By Kimani Karogi
On the 1st of February 2015, Tee Ngugi, a person only famed for walking the shadow of his intellectual father, Prof. Ngugi wa Thiong’o unleashed a scathing personal attack on Prof Peter Kagwanja. His attack on Prof Kagwanja titled ‘Prof Kagwanja’s penchant for propaganda disguised as academic discourse’ cannot go unanswered.
While proclaiming his arguments to be based on some kind of intellectual discourse, nothing of the sort appeared in his arguments other than dropping names of great men like Philosopher Karl Popper in order to appear intellectual.
By virtue of being Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s son, Tee Ngugi seems to imagine that intellectualism is hereditary. Tee Ngugi’s previous writings, just like what he penned in the article in question have clearly proven that intellectualism is not in DNA. Tee’s writings have a pale reflection his father’s intellectual prowess.
While Tee challenges Prof Kagwanja’s school of thought, he fails to advance any objective ideological standing in support of his point of view. All he does in his article is an attempt to present himself to be what he is not by purporting to be an intellectual.
In his argument, Professor Kagwanja clearly pointed out that the Jubilee productionist agenda focused on development while Cord’s distributionist agenda focused on equal distribution of the national cake.
Whether the Jubilee approach is succeeding or not, is a matter left to one’s own judgment and in no case does this argument appear partisan. Kagwanja was merely trying to landscape the ideological mutations and shifts in Kenya since the 1960s. In his postulation, Kagwanja didn’t have to be absolutely right. If dissatisfied with Kagwanja’s analysis, Tee should have instead articulated his point of view; something he terribly failed to present.
Doctrinaire approach to academic discourse is the only aspect that Tee seems to have inherited from his father. Ngugi wa Thiong’o has been a Marxist all through unlike foundational scholars like Edward Wadie Said, the famous Palestinian American scholar and author of Orientalism. The other example close home is the late Prof Ali Mazrui, whom unlike Ngugi wa Thiong’o valued objectivity in his scholarly works than mere ideological alignment. Tee Ngugi writes with airs of him being a scholar but ends up cheapening himself by attacking Kagwanja instead of the ideas. That is not scholarly at all.
Prof Peter Kagwanja’s article, “Two faces of Kenya — competing ideologies mining the road to 2017” (Sunday Nation, January 11, 2015), was a dazzling influence to the deliberation on ideology in Kenya.
I have always read and admired Prof Kagwanja as an intellectual with no mean repute. Characteristically, the calling of public intellects is not an idyllic tread in the park enthralling beliefs and hubris. Kagwanja does not avoid controversy, but judgmentally engages his mind on various topics and reality with a view to rousing deliberations in the public domain.
Labeling any opinion—leave alone Prof Kagwanja’s—as “propaganda” is a degenerate way of appreciating public discourse, which is more likely to stifle debate than to advance it. Simply put, Tee’s method is regressively anti-intellectual.
As an intellectual, Popper was more critical and flexible and less doctrinaire than Tee intimates. This is clear from one of his best known line on democracy and tyranny: “You can choose whatever name you like for the two types of government. I personally call the type of government which can be removed without violence ‘democracy’, and the other ‘tyranny’.
Contrariwise, the task that Kagwanja cut for himself was humbler and less underhand than Tee would like us to believe.
Paradoxically, it is failure to recognize this simple reasoning that gives a bad taste to Tee’s own observation. Simply cataloguing thoughts as “propaganda” is intellectually shameful.
Tee’s know-it-all attempt to “teach” Kagwanja how to deliberate or how to present an “academic” discourse is self-righteous and incompetent.
Putting in consideration that this is an intellectual debate, one may disagree with Kagwanja’s “stages” of ideological development in Kenya—just as many scholars query Eric Hobsbawm’s classification of global history into “Age of Capital,” “Age of Empire” and “Age of Extremes”.
I consider Kagwanja’s diagraming of Kenya’s ideological history since independence more excitingly worthwhile than the existing repudiations in public discourses that Kenya doesn’t have any ideological framework.
Our interpretation of the “nascent years” from 1960s to the 1990s will remain a heavily contested part of our history.
What was bound to be controversial—and I imagine Kagwanja knew it—is the ideological polarization following the 2013 election.
It would have appeared more worthy if Tee had chosen a path that would have presented him as a better intellectual had he focused on debating ideas and ideological dilemmas of our time as opposed to attacking Kagwanja as a person.
Kimani Karogi (PhD candidate) is a Fellow Associate at the International Policy Group