By Ciugu Mwagiru
The Sunday Nation, October 5, 1997

Maillu is hard to understand some­times, which does not mean I was pre­pared for his next bomb during the more recent meeting. True, I knew he had launched his new book African Indige­nous Political Ideology at Nairobi University.

5(b) What I did not know, having missed the KTN news the preceding evening, was that after the launch he had called a press conference at Chester House and an­nounced that he had made up his mind to seek presidency on a KANU ticket, chal­lenging no less than the Head of State for the nomination. So Maillu updated me, explaining that he had after the press con­ference visited different print media newsrooms to expound on his plans to gun for the top job.

5(c) “The intelligentsia in this country, in­cluding writers and those in the media, is making the nation more and more de­pressed,” he said. “Our country is going to the dogs. I”ve decided to do something about it. In fact, I”m in the process of forming a shadow cabinet.” I had not taken him too seriously, of course, nor was I taking his planned aspi­ration for the presidency of the land with too much curiosity. He must have noticed it, for he suddenly repeated – just in case I had not heard him right the first time ­that he was well into the process of form­ing the Cabinet with which he would rule once inside State House. “In fact I would like you to be in that Cabinet,” he said as I glared at him, maybe flabbergasted? “What docket would you like?”

5(d) I ordered drinks for both of us and asked him if he would mind discussing his new book instead. I had looked at it, and formed the opinion that it was probably his best non-fictional effort by far, and was not surprised when he confided that it had taken 18 years to research.    .

5(e) I had once had a discussion with the editor who had handled Our Kind of
Polygamay, Maillu”s earlier major academ­ic work, and the editor had heaped
praise on it, advising me that it would be unfortu­nate if people only associated
Maillu with After 4.30, My Dear Bottle and other lesser, more obscure books.

5(f) Later, more carefully reading Mail­lu”s more recent book, which he has
described as “Africa”s cul­tural interpretation of democra­cy,” I knew that the man
had tak­en his subject seriously and addressed it from the depth of his heart. It
brought to mind earlier works such a How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. By
Walter Rodney, The African Civilisation by Prof Kihumbu Thairu, as well as the
earli­er efforts of the negritudinist school led by people like Leopold Seda
Senghor and Aime Cesaire.

5(g) I was aware that Maillu was probably indulging in a bit of hyperbole when in the blurb he described the book as “(the) for­gotten home-grown herb with miraculous healing powers,” and then more or less billed it as the panacea that will heal all of Africa”s wounds. That notwithstanding, the book is certainly a breath of fresh air for anybody who has read The Africans: Encounters from Sudan to the Cape, the book by journalist David Lamb that depicted Africa as a burnt-out case, a con­tinent hopelessly teetering on the edge” of apocalypse.

5(h) Maillu”s perspective in the new book is based more on balanced optimism than mere idealism, as the author fervently tries to restore a modicum of hope for the future of the continent. His premise is that Africa has a long and dignified past, and that its” gradual decline can be to a large extent attributed to the brutalisation it un­derwent under foreigners determined to plunder its human and material resources.

5(i) The writer at the beginning of the book lists more than 500 proverbs from differ­ent  parts of the continent which he says are ample proof of the fact that the conti­nent has a huge reservoir of wisdom vest­ed in a deeply philosophical oral tradition. He then proceeds to list questions that he believes beg answers from those skeptical about the continent”s capacity to not only survive but also thrive in the future.

5(j) Among these questions is why interna­tional ideologies find the continent fertile ground for experimentation followed by another about why there is widespread in­stability afflicting the continent today. Also addressed is the question about why the continent is unable to feed itself, and how this relates to the fact that she has over the ages produced more slaves than any other part of the world.

5(k) Reasoning that Africa”s greatest prob­lems have external rather than internal causes, the author says that with a little ef­fort Africans should be able to sort out their political differences.

5(l) Maillu argues that greater unity amongst Europeans will only hurt Afri­cans further and facilitate the exploitation of her resources. Pointing out that in the­ course of history the white man has killed vastly greater numbers of people around the globe than the so-called savages of Africa have killed, Maillu underscores the irony of the fact that today Africa should agree to become the repository of Western arms with which to more rapidly destroy herself.

5(m) Quoting numerous academic studies undertaken by specialists in the past Maillu insists that the efforts to depict the African continent as doomed have been deliberate, aimed at paving the way for continued sapping of her life-sustaining resources and the erosion of any confi­dence her people might have in their fu­ture. “You cannot afford to teach a cow to liberate it­self from man”s exploitation if you feed on its milk,” Maillu reasons. “By the same token, the whiteman, who is a tradi­tional exploiter of the African, cannot be expected to teach Africans to liberate themselves in whatever and whichever way.”

5(n) Maillu”s conclusion is that for Africa to develop and thrive, it has to dig deeper and retrieve the lost wisdom that over the ages guided social, economic and political developments. Readers of Maillu”s new book will find it a refreshing and Afro-centric analysis of the causes of the continent”s problems, and how they can be resolved by Africans themselves.