The Relevance of Kenyan Freedom Writers and Academic Freedom in Kenya Today

A Celebration Organised by the University of Nairobi,

Amnesty International Kenya and the Kenya Diaspora Alliance (USA)

Friday 21st June, 3.00 – 6.30 pm

ML04, Fourth Floor, University Of Nairobi Towers, University of Nairobi


Background

On Friday, June 21st, 2024, the University of Nairobi hosts a celebration of freedom writing and academic freedom co-organised with Amnesty International Kenya and the Kenya Diaspora Alliance (USA). The event is one of a Madaraka month-long set of Freedom Reading events celebrating the writings of Professor Micere Githae Mugo and Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o. 

Micere and Ngugi are two of Kenya’s bravest and most famous writers, whose works have catalyzed a passion for human rights, freedom from colonial oppression, empowerment of Indigenous languages, women’s rights, and community mobilization against inequalities across several generations of Kenyans. 

Amnesty International-Kenya and other organisations have rallied Kenyans to fund book donations and readings across the 21 counties in Kenya to celebrate their numerous contributions to our society. These counties include Baringo, Bungoma, Busia, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Isiolo, Kericho, Kiambu, Kisii, Kilifi, Kirinyaga, Kisumu, Machakos, Makueni, Meru, Migori, Mombasa, Nairobi, Nakuru, Siaya, Turkana and Wajir. The activities will culminate in Atlanta, USA.

The month of June 2024 marks the first anniversary of Micere Githae Mugo’s passing and the retirement of Ngũgi wa Thiong’o from active teaching and a move to Atlanta, Georgia. We are happy to celebrate them through readings from their works with the burning optimism that they will inspire us to expand the freedoms contained in our Bill of Rights.  

Programme

TimeDepartment of Literature
3.00 pmRetracing the footsteps of Prof. Micere and Prof. Ngugi: A Visit to the Department of Literature
Prof. Miriam Musonye
University Towers MLT 04
3.30 pmVideo: Freedom Readings Across Kenya over June 2024
Performance: Ngahiika Ndeenda in Sheng – Social Justice Travelling Theatre
4.00 pmWelcoming Remarks
Prof. Miriam Musonye (Chair, Department of Literature)
Prof. Stephen Kiama (Vice-Chancellor)
4:10 pmFirst Panel: What is the significance of contemporary freedom writing globally today?
Wanjira Wawira – Mathare Social Justice Centre Organiser
Hon. Yusuf Hassan – MP, Kamukunji Constituency
Stephen Jackson – UN Resident Coordinator
H.E Amb. Sylvio Josè Albuquerque E Silva – Brazil Ambassador and translator of Ngugi
Blinky Bill, Musician
Moderator – Irungu Houghton – Executive Director, Amnesty International, Kenya
4.55 pmPerformance: Aleya Kassam, National Poet and Storyteller
5.05 pmSecond Panel: What is the significance of contemporary freedom writing in Kenya today?
Prof. Kivutha Kibwana – Former University of Nairobi, thespian and Governor Emeritus
Dr. Willy Mutunga – Former University of Nairobi, and Chief Justice Emeritus
Prof. Tom Odhiambo – University of Nairobi
Discussion
Moderator: Prof. Miriam Musonye
5.55 pmPerformance: Social Justice Travelling Theatre
6.05 pmClosing Remarks and Vote of Thanks Professor Prof. Jack Odhiambo – Dean, FASS
6.15 pmRefreshments

Brief Profiles of Micere and Ngugi

Professor Micere Githae Mugo was a Kenyan scholar, author and human rights defender, whose iconic stature cuts across the colonial and post-independence landscapes. She was highly regarded for celebrating the place of women in society and for foregrounding the struggles for a new Kenya. Besides interrogating the empowerment of women, professor Micere’s poetry and essays have engaged with the issues of Pan-Africanism and social justice. She was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award on January 10, 2023 by the human rights community in Kenya. This was the latest addition to many more awards and honours prof Micere has earned from various institutions around the world. Like Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Micere’s human rights activism rattled the Daniel Arap Moi regime, which forced her into exile in the early 1980s. She first settled in Zimbabwe before migrating to the United States of America to take up the position of Professor and chair of the Department of African American Studies at Syracuse University.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o is a Kenyan author and scholar currently serving as a Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. He has been awarded numerous Honorary Doctorates by leading institutions globally. He has been admitted into the Honorary Membership of the American Academy of Letters. He has acquitted himself as a leading public intellectual, novelist, essayist, playwright, journalist, editor, academic and human rights defender. Together with Taban Lo Liyong and Awuor Anyumba, he launched the decolonization of literary studies in the then English Department at the University of Nairobi, a feat that still resonates globally in debates and practices that inform postcolonial theories. Ngugi’s publications and activism prompted the successive governments of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Moi to detain and exile him respectively. Amnesty International designated him a Prisoner of Conscience and led several human rights organizations to defend Ngugi’s rights.

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