Dictatorship in Africa: The story in Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Wizard of the Crow (a review)

Dictatorship in Africa: The story in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow

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Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy argues that Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow was a satiric depiction of the dictatorial tendencies of ex-Kenya’s president, Daniel arap Moi, and that the novel made subtle digs at Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s ousted president.

“Why is it that only few people are talking about this novel?” That was the question I asked myself after I was done perusing Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow. It tells a lot about the attitude of the modern age towards any bulky volume of print. Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow is Africa’s greatest satire, followed by Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People and Ferdinand Oyono’s The Old Man and the Medal. True, the novel; Wizard of the Crow; is quite ambitious, running into seven hundred pages and more, and this is one of the reason why I consider the novel of much worth for it is only those who are familiar with writing who would understand the amount of energy drained from a writer who struggles to commit his thoughts to just about fifty pages of print, talk more of over seven hundred! It is a daunting task and Ngugi bore it well and delivered.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o with his novel, Wizard of the Crow, has done for African literature what Jonathan Swift did for English literature when he committed Gulliver’s Travels to paper in the Eighteenth century. Many who have encountered the shortened and abridged version of Gulliver’s Travels would see it merely as children fantasy; especially those who know only the cartoon version of that story. But the story is as satiric as satire gets. The Wizard of the Crow is also a satiric portrayal of the Kenya dictatorship government of Daniel arap Moi yet what amazes one is that it seems as if the story ridicules Zimbabwe’s president; Robert Mugabe. Well, the answer to that should not be farfetched, dictatorship exhibits the same traits everywhere, there is usually an obsessed ruler whose clinging to power bothers on psychosis, his antics are close to tomfoolery while his actions are maniacal and highly ridiculous. Also with dictators, there is always that urge to aspire towards deification and the sycophancy of the dictator’s minions is unparalleled. This happens to be the case with almighty ruler of Aburiria, a fictional African country in the Wizard of the Crow.

In a country under the pangs of hunger and unemployment, Kamiti, an African graduate from an Indian university, visits Eldare (capital city of Aburiria) in search of a job offer. His efforts are in vain and he disguises as a beggar in order to survive. But he begs at a wrong place and at the wrong time, some European delegates from the Global Bank are visiting the country to examine the feasibility of granting Aburiria a loan from the bank but the delegates activities are disrupted by a group of political activists disguised as beggars bearing placards and denouncing the idea of the Global Bank giving loan to Aburiria for a project termed “Marching to Heaven” initiated of course by His Excellency, the Almighty Ruler of Aburiria.

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Police officers were immediately ordered to disperse the beggars and Kamiti who had innocently come to beg for money found himself running for his dear life. Kamiti ran alongside a beggar to a slum around Eldare known as Santalucia only to discover that the beggar he escaped with is a woman disguised as a man. More so, he had met her not quite long for she was the secretary at a construction company where he had gone seeking employment.

Other policemen had given up chasing the beggars who seemed to have disappeared into thin air but not Constable Arigaigai Gathere. He kept pursuing the duo of Kamiti and Nyawira (the second beggar who ran alongside Kamiti and happens to be the leader of a women political activist group). He pursues them across the prairie and into Santalucia. When he could not locate the particular room they ran into among the numerous slum houses in the area, he began a room to room search with the hope of getting his culprits. Kamiti and Nyawira see Constable Gathere Arigaigai as he conducts a room to room search, out of desperation Kamiti devices a plan to stop the policeman from invading the room. He writes on a sheet of paper which he places on the door that the apartment belongs to the Wizard of the crow who could command crows from heaven and whoever touches the door does so at his or her own peril. To fortify his message, he hangs some pieces of clothes at the door to make the place look fetish. Constable Arigaigai arrives at the door and notices the sign post, trepidation captures the better part of him and he turns to run away immediately. He concludes that the two beggars were not ordinary humans but djinns leading him to his doom. He goes home and after giving the whole experience a good thought, he decides to return to the Wizard of the crow’s place but this time not to initiate an arrest, he has his own problems and only a strong wizard as the Wizard of the crow could help him out of the stagnancy he finds himself (Constable Arigaigai wants to be promoted). He comes to the conclusion that the two beggars he pursued were djinns leading him towards his destiny; why else did he persist in going after them when he could have easily given up the chase. Certainly, fate had brought him to the Wizard of the crow who would solve his problems for him.

He visits the Wizard of the crow, Kamiti was at first shocked that a mild prank was turning into reality but he pretends to be a real wizard and listens to Arigaigai problems while using a mirror to perform the magic of cancelling out Arigaigai enemies.

The constable reports to work late and his excuse is to explain how he had dutifully pursued beggars cum djinns all through the night and lost them only to find himself at a wizard’s lair. His superior was impressed and puts his story into a report which was forwarded to the ruler in the course of investigating the beggars who disrupted the meeting with the foreign delegates.

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Machokali, one of the ruler’s ministers, got the report and he thought it wise to have constable Arigaigai promoted to the ruler’s office. The minister saw the probability of djinns ganging up against the ruler and he felt it necessary to have a man who is adept at pursuing djinns stationed right in the ruler’s office! Hahahahahaha, funny people!

The end result was that constable Arigaigai got his so much wanted promotion and became Superintendent Arigaigai Gathere working directly in the ruler’s office. Arigaigai believed it was the Wizard of the crow’s magic working for him and he returned to thank Kamiti profusely that evening after he got his promotion. Kamiti was dumbfounded, he had done nothing and yet the objective had been achieved or does he have such powers of wizardry? He reflected. If Kamiti was surprised at the way things turned out for Arigaigai, Nyawira, his new found companion was even more astounded and she looked at Kamiti wondering who he truly was.

And so began the lore and fame of the Wizard of the crow, a wizard whose services Tajirika (Nyawira’s boss), Sikioku (Minister of Internal Affairs) and the ruler himself would later require.

The ruler was so amazed at the powers of the wizard so that greed and obsession for power made him covet the wizard’s power. More so, he had heard that the wizard knew how to make trees that grows leaves which in actuality are dollars. Haha!

His antics to catch the Wizard of the crow and gain his powers would lead to his ultimate end for one who he took for being too foolish and fearful of him would arrange for his death and take over power. That one is Tajirika, the ruler’s right hand man who formerly was the Chairman of the Marching to Heaven’s project, later Minister of Finance and Central Bank and later Minister of Internal Affairs. Tajirika takes over power from his former master and the story ends with evil conquering evil. What is the end of the new evil, Tajirika? No one knows but it is a scintillating tale.

Observations 

When I began reading the story, I thought Ngugi was going to surprise me this time and give me something untainted by the Marxist ideology but it seems the saying that a leopard does not change its spot is true after all and Ngugi is just such a leopard. The story is still Marxism after all. From the idea of making Nyawira a heroine, making her the leader of a movement which a man must have found a daunting task to undertake, making her play an even more vital role than a rather passive Kamiti and other men in the story, Ngugi advocates for the equality of the sexes, one of the few traits one finds in Ngugi’s works. There is an overt societal dichotomy between the class of the rich and oppressors and that of the poor and the oppressed, especially the beggars. There are violent clashes here and there and there exist exploitation of the people by its leaders.

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The idea of using an undisclosed narrator is also superb but unlike his Devil on the Cross where the narrator (Gikaandi player) is disclosed to us, we do not know the narrator in Wizard of the Crow, we only hear his voice and he is much more present than that of Devil on the Cross who performs a role similar to that of a narrator in drama; he appears for an introductory aspect then effaces for the story to continue. I think here, Ngugi is exploring an oral narrative story telling style by using narrators who are consciously aware of their listeners. Oh yes, speaking of the orality in Ngugi’s work, Ngugi does not fail to fill his stories with tools from his oral repertoire and it is in this sense that we see folk songs, folk tales and proverbs embellishing his works. Yet these tools have thematic implications.

Now, I should not lie else I go to hell. I did not enjoy some parts at the beginning and few places where he left the story hanging and went downright into sermonising. A writer should show us the story, he does let his character go out of their way to start preaching to the readers; check out the education on wife battery and HIV AIDS (Was he asked to advertise for UNAIDS?).

I do not also like how the story ended, it seems to me to be quite pessimistic. A dictator hands over to another oppressor who is already on his way to becoming the dictator of the country. Actually that part was an anticlimax, the story should have just ended with the bursting of the balloon blown ruler and the immediate aftermath (after all, the story is already a fable). To pass that point and discover that the ruler was still alive killed the enjoyment of the story. The final shooting was but a second death that was unneeded.

However, the story was hilarious and enjoyable. It also speaks volumes of the foolish antics of African leaders especially those who have perpetuated themselves in power for so long that they think they cannot abdicate power for another. Examples include Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Yahya Jammeh of Gambia, both who have now been forcefully pulled out of their various positions as presidents of their of respective countries.

All in all, I score Ngugi eighty out of a hundred for the novel, Wizard of the Crow.

Keep a date with Eazy’s Reviews on Memorila.com every Saturday!

Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy holds a degree in English language and literary studies. He is a short story writer, copy editor, book reviewer, literary critic, poet, and essayist.

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