To the Editors:
The New York Times Book Review of February 19 carried a report that a former classmate of mine at Makerere University, Ngugi wa Thiong’o (James Ngugi), has been imprisoned in Kenya for publishing a novel in which he expresses views that are critical of the Kenya government. When I first met Ngugi, he was writing the first of several novels dealing with the “Mau Mau” rebellion, books which earned him an international reputation but did not endear him to the Kenya government, which plays down the country’s history of racial strife in hopes of attracting foreign investment. In his most recent book, Petals of Blood, Ngugi has expressed the opinion that many of Kenya’s politicians have betrayed the ideals of the revolution, becoming wealthy and aloof while the masses continue to struggle for survival under conditions scarcely less harsh than those imposed by colonialism.
This is a common enough theme of African writing, not to mention the rest of the world, but expressing it has landed Ngugi in jail, where I fear he may stay for a very long time. On the other hand, Kenya has had a freer press than most Third World nations; its government will not be unmoved by appeals from America, whence come many of its tourists and investments. I am hoping that NYRB readers will write letters expressing concern for Ngugi wa Thiong’o and urging that he be treated fairly according to the humane principles embodied in the Kenya Constitution. Letters should be addressed to the Hon. John P. Mbogua, Kenyan Ambassador to the United States, Embassy of the Republic of Kenya, 2249 R Street NW, Washington D.C. 20008.
Ithaca, New York
May 4, 1978