Kenyans, Nobel Prizes and Medals

I was in a traffic jam today morning going into Westlands when I decided to roll down the windows and inhale poison.

Yes, that was better than listening to the sponsored sewerage disguised as playful banter between radio presenters.

While committing this slow pulmonary suicide, sponsored fully by the lack of emissions control in this fair country, I decided to eavesdrop on the two gentlemen arguing in the Isuzu pick-up truck next to me. They were crumby old men with strong Kikuyu accents who were resolved to talk in English when neither of them sounded comfortable doing so.

Oldie 1: You didn’t hear that Kenyans are winning everything in New Delhi?
Oldie 2: Really? I heard they only won a Gold, a Silver, and a Bronze…
Oldie 1: Isn’t that everything? But they’ll win everything again today.
Oldie 2: Yeah, those boys can really run.
Oldie 1: Si, even Ngugi is winning his award today?
Oldie 2: Ngugi?
Oldie 1: Eh, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is winning the Nobel Peace Prize today.
Oldie 2: That’s the one Wangari Mathai won.
Oldie 1: Yeah. But her it was a Nobel Peace Prize in Environment. His is a Nobel Peace Prize in Literature.
Oldie 2: Eh! But Kenyans are serious…We win everything.

And then they continued driving their beaten up car, on the even more battered road, crawling past a red light on a highway, breathing in pollution at its finest, smiling proudly to themselves. And I had to wonder for one second what they were smiling about.
Firstly, Kenyans, it’s a Nobel Prize for Literature, not a Nobel Peace Prize in Literature. Literature is not Hip-Hop; there are no widely publicized authorial feuds that turn into real ‘wars’ on such a level that a force for peace must be summoned and acknowledged.
Secondly, who decided that Ngũgĩ had already won the award? As I write this, we still have to wait 3+ hours to find out if he’s going to get that prestigious bling. Yes, I know the odds favor him, but he’s a late favorite. God knows he deserves that award – that man is excellently brilliant in about 14 different ways – but there’s more to an award than merely deserving it. There’s bureaucracy and deliberation and a list of other ridiculously deserving people.

And even if when he does win, what then? The intellects will pontificate aimlessly about Ngũgĩ’s greatness, and the significance of Nobelpriset i litteratur and then retreat to their chambers and sanctums and order their manservants to brew more tea. The laymen, like most of us, will be proud and clap and incite the government to put together relatively costly celebrations in his honor. Maybe even a public holiday, since we’ve apparently been robbed of October 10th.

The dedicated aspiring writers/poets/editors/literary minds will be the minute minority. They will be inspired to write more and be more and ascend to his level. They are probably the only ones who’ll read and re-read his work and take a leaf from it. And they will push for all the radically revolutionary change he has tried to inspire over these past decades. My guess is they will fail.

I don’t say this to be a blunt pessimist, but while sitting in that traffic jam watching people hurl plastic bags of empty beer cans and soda bottles onto the side of the road as their cars chewed up the ozone, I remembered Wangari had won a similar award for her struggle for environmental revolution. What did that change? More building, more deforestation, more cars, more acres of garbage, more plastic bags…no progress. Just more pride and more prestige and more disappointment as more people seemed more lax about issues they should be more wary of.

And now we have Ngũgĩ. A true revolutionary mind in his own rite. Few deserve honor for their work more than he. I have no doubt in my mind that he’ll clinch that award in 2 and a half hours. What I doubt is whether that will change our world the way it should.

Dear Kenyans,
Listen to this man speak. Read his words. Learn his philosophies. Don’t just aimlessly clap and go about being more ignorant. Please.

UPDATE: He didn’t win. Congratulations anyway.

11 thoughts on “Kenyans, Nobel Prizes and Medals

  1. If we read & reflected on his work, practiced his message and appreciated him more, then that may be more important to him than a nobel prize. Prof Maathai may have won one of those but she must be so much a pain to see what is & is to be of Mau forest.

    Terrific piece!

  2. “A messenger is not accepted in his own hometown.”

    Even after Wangari won that prize, there are people who do not think she did anything worth winning it but they still celebrated. Ngugi’s idealogies will never sit well with a good crowd so even if *we* read him and acknowledge him as a literary giant who is unlucky, *we* will still beat him up when he comes to visit.

  3. Hehe,sad that he didn’t win really,but being nominated is something. Personally i wonder why the Harry Potter author didn’t win the nobel award for all those years,i would have vouched for her coz her stories are more interesting….i figure a boring bunch of old men have keep up their reputation of being……boring :/

    • You sir, have completely missed the point. The nobel prize is not about writing interesting stories that entertain. It’s about using Literary Prowess to effect social embetterment; i.e. be boring and save the world. It’s kind of like the difference between a documentary on election violence that brings peace to a wartime nation and a good Spiderman movie. One will get an Oscar/Nobel, the other gets you to buy a ticket.


  4. That was an interesting and sober-minded piece mate. It’s refreshing to learn that there are Kenyans out there whose hearts bleed at the wanton degradation of our mazingira and blatant disregard for courtesy, order, morals,…et al. We are slaughtering ourselves on the roads, contracting respiratory tract infections due to pollution, ringing our towns with unnecessary noises in the name of biashara, are corrupt to the core; simply put, our house is not in order.

  5. What makes me happy is the fact that we love to say ‘we won’. Kenyans don’t understand personal responsibility, I like to say people fond of overlapping on the road and those who litter are the reason we have bad leadership. How can you expect of your leader more if you can’t even follow simple traffic rules.

    Anyway. Spot on Icon.

  6. Did you know it illegal to carry a plastic paperbag in rwanda. And its enforced too. And we say Kenya is far ahead of all else in EAC.
    Nice article iCon.

  7. I figure it isn’t so wise to defend my opinion above about Rowling winning a nobel but if you’ve read her works you’ll actually see it relates to the real world about things like tyrannical rule,hunger for power and what can be achieved through a peaceful resistance(as the main characters don’t kill to win the war) not to mention the wisdom in messages delivered by the author via the characters…plus the success of the boom tells us how much we can do all by imagination. They might be seen as only children books but it’s these children who read this who grow to run world(didn’t mean to write that much) but…’nuff said hope you get point.

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