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Grace Ogot: The Graduate

Ogot’s fairly short novel is a pleasant story, with a strong anti-racism, anti-sexism angle. Juanina Karungari is a minister in the Kenyan government. When the first government was formed after independence, there were several women MPs but, to everyone’s dismay, no women ministers. However, three months later one of the ministers was killed in a car crash and Juanina became the first woman minister, Minister for Public Affairs. However, despite the support of the Union of Kenyan Women (the novel opens with her daughter finding a dedication from them in a bible), Juanina is unsure of herself. She is worried that her husband, the chief accountant of the Nairobi Sugar Authority, will feel undermined and she is worried that she is neglecting her role as a mother. (She deals with the second issue by getting up earlier and coming home for lunch.)

One of her first duties as minister is to go to the United States to speak to Kenyan graduates there and urge them to come and join the Kenyan Civil Service which is still run primarily by expatriate whites. While there she learns of the plight of Kenyan graduates, many who have struggled to get to Europe and the United States to study and have to work long hours to pay for their studies. Jakoyo, for example, has left his wife and children in Kenya and struggled to find a job, only getting a night job with the help of other Kenyan expatriates. He now has been offered a five year fellowship at a US university, which will enable him to study for a Ph. D. and bring his family over to the United States. Despite this, Jakoyo agrees to return to Kenya to help in his field, urban planning. Ngure, however, who has married an American woman, is more reluctant to do so. His father had been in a group that had attacked and killed a white farmer. Ngure and his mother had had to flee but his mother had been caught and killed. Ngure had had to change his name. He is reluctant to go back to face what happened to his mother, particularly as he feels that Juanina’s family was allied to the colonisers.

Jakoyo has been told by Juanina to go straight to her office when he returns to Nairobi and she will give him a job. He does just that but is soon rebuffed by her staff, particularly her white confidential secretary, Jane Browne, who feels that Jakoyo may well take the job of the Irish expatriate Ted O’nell (sic), Head of Urban Planning. The rest of the novel is how the whites rally round to protect their own and exclude the Africans and how the Africans fight back. It is quite simplistic in approach but a nice story and a good picture of early post-independence Kenya.

Publishing history

First published 1980 by Uzima