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          The attempt in this study is to examine two notable East African plays, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi and Kinjeketile, against the background of revolutionary aesthetics as a means of socio-literary engagement. The work is comparative in nature. The realist dimensions in the realization of the theme of revolution are carefully examined including other major themes like oppression, exploitation, poverty, and so on. Copious inferences were drawn from the examination of the selected works. The study is included on the relevance of realist ideology in an aggressive pursuit of freedom, through revolt, against all human and material weapon of colonialism.



All African nations except Ethiopia have experienced one colonialadministration,or the other. It has grown in leaps from pre-colonial to colonial and post-colonial. This project is concerned with the use of revolutionary aesthetics employed by Ngugi and Mugo in The Trial ofDedan Kimathiand Hussein’s Kinjeketile to conscientize and creates awareness in the people asking them to rise up and change their situation.

Dating largely from the 1930’s, substantial bodies of literature in many languages exist reflecting revolutionary or otherwise extreme social situation. Literature is written to reflect the happenings in the contemporary society. Ngugi (p.6) asserts that:

Literature is more than just a mechanistic reflection of the socialreality… it does shape our attitude to life, the daily struggles within acommunity, and the daily struggleswithin our individual souls and selves.

Literature is a reflection of life which records or imagines actualities in or for the society. It is employed as a weapon of change, i.e., revolution. 

The term “revolution” was coined from the Latin word “revolucio” which means a “turn around”. The Encyclopedia Americana (p.445) defines revolution as:

a struggle, more or less successfullyand completely accomplished, in which the ruling power of a countrypasses from one economic class or political group to another class or group.

Revolution is the most extreme but necessary social alternative taken when other options or avenues to achieve reforms have been exhausted.It is meant to arouse the consciousness of man with the revolutionaryideology. It also helps man understand, master his environment and fashion it toserve humanity better. According to the Oxford Advanced Learner Dictionary(p.1010), revolution is:

“an attempt, by a large number of people,to changethe government of a country , especially by violent action

Revolution can be described as a form of radical change in economy, cultureandsocio–political institutions as expressed in Merriam–Webster’s dictionary (p.1) that revolution is:

“an activity or movement designed to effect fundamentalchange in the socio-economic situation of man”

Revolution is however regarded as the choice between two alternatives: humanization and dehumanization. Of these two, man’s choice is clear, humanization. But the choice is constantly negated through injustice, exploitation, oppression and the violent of the oppressors.

However, there are other perspectives of revolution. Attempts have beenmade by African artists to evolve a revolutionary ideology that will negate theevils of colonialism, neo-colonialism, imperialism and capitalism. The strategic weaponry and ideology in imaginative creativity is the process used.Creativity is the mother of aesthetics. Aesthetics, according toEncyclopedia Britannica (p.277) is “…the philosophy of the science of thebeauty of taste or the fine arts…”

The employment of aesthetics in African literature is as old as thevocation itself.From Soyinka to Ngugi,from Hussein to Armah, Africaliterature got permeated by beautiful works of art imbued with exciting creativity. Thatthe two attributes of revolution and aesthetics employed in the two texts and the idea that both are revolutionary works that have consciously engaged the medium of drama to covey their important messages cannot be over-emphasized. One can, therefore,see that revolutionary aesthetics play a verygreat role by ideally and realistically projecting the social structures that influenced the actions of the individuals.

Based on these postulations, committed writers are creating awareness sothat with time masses who are conscientized can stand up for their right. Themain feature of art in revolution is aimed at empowering the powerless (masses).The aesthetics is in the ability to create social awareness among the oppressedto rise up against their oppressors. Revolutionary aesthetics, therefore, demandsamong other things the simplicity of expression, humility towards the culture ofthe people, collective sensibility and the functionality of the message expressed.


In the early eighteen century, various representatives of different Europeancountries were on a quest to acquire material wealth. They went about this by pillaging the African continent, but the continent was not developed enough in terms of arms to be able to defend itself. Thus, these Europeans found that theycould easily penetrate the countries and acquire wealth.Africans resisted incursions into their territories at first, but were subduedby the Europeans due to the fact that their arms were more superior to theAfricans. Having had absolute control of economic activities, the Europeansbegan to fight and quarrel with each other based on who should be in charge ofthe various areas. This was what prompted Bismarck, a German emperor to call ameeting which was held in Berlin in 1884/1885, and Africa was formallydivided among the colonial powers to be ruled.

The struggle for independence in Africa led to the use of violence as arevolutionary means to break free from the clutches of the white oppressorswho seized their lands and made them landless yet making them laborers ontheir own lands.Abubakar (p.19) asserts that:

Revolutions, especially politically influenced ones, predate colonialdomination in Africa. Africanshave not been known to acceptoppression and domination lying down. The agitation for changes in leadership and political systemsgave rise to numerous uprisingswhich became popular in the region prior and during the colonialconquest.

Algeria, a North African country experienced French conquestin 1830. War was declared against the colonial administration by the NationalLiberation Front in 1954. In 1962, a cease-fire was agreed between the twogroups and independence was declared.

Nigeria, a West African country also attained independence in 1960 after Nigerians who were educated in Europe and America formed various activistgroups like WASU (West African Students’ Union) for the purpose ofdemanding for self-rule. Other African countries were not left behind in themaze for independence with the exception of Ethiopia, which did notexperience any sort of colonial administration.However, our focus is on twoEast African nations,who struggled for independence via revolution, i.e., Kenya and Tanzania.


Kenya was one of the British colonies in Africa. Thousands of Britishsoldiers were relocated by the British government to Kenya after the First and Second World Wars. Consequently, the natives were dispossessed of their landsand ultimately reduced to low wage labourers and this was one of the propellingfactorstowards colonial struggle.

The struggle against colonialism was marked by several attempts by the masses to annihilate colonial rule. At first, the masses established peacefulresistant organizations like EAA (East African Association) led by Harry Thuku,KCA (Kikuyu Central Association) which was organized by the ilk of JesseKariuki, Joseph King’ethe, James Beauttan and so on which latermetamorphosed into KAU (Kenyan African Union), under the leadership ofJomo Kenyatta, in 1946. However, these resistance organizations were met with repudiation, hostility and resistance from the imperialist circles. Some of theleaders of these organizations were arrested and exiled while some of themasses of Kenya were also killed.

Due to the failure of this approach, a culture of violent resistance soondeveloped among the people resulting to the establishment of the Mau Maumovement. The movement’s first strategy was to educate, mobilize and unite asmany people as possible and the swearing of oath was implemented. It wascharacterized by pointing out clearly to the Kenyan masses to road to armedstruggle with Dedan Kimathi and Stanley Mathenge as the new leaders.

Kimathi became one of the most prominent of the dominant leadersof Mau Mau’s land and freedom armies, with oversight function for theAberdare Forest. On the twentieth of October, 1952, Jomo Kenyatta was arrested due to the misguided notion that he was the main organizer of the MauMau movement and a state of emergency was declared after which stringent measures were taken against the Kikuyu peasants.

Kimathi created the Kenya Defense council to co-ordinate guerillaactivities and moved to the Nyandarua forest. The government took swiftactionagainst the Mau Mau, using repressive action. They began with thebanning of KAU because they did not realize that the Mau Mau is an independent movement. The “Operation Anvil” was also launched in Nairobi with 25,000 soldiers and police. The peasants were maltreated, killed or even castrated. Consequently, food and drug supplies could not reach the Mau Mau soldiers. The capture and surrender of General China led to the downfall of the Mau Mau. He confessed and betrayed the Mau Mau by revealing their plans and secrets. Kimathi was captured with Wambui, his “forest wife” and was hanged on the 18th of February, 1957.


The establishment of German colonial rule in Tanzania from 1880 came about through the force of arms. The alternative option of peaceful negotiation did not seem to hold much prospects as non of the African communities was ready even at the age of partition, to surrender their sovereignty to the Europeans without a struggle. But even in the use of force, the German colonialists met with communal rebuffs of a continual nature.

Tanzania is divided into two regions: Tanganyika and Zanzibar. The Africans of Tanganyika were not organized, rather, they were organized in small units, each independent of and sometimes hostile to, the other. The collection of hut tax was ruthlessly enforced. Deprivation, discrimination, forced labour and flogging became the order of the day. The people submitted patiently because they were not united.

The Tanganyika Africans fought bravely in defense of their age-long freedom, such as the ambush of an advancing German expedition led by Emil Von Zelewski by Mkwawa of Uhehe and his people in 1891, another ambush was also organized and executed by Meli Moshi in 1892 which was marred by inter-ethnic rivalries which marked the relations between the Moshi and other Chagga states before the arrival of the Germans, Isike of Unyanyembe also fought bravely to resist the Germans’ advance in 1892. Only Mkwawa of Uhehe tried to ally with Isike of Unyanyembe between 1891 and 1893. Albeit, some ambitious people in almost all the communities used the Germans for their selfish ends, the situation was slightly different in Zanzibar. The colonial rulers in Zanzibar were the Omani Arabs from Muscat, and Seyyid Said headed the government.

The rigour with which tax was collected among the hunger-stricken masses almost led to a rebellion in 1899. By 1900, about twenty Chiefs were executed in the Kilimanjaro area alone and two thousand Africans were also killed for resisting against the imposition of hut tax and this paved the way towards the uprising of the “Maji Maji” revolt.TheMaji Maji revolt was the final attempt by the Tanganyika’s old societies to destroy the colonial order by force. While the German masters inhuman treatment of the tribally segmented people of Tanganyika lasted, Kinjeketile Ngwale, a leader and priest of the religious cult of Kolelo rose. He lived in Ngarambe in what is now southern Tanzania. He was believed to possess great legendary powers relating to Hongo, the water god, in a tributary of the River Rufiji. He became a source of strength for the oppressed people. He also became a rallying point for the people’s revolt especially because of the belief that he possessed the power to turn German’s bullet to water. The legendary “Maji” holy water was administered on the people and they started a war campaign against their colonial masters. The various tribes in the colony closed ranks and forged a common alliance in preparation for independent war against the Germans. The Maji Maji revolt began in late July 1905. The discovery of the failure of the “Maji” holy water to provide humility from the bullets of the German troops greatly demoralized them. Kinjeketile was, however, captured and hanged at Mohoro.

The revolt did not bring about the much sought after independence, but it rather laid the foundations for independence. Tanganyika and Zanzibar inspired by their nationalistic interests amalgamated as one country under the name Tanzania which gave them the much needed strength. In respect to these African nations who struggled for independence, two notable plays from East Africa; The Trial of Dedan Kimathi by Ngugi Wa Thiong’O and Micere Githae Mugo (Kenya), and Ebrahim Hussein’s Kinjeketile(Tanzania) have been selected as case study.


The study examines revolutionary features in Ngugi Wa Thiong’O and Micere Githae Mugo’s The Trial of Dedan Kimathi and Ebrahim Hussein’s Kinjeketile respectively to show the contribution of literature to the revolutionary struggle of the people of East Africa towards liberating themselves. The study does a comparative analysis to assess the differences in the approaches of the playwrights in the selected text of study.


This research work is being embarked upon to exhibit the belief that reality exists independently of observers and then to draw up the lessons embedded in the struggle, how these lessons are utilized and the artists’ perception of the whole business of struggle, freedom and governance. It is a study of the differences between the realist struggler for freedom and the idealist artist who has an Utopian view of the society.

Opinions have actually varied as to how successful Ngugi and Mugo, on the one hand, have employed revolutionary aesthetics in conveying the artists feelings about the struggle for freedom in Kenya, and how Ebrahim Hussein, on the other hand, pursued the same cause in Kinjeketile. The need to lend further clarification to the polarity of opinions has, therefore, arisen and this work sets out to make such clarification. It is hoped on the whole that the present attempt will lead to enhanced readership of East African literature in particular but also all the literature that are embedded in revolutionary ideologies that aim to salvage humanity. 


Revolution permeates the literature of all cultures- European, Arabic, African etc. Few examples have already been given in the earlier part of this study. The scope of this study, however, covers only the comparison revolutionary aesthetics in two notable east African works, namely, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi and Kinjeketile regarding critical analysis of the personae of the different protagonists, and how the aesthetics and message of revolution was vehicled across through these works.

The scope is however limited to only the afore-mentioned works, yet, there is much more to do on the same theme as projected by other African writers. The future of revolutionary aesthetics in literature certainly holds much work and much excitement.


The research work will be approached in line with the theory of realism. The approach concerns itself with finding out what produces change, what makes things happen and forces change. It establishes relations on natural necessity rather than the relations of logical necessity and how closely associated it is with historical materialism.

The research work will help us understand the concept of social structures that influence and are influenced by the action of individuals. It will also project the movement along the daily and life paths which leads to the accumulation of mental experience that shaped intentions and influenced movements which will be highly supported by evidence projected in the plays and actions, illuminated by reasons, thereby ,encouraging us to put ourselves in the same condition as experienced by these individuals. The study proceeds to compare the plays and draw the implications and relevance of the revolutionary undertones in the texts for the contemporary society.

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