Many heralded works of Kenyan literature were written by prisoners-of-conscience who found themselves in trouble with the government-of-the-day for one reason or the other. More were published later after prison, with their authors recounting their experience and suffering as political prisoners.
According to poet Kimani Wanjiru, the late Kenyan humorist Wahome Mutahi once noted the following:
“For many writers writing about their horrid experiences behind bars is often cathartic, therapeutic….”
And this might explain why books and poetry authored based on the political prisoner experience have turned out to be some of the best literary works Kenya has ever seen.
For example, Professor Abdilatif Abdalla (pictured above) wrote his masterpiece work of poetry “Sauti Ya Dhiki” from prison during his detention by the Kenyatta Government between 1969 and 1972. Sauti Ya Dhiki has been used severally as a Fasihi (literature) set-book for Kenyan secondary schools.
Also quite familiar to many is Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s novel “Caitani Mutharabaini (Devil on the cross)” which was written on toilet paper in 1977 during his detention at Kamiti Prison and published upon his release in 1981. In 1981, he went on to write “Detained: A Writer’s Prison Diary” also recounting his time in prison. Devil on the Cross and many other Ngugi’s books are a must-read for any serious student of African literature.
Another Kenyan scholar Alamin Mazrui, the nephew of the famed Kenyan scholar the Late Ali Al’Amin Mazrui wrote “Chembe cha Moyo (Pit of the Stomach)” – a work of poetry reflecting on his stints in detention between in 1982 and 1984 under the Moi Government. Ali Mazrui is also known for his work of “Kilio cha Haki” known to many secondary school students as a Fasihi setbook.
We can’t forget the Late Playwright Wahome Mutahi’s books “Three Days on the Cross” and “Jailbug” which were released after his imprisonment by the Moi Government in 1986. Although “Three Days on the Cross” had been written as a fictional account of life in prison prior to Wahome’s imprisonment, in this case life turned out to imitate art and he revised the book after his time in prison. As such, his books on the subject turned out to be semi-fictional accounts inspired by his own imprisonment after-all.
Maina Kinyatti’s “Kenya: A Prison Notebook” written in 2009 talks of his experiences of torture, starvation during his detention between 1982 and 1988. (As a side note, Maina Kinyatti is probably the most preeminent Mau Mau scholar alive)
Along silimar lines Koigi wa Wamwere wrote “Conscience on Trial: Why I was Detained, Notes of a Political Prisoner in Kenya
Book” detailing his detention under the Moi Regime following the 1982 coup attempt and again in 1990.
And the list goes on and on.