Surrender before Uhuru

by Sofia

I’m reading A Grain of Wheat, by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. It which recounts the moments before Kenya’s Uhuru, independence, where the battle had been lost and the white man was packing his bags, leaving a wounded people and ravaged land in their own hardened hands.

The incident of Dr. Lynd’s dog nearly attacking the group of Africans by the research centre. Karanja has betrayed the fighters with whom he swore to struggle for a free, black Kenya to win favour in the colonial system.

They changed to the dog incident. They became angry. They sympathized with Karanja. Man! Thompson saved you. But he won’t punish her. Karanja found the smell of the boiling glue, the men’s talk and laughter, did not soothe his restless nerves. He went out and walked between the Soil Physics Laboratory and the main administrative block, affecting business-purposefulness, but really hoping to catch sight of John Thompson in the office through the window. Had the man gone, Karanja wondered? He should have asked him yesterday. Yesterday after the dog incident. Karanja recalled his terror as the dog approached him. He shuddered. Thompson had saved him from shame. Thompson. And he was going. He strolled back to his room, heavy with a sense of imminent betrayal. (158)

Thompson, a white bureaucrat, is somewhat sympathetic towards the Africans, and intervenes when Karanja is blamed for almost being attacked by a white woman’s dog. The dog is known to be dangerous and hurt workers before, and yet Thompson does not sanction Dr. Lynd, but listens to her complaints of the Africans. Karanja, who betrayed his friends and the fight for black sovereignty, is now about to be abandoned by his white oppressors. The exploitation and the futility of his seeking reward with the whites is glaring: “Thompson saved you. But he won’t punish her.” No matter what he does or whom he informs against, he is African, and they are Europeans. He will never earn equality or even acceptance from his white superiors, who will never penalize a fellow white for a wrong committed against a black. And when white reign is finally overturned, Karanja has dug his own grave, left to the justice that will be meted out by those he turned against. Ngũgĩ depicts the dynamic in which submission was the only option available to blacks, their collaboration never freeing them, but further entrenching them in servitude.