Struggles and resilience of top Pan Africanist
Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president is known to many people as a tough President, and others even refer to him as a dictator. However, there are those who have kind words for him and one of them is Prof Micere Mugo. “He is a comrade; he was a friend when my own people did not want me,” she says.
Micere always stood for what she thought was right, she never hesitated to question the authority and demand for the people’s rights.
Her inquisitiveness brushed the regime of President Daniel Moi the wrong way. This led to the beginning of her many problems and journey from one country to another.
“Things became very bad for me that I was denied landing rights in Zambia as a result of the relationship between the Kenyan and Zambian Presidents,” she said during a public lecture and launch of her book: From the Heart of my Mind-The Story of our Journey at the University of Nairobi.
Micere further explains that when she inquired why she could not land in Zambia she was informed that she had expressed an act of sincere aggression to be allowed to land in that country.
She was forced to depart Kenya in 1982 after becoming the target of official government harassment, and has worked, written, and taught abroad for many years since.
Among other countries that welcomed her at the time that Kenya disposed her were Tanzania, and Mozambique. Her friendship with Samora and Graca Machel ensured that her children and family did not suffer or feel left out, she said during an interview with Capital Talk on K24.
Micere is a professor of African studies at Syracuse University in New York State.
She sought asylum in several African countries.
“President Robert Mugabe is the only head of state who understood my situation and decided to host me in his country,” said Micere.
She lived in Zimbabwe for a time, where she found a teaching post. Among her friend being Sally Mugabe, the first lady of Zimbabwe who has since died. Micere continued to write, something that she loved.
From the act of kindness that she received from Zimbabwean government, she was able to fight for her rights and has been able to work and live in many countries.
“I am a child of the universe, I have lived in almost all continents,” she said.
Micere is a Kenyan woman who can be described in so many words yet none can give the exact picture of who she is. Others say she is courageous, daring, brave, strong, intelligent while others are still looking for the right word that can summarise her character.
She is, however, quick to admit that she is considered by some people as a nuisance and being too vocal for a woman.
“I was brought up in a family where we were encouraged to speak out our minds regardless of your gender,” she says.
Micere Githae Mugo was born in 1942, in Baricho, Kenya. At the time, Kenya was still under colonial government.
Her parents who were both teachers valued education and did not discriminate between sons and daughters as was a common trend in most African families at the time.
She owes her success as a woman and as a leader to the education system that she went through.
“I used to be a little bit of an over withdrawn and anti-social child. Boarding school, however, taught me how to speak out,” says Micere who attended Embu Girls Primary school and Kangangaru Girls next to Mt. Kenya.
Her adolescence was disturbed by the Mau Mau uprising, which endured from 1952 to 1956. For this reason she has very bad memories of the period.
“The colonial government would be shooting Africans just next to my school. That is when I realised how brutal the colonialists were. We would be forced to look at the corpses,” she recalls adding that some had been dead for days and had started to decompose.
According to Micere, that was meant to make them keep quiet and not fight for their land because those who went against the colonialists would end up like that.
The next school that she went to had good teachers and they performed well. It was there that she got rid of the stereotype opinions that people had always expressed.
“People kept saying that people from Ndia were thick. My teachers however insisted that you must define yourself not to prove yourself but to name yourself,” says Micere. This experience later on led to her writing of, African Orature and Human Rights, which was published in 1991. The work is a discussion of the storytelling culture of the Ndia people in Kenya’s Kirinyaga District and its culture’s relation to politics.
Learning was not easy. They were thoroughly beaten by the teachers in order to get them to concentrate. “That is what characterised the colonial system of education, they used terror,” she says.
When she joined Alliance Girls’ High School, Micere had a different experience. “We were called big names like the cream of the nation. For the first time I felt the sense of being among Kenyans. We spoke as one, we teased one another but not out of hate,” she recalls.
She later on joined Limuru Girls’ High School becoming the first black students to be allowed to enrol in what had previously been a segregated academy.
She was enrolled together with an Indian girl. They were admitted on condition that if they performed well then they would allow more Africans.
“That was a very big role we were given to play. The other girls depended on us to pave way to better education for them,” she notes.
Here she faced racial discrimination but this did not pull her down. Instead she learnt not to make it personal but instead blame the institution.
After Limuru and Alliance, Micere found her way into Makerere University in Uganda. This taught her to be good and confident. It extended her identity as a Kenyan, a woman and a student.
She studied drama and even won an award for best actress at the Uganda Drama Festival.
“It opened up my land; I learnt some things that I have never even used like Greek language. But all these were used to bring us together,” she says with nostalgia.
Micere is not only a teacher; she is a poet, playwright, and scholar. She taught at the Department of Literature at the University of Nairobi as a senior lecturer and Dean until 1982. She would later teach at the University of Zimbabwe. Today she is a Professor of African American studies at Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York.
At the time when no one thought of women, Micere wrote Daughter of My People, Sing! Which is partially about the strength of women, but also concentrates on the consumerism and competition that arose in post-colonial Kenya. She would later on wrote many literature pieces.
Her English-language verse and drama draws heavily upon indigenous African cultural traditions. As a critic, she has also written extensively on contemporary African literature. She embraces the black race.
Micere’s parents hoped that she would become a doctor, but she harboured literary ambitions. She was already writing poetry in her teens. Her literary ambitions were encouraged by acclaimed writer Chinua Achebe during her time in Makerere University. After graduating with honours in 1966, Mugo became active in leftist politics, and was once arrested and detained in a jail cell with only men.
Micere finished her Master of Arts in 1973, and went on to the University of Toronto to earn a doctoral degree. She teamed with acclaimed Kenyan literary figure Ngugi wa Thiong’o to write The Trial of Dedan Kimathi.
Leaving Toronto, she returned to Kenya, and enjoyed a prominent post at the University of Nairobi as a senior lecturer and the first woman dean at the university.
In 1982, her political opinions once again threatened her safety. Kenya had become a one-party state after 1978, and the government of Daniel arap Moi was forced to put in place harsh measures against internal dissidence in order to secure its political power.
In 1994, her second volume of poetry, My Mother's Poem and Other Songs, was published.
Her poem, Mother Afrika Matriots, ties in the political struggle of African women with that of other groups. It links their spirit to uprisings elsewhere on the continent and even Black Panther politics in urban America.
In her other work, The Woman's Poem, Micere exhorts her reader to imagine a resourceful woman who makes good things happen including victory. She addresses political awareness touches upon the antiapartheid movement in South Africa, for example, or critiques postcolonial political leadership in other African nations.
She also served as chair of the Department of African American Studies and was instrumental in developing the department’s master’s programme in Pan African Studies. She has served in numerous college and university committees, including the university senate, the faculty council and as a faculty member of the Reneé Crown University Honours Programme, among others.
Micere was a founder of the Pan African Community of Central New York and one of the organisation’s first presidents. She is also the founder and former president of the Syracuse-based United Women of Africa Organisation.
Her many awards and honours includes the CNY Women of Distinction Award (2008), the Distinguished Africanist Award (2007), the Lifetime Community Service Award from the Syracuse Chapter of Above and Beyond Community Recognition Awards, Inc. (2004), and the Human Rights Award, Onondaga County Human Rights Commission (2004). In 2002, the Kenyan East African Standard Century placed her on its “The Top 100: They Influenced Kenya Most” during the 20th Century list. She is also a recipient of a Rockefeller Foundation Award for writing and publication (1992), a Ford Foundation Award for research on African orature and human rights (1987-1990), and the Marcus Garvey Award from the Canadian Branch of U.N.I.A. (1985).
She is also the 2012 Julius Nyerere Intellectual Festival Lecturer award.
Additional information from the internet
This article was originally published in the Kenyan Woman Issue 26