendship and patronage of the anti-literary civilian dictator at Aso Rock, although, the latter seems set to continue snubbing them with the fiercest contempt. 

Kibaki: What Manner Of Stewardship? The Ngugis
 Were Brutalized Under His Watch

Since last week, I have monitored media reports from East Africa, especially, Kenya, merely because of this chilling incident. Indeed, I must commend the forthrightness of Mrs. Ngugi who insisted on stating exactly what had happened to her.
Because of the unfair stigmatization society imposes on hapless rape victims, many women who had suffered this most humiliating and shattering ordeal have been most reluctant to speak up. And in some ways, this has helped several wicked rapists escape justice, while the horribly scarred victims continue to nurse their excruciating pains and wounds forever.
So, in their case, the Ngugis are fiercely resisting all attempts to diminish the enormity of the tragedy or paper over its sordid details. 

Former Kenyan President, Arap Moi: Hounded
Ngugi into Exile 

In fact, an earlier statement issued by East African Education Publishers, Ngugi’s publishers, after the attack, had described what happened to Mrs. Ngugi as “attempted rape.” But at a press conference on the afternoon of Sunday, August 15 at the Nairobi General Hospital where the Ngugis were being treated for injuries, Ngugi gave the exact picture of what had happened.

According to Kenya Times of Monday August 16, Ngugi had declared: “I want to correct something about my wife (on the night of the attack). It was not attempted rape but it was rape. Period.”

Another paper, New Vision  (Kampala, Uganda), captured the emphasis in Ngugi’s refutation: “Rape is rape,” Ngugi had said. “You cannot baptize it. No one should soften what happened because it can’t change anything.” 

At another press conference the following Tuesday, a tearful and terribly shaken Mrs. Njeeri Ngugi corroborated her husband’s account.

 “It was not attempted rape, he penetrated me and any time that happens to a woman, it is rape. There is no other word,” Daily Nation (Nairobi) quoted her as saying.

 According to The East African Standard (Nairobi), Mrs. Ngugi had revealed that the moment it dawned on her that she was unable to fight the rapist, she became filled with the horrible fear of contracting HIV. “It was too much for her husband”, the paper said. “When he realized what had happened to her, he stood at the door and asked the rapist to kill him.” 

Welcome to New Kenya, Sir”, Lucy Oriang, Daily Nation columnist, told Ngugi in an article. “In the olden days, you struggled to stay a step ahead of political terrorists-cum-state agents,” she wrote. “These days, you watch out for both political and criminal thugs.” 

 The Daily Nation’s editorial, two days after the attack, was unsparing:
“The attack is a national embarrassment. It adds to Kenya’s globally sinking image. There is the recent campaign to paint our country as risky to visit. Our tourist ‘stakeholders’ are still complaining against the US advisory to its citizens not to tour Kenya because of terror threat …With or without terrorists, Kenya is a risky country to be in even for the inhabitants…Ngugi is a national asset. Whether or not we agree with his themes and his art, we must see that his name sells Kenya globally.” 

I have the feeling that Kenya’s police must have got a larger part of their training from Olusegun Obasanjo’s Nigeria. The indecent haste with which the incident was credited to armed robbers was typical Nigerian (remember Dikibo’s case).

But unlike the Nigerian press, the East African press were quick to buy the robbery story. But Ngugi has refused to be fooled by that hurried, simplistic conclusion. He said last week that it was “difficult to believe that these four were acting alone or that theft was their main goal…Their slow, unhurried way of going about business was chilling.”

 The East African Standard reported that Ngugi believed that “the attackers were sent by someone to humiliate them because… they (the assailants) were meticulous in their action and appeared to read from a script prepared by people he does not know.” 
I am one with Ngugi in this suspicion.
The Kenyan government must without delay put aside this well-worn-robbery theory and vigorously pursue the more believable lead being proffered by Ngugi.

 A number of questions beg for answers. Who is uncomfortable with Ngugi’s heroic return to Kenya? Is the badly performing government sincere about its seemingly warm appreciation of Ngugi, knowing full well that he would not suffer fools gladly? Who wants to use the threat of insecurity to drive him back into exile?

Ngugi had said that he would not return to Kenya until Arap Moi and his KANU gang had quit the stage. But he must be naïve to think that because Moi drove him into exile, then Moi was the only one after his head in Kenya. Certainly, there may still be some fellows in the present government not too impressed with his presence in Kenya.

The same inferiority complex that inspired Moi’s prehistoric sadism and brutalities may still have its vestiges in some quarters in the present administration, despite the big reception they gave Ngugi at his return.

The Kenyan government has apologized for the incident and promised to track down the culprits. Indeed, to escape the conclusion that it could not find the attackers because it knows them, the authorities in Nairobi must retain the capacity to be thorough and unsparing in their  investigation.
We are watching. 
Lagos, Nigeria
August 2004

This Article Was First Published In August 2004 In the following newspapers: 'Daily Independent' (Lagos) and 'Kenya Times' (Nairobi)


  1. Ngugis a fine author and respected scholar but his statement during the post election violence in Kenya has damaged him beyond repair. When Kenyans took arms against other Kenyans on tribal
    grounds, Ngugi inflamed senses by telling Kikuyus and I quote "dont let the fox guard your chickens" referring to the non Kikuyus that were fighting.

  2. It is a shame that Kenya should extend this kind of crude welcome to one of the best known names from Kenya and one of Africa's literary giants. It is huge a shame.

  3. Why? What did he do to deserve that? Why Kenyans, why?

  4. Oh, that was so brutal, and so wicked. My heart goes out to the Ngugis. Who could have planned such a horrible attack on a man that has done them no wrong?

  5. Horrible!!!!!!!!!



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