The Trial of Dedan Kimathi
By Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Micere Githae Mugo
Published by Waveland Press (1976)
THE above statement which is contained in the communique of the Cairo 1961 All African People’s Conference is pregnant with many meanings that speak to our past and future as Africans.
When delivered to the world, especially the developing world and countries that have gone through that wretched path of colonialism, the offspring of that pregnancy has traits that manifest in the weird conduct of some of the men and women who have gone on to become political actors on the continent.
This is a grouping that normally finds their politics enmeshed in merely opposing nationalism and the national interest in favour of a politics that is no more than a template of the colonialist.
They are firmly entrenched in the perpetuation of politics of neo-colonialism.
However, there is a serious problem with the concept of neo-colonialism in its whole make up and the infrastructure surrounding it.
Academics and progressive minds are unanimous that there has yet to be a clear definition of this concept and herein lies the first problem.
In 1960, the magazine Présence Africaine defined neo-colonialism as a new form of colonialism aimed at dominating and exploiting the countries in a more delicate form.
The delicateness of that concept is what Africans are told is ‘democracy’, ‘human rights’ among a plethora of high sounding nomenclatures which in reality mean nothing. Yet there is the black, standing for what is right to him.
The real black man, the real African stands on the other side of humanity fighting for and defending his land and means of production.
This is the African who says ‘I relate therefore I am’, while the white person says ‘I think therefore I am’.
Take note of the contrast between ‘relate’ which defines the black person and his relations with his community, society and land and ‘think’ which is the representation of the white person and his individualistic thinking.
Dedan Kimathi belongs to the side of the real African as he commits to fight for his people and his land.
He denounces the name given to him by whites and returns to his roots by summoning his real name, Kimathi wa Wachiuri in order to relate with what and who he is.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Micere Githae Mugo give us an apt explanation of the real Kimathi in their compelling play The Trial of Dedan Kimathi.
The two writers bring him to us as the real Kimathi who rejects the trappings of both colonialism and neo-colonialism and a towering giant who fiercely fights for the freedom of Kenya and significantly as a courageous fighter who inspired Africa to take the enemy head on.
The Kimathi that has been given to the world by principally white writers predictably present an African who is a terrorist, a bigoted tribalist and a savage who is also cannibalistic. This again is another problem with Western literature.
It portrays an image of a backward Africa, an Africa that Joseph Conrad marvels at and mocks with zeal in his Heart of Darkness offering.
Ngugi and Mugo come in as realistic, trustworthy and sensible outlets in the demystification of the outside perception of the real story of Africa.
Add to that list Chinua Achebe and you have the perfect African story.
The Trial of Dedan Kimathi is a rewriting of history from a Kenyan, African perspective.
As is the case with all colonies, land is the chief grievance of all.
Kimathi is uncompromising in his speeches.
He does not back down.
Kimathi is firmly against the British’s system of protecting their interests at the expense of the aggrieved Kenyans.
His defiant resistance in the Court shows the desire of the people of Kenya to reclaim their land and be masters of their destiny.
Kimathi refuses to acknowledge a white judge in the Court because he will not observe a law he did not make.
The creation of laws that are hostile to the native is indicative of the horrors of colonialism.
Whites use law to subjugate blacks.
“By what right do you, a colonial judge sit in judgment over me?” asks Kimathi.
Kimathi is a ‘terrorist’ in the eyes of the colonialist for a reason.
He is a threat to their hegemony.
Yet Kimathi is steadfast even under a wave of pressure from the priest, the business executive, the politician and the bank, all who try to waylay him from his beliefs and to bribe him to give in to the colonialist.
The four are victims of neo-colonialism as they naively believe that there can be co-existence between blacks and whites when capital is still in the hands of the minority.
Says the banker in the book: “Confess.
Co-operate like the surrendered generals.
Tell your people to come out of the forest.
We need stability.
There can never be progress without stability.
Then we can finance big hotels – international hotels.
Tarmac roads, oil refineries and pipelines.
Investment my friend, development, prosperity, happiness.”
The banker seems oblivious of the cause that Kimathi is pursuing.
Where blacks want to control the means of production, whites are driven by the profit motif.
They manipulate others with promises of a better life but in reality, natives have no say in the proposed economy.
A central exchange about law and justice takes place between Judge Henderson enacting the charade of ‘even-handed justice’, and Kimathi’s challenge to the lie that ‘there is only one law, one justice’.
Rather, Kimathi retorts that there are: “Two laws.
One law and one justice protects the man of property, the man of wealth, the foreign exploiter.
Another law, another justice, silences the poor, the hungry, our people.”
Former Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah gives us a vivid description of neo-colonialism.
He says: “The essence of neo-colonialism is that the state which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty.
In reality its economic system and its political policy is directed from outside.”
Until we realise that Africa cannot progress while it is still trapped under neo-colonialism, it can never rise.
It is not too late to save ourselves.