Micere Githae Mugo

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Micere Githae Mugo

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  • Joyce Wangari told a story about 9 months ago
  • Joyce Wangari told a story about 9 months ago

"In Tireless Pursuit of UTU "

  • 80 Years Old
  • Born on Saturday, December 12 1942 in Kirinyaga, Kenya
  • Passed away on Friday, June 30 2023 in United States

Micere Githae Mugo, a dual citizen of Kenya and the United States of America passed on June 30, 2023, at 11:30 a.m. at the age of 80, after a 16-year intense and “sheroic” battle with multiple myeloma.  Born in Kariria, Kirinyaga on December 12, 1942, she was the third born of Senior Chief Richard Karuga G?thae and Mwalimu Grace Njeri G?thae; sister to Eunice Muringo Kiereini, the late Judi Muthoni Gilmore, the late Joyce Muthoni Githae, Duncan Mutugi Githae, Winnie Wambui Marekia, the late Rose Wanjiru Wachira, the late David (aka Dauti) Githanda, Patrick Njeru Githae and Nancy Wangari (aka Kanini) Githae, father and mother to Mumbi and the late Njeri Kui whom she both described as her “comrades” and best friends.

At the time of her birth, the world was contending with the crises and consequences of trisecting national, continental, and global events: the second world war, colonial expansionism, and the rising resistance against it. When Micere turned ten in 1952, the same year the State of Emergency was declared in Kenya, she witnessed one of the most violent periods in her country’s history and herstory. The Kenya Land and Freedom Army, popularly known as the Mau Mau, had intensified its resistance against colonial occupation and brutality and Micere had just joined Embu Girls’ School, which was at the heart of this war.  She would remain at Embu, in the Eastern region of the country from 1955 – 1957.

Micere then attended Alliance Girls’ High School from 1957-1960. Though colonialism was coming to an end during this period, the British colonial establishment remained convinced that Black Africans were not as intellectually capable as their white counterparts.  To test this racist theory, Micere found herself thrust in the middle of what would become the educational desegregation project in Kenya, like the Civil Rights movement in the United States and in particular the “Little Rock 9” that same year. Micere was selected as the first and only African child to attend Limuru Girls’ High School, then an all-white girls’ high school.

It was a painful and lonely existence at Limuru, and it was during this time that Micere began reading authors such as James Baldwin, who would later become one of her close friends. But despite the hardships, Micere emerged as the top student at Limuru Girls’ High School, earning herself a scholarship to go to Oxford University. To the surprise of many, Micere declined this scholarship, opting instead to go to Makerere University, which she joined in 1963. At Makerere she studied under John Mbiti, Okot p’Bitek, and David Cook, among others. It was here, where some of her earliest poems were broadcast on BBC. Later, she became the first female editor of PenPoint, a literary journal in the English Department. Graduating from one of the most vibrant intellectual sites in East Africa at the time, Micere was emboldened by the culture of debating and speaking truth to power that thrived at Makerere. While there, she had witnessed the rise of students’ intellectual activism, most of it expressed through the publication of short stories, plays, poems, and debates among peers who confidently challenged their professorial interlocutors.

Emerging from what was seen as the Makerere tradition, Micere enrolled for a post-graduate diploma in education at the University of Nairobi in September 1966, a program that she would later lament “had a progressive vision meant to produce teachers who would decolonize education, professionals who were ingrained in the philosophy of ‘education for liberation,’ very much in line with Paulo Freire’s ideas in Pedagogy of the Oppressed”.

Micere left Kenya for Canada in 1969 to pursue higher education at the University of New Brunswick, where she was introduced to African American and Caribbean writings, and the growing culture of letters in the Black diaspora. This intellectual climate expanded her connections to the Black Arts Movement, providing her with the opportunity to connect struggles of African Americans to those of liberation movements around the world, especially those in southern African countries. A little-known aspect of M?cere’s life was her deep involvement with militant movements fighting for the independence of Namibia, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. She was also active in the Free Angela Davis and Assata Shakur campaigns, which had spread to several cities in the world by the early to late 70s.

Her return to Kenya in 1973 was met with yet another honor - the first man/woman to hold a PhD in literature in all East Africa. In September 1973, Micere joined the department of literature at the University of Nairobi as a lecturer.  In the decade that followed, she would engage, train, and influence a generation of students and lecturers.

The doctorate in Literature and a post-graduate diploma in education, enabled Micere to bring her imprimatur to debates on education and curriculum development. This background led to other important roles in the changing pedagogical landscape - as the first Chief Examiner of English and Literature for the East African Examinations Council, both at the ordinary and advanced levels. In addition to overseeing the literature examination system in the entire East African region, she trained and supervised examiners, enforced grading standards, and assisted ministries of education in Africanizing the curriculum. For Micere, the biggest national educational projects between 1973 and 1982 included “overhauling the then colonial secondary school curricula, promoting drama and theatre in schools and colleges, and applying individual and collective research to practical community needs.”  During this time, Micere traversed the country interviewing former Mau Mau women fighters, aware that the post-colony was erasing the contributions of women.  She was one of the intellectuals who worked very closely with Field Marshal Muthoni wa Kirima and Mukami Kimathi. History was incomplete and inaccurate, she argued, if it erased the narratives of women in the liberation struggle.

In 1978, Micere was elected as the first female Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Nairobi. That same year President Jomo Kenyatta died and was succeeded by his vice president, Daniel arap Moi. In this period of uncertainty, it quickly became evident that the new government was troubled by Micere and several of her colleagues’ and students’ radical politics. She became a target of constant harassment, as the increasingly oppressive policies of the Moi regime disrupted teaching at University of Nairobi, with the situation becoming worse in the aftermath of an attempted coup in August 1982.  Though the attempted coup was led by disillusioned non-commissioned officers in the military, much of the blame shifted to liberationalist intellectuals at the University of Nairobi and the Kenyan government targeted many of them for detention and, in some cases, assassination. As these efforts to clamp down on activists, professors and students intensified, Micere was smuggled out of the country with her 2 young daughters, Mumbi (7) and the late Njeri Kui (5), to begin an arduous life in exile.

Micere and her daughters began their exile in Canton, New York where she taught at St. Lawrence University. Immersing herself in community activities, she taught creative writing courses on African civilization, and Kiswahili in a Maximum-Security Prison. Most of the inmates were Black and Latino and had been removed from their hometowns and incarcerated far away from their families in what she considered to be a form of exile in their own country. Micere also spent hundreds of hours jetting back and forth from one end of the United States to the other, giving speaking engagements in an effort to create awareness about the situation in Kenya.  This included a visit to the United States Congress.  At school, Mumbi and Njeri, the only two black children in the school, became targets for bullying and racist attacks. M?cere, feeling alienated “geographically, historically, and spiritually” decided to return to Africa. She applied and was offered a position as Chair and Professor of English at the University of Zambia. During a stopover in London, while enroute to Lusaka, she was informed that she would not be granted entry into Zambia based on a telephone conversation between President Moi and his counterpart President Kaunda.  Now stranded in London with her two young children, Micere was extremely lucky to bump into the Zimbabwean first lady, the late Sally Mugabe, the Ghanaian born wife of President Robert Mugabe, whom she had known through her long association with Southern African liberation movements.  As they discussed M?cere’s situation at the Africa Center in Covent Garden, the first lady invited her to apply for a position at the University of Zimbabwe.  Micere was hired as an associate professor in the English Department and moved to Zimbabwe where she would be from 1984 to 1992.

Upon arrival in newly independent Zimbabwe, Micere embarked on the production of a progressive indigenous literature for Zimbabwean government schools, co-editing 8 supplementary readers.   It was in this context that she began to rethink literature in relation to its audiences. Out of a particular interest in orature, she wrote one of her most powerful monographs, African Orature and Human Rights out of her engagement with orality.  M?cere’s time in Zimbabwe was filled with intellectual and political work, as she continued exploding silences surrounding the political environment in Kenya, South Africa and other political struggles globally.  During this time, her passport was confiscated by the Kenyan government and thanks to President Mugabe, Micere became a Zimbabwean citizen until 2010 when she “regained” her Kenyan one.

With her older daughter Mumbi, ready for university, and Zimbabwe’s focus on Zimbabwean nationals given priority in admission into the University of Zimbabwe, Micere returned to North America as a Visiting Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University in 1992 to settle her daughters before returning to Zimbabwe.  After a health scare, she was forced to remain in the U.S. and joined the Department of African American Studies at Syracuse University in 1993 where she served for 22 years until her retirement in 2015 upon which she was awarded Emeritus status. At Syracuse University, M?cere’s contributions were as invaluable as they were diverse, with her becoming the first Black professor to be awarded the prestigious Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor for Teaching Excellence.  She received over 20 awards from student organizations across the campus for her leadership and human rights activities.

Her nurturing spirit and indomitable will touched communities and institutions worldwide, resulting in numerous awards including: a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Human Rights Defenders, the Defenders Coalition and the Embassy of Sweden in Kenya in 2022; a Lifetime Achievement in African Literature award from the Royal African Society in 2021; a Doctor of Letters honorary degree from the University of Nairobi in 2020; the Elder of the Burning Spear medal from the Government of Kenya in 2013; the Flora Nwapa Award for Literary Work That Transcends Culture, Boundary and Perception, from the African Literature Association in 2013; the Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Distinguished Lecturer Award from the University of Dar es Salaam in 2012; an Award for Excellence in Master Level Teaching from the College of Arts and Sciences, Syracuse University in 2011; a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pan African Studies Program of Syracuse University in 2010; the Central New York (CNY) Women of Distinction Award, honoring her for her contributions to the Syracuse community in 2008; the Distinguished Africanist Award from the New York African Studies Association in 2007; and the East African Standard Century publication of November 2002 cited her among “The Top 100: They Influenced Kenya Most” during the 20th Century.

As had been the case in Zimbabwe, Micere set out to create communities in Syracuse, beginning by co-founding the Pan African Community of Central New York (PACCNY) in 1994, whose mission is to engage in fostering the unity of people of African origin in Central New York and beyond through activities that promote understanding among all global communities, especially those who suffer from oppressive structures and systems.  In 2003, she went on to establish the United Women of Africa Organization (UWAO) after several women in the local African community shared with her the challenges of isolation in a new environment away from home. Since inception UWAO has had representation from Botswana, Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, the United States and Zimbabwe.

The “onion structure theory”, which Micere developed in African Orature and Human Rights, captures a worldview where the existence of the individual, the collective group, and the world around them are inextricably intertwined and exist as a “Shared Humanity”.  This paradigm insists that none of these entities can exist without the other.  This was a driving and powerful engine within M?cere’s philosophy and activism. It was the core of the utu and ubuntu philosophy, which she embodied, which transcended parochialism, classism, patriarchy, sexism, heterosexualism, and all other confining -isms.

Micere was deeply spiritual and often invoked the Almighty, the Ancestors, the Spirit World and the benevolent spirit of the Universe for intervention and guidance. While she never attended in-person Mass at All Saints Parish in Syracuse (Mumbi’s church), she often watched the livestream with her daughter.  She deliberated on the spirit of Utu that the church displayed in its welcoming of refugee families, standing with the Black Lives Matter movement, offering refuge for undocumented citizens and standing up against heterosexualism.  She did not miss an opportunity to praise its inclusive, diverse and progressive nature, whether she was speaking to family, friends or Father Frederick Daley himself. And it was often her praise that drew those around Micere into her own spirit of progress, justice, and compassion.

Her tireless and uncontainable dedication to growth and liberation, and her inexhaustible maternal righteousness will be missed by anyone who met her, everyone who knew her, and each community she touched or built. May our shujaa (heroine) travel on in dignity and peace to join her Ancestors, the Spirit World and her Maker. Ashe! (Life Force); Afya! (Health and Healing); Moyo! (Life); Amen! (So let it be).

Family Announcement:

It is with profound sadness that we formally announce the loss of our beloved mother, daughter, sister, grandmother, and great grandmother, Micere Githae Mugo, who passed away on Friday, June 30th, 2023, at 11:30 a.m. EST. at Crouse Hospital in Syracuse, New York. Micere transitioned peacefully, surrounded by her eldest sister Dr. Muringo Kiereini and daughter, Mumbi wa Mugo.

In honour of the great relationship between Micere and Ama Ata Aidoo, the Githae family has decided to hold off Micere's send off until after her sister has been laid to rest.

For those who wish to join us in Syracuse, New York as we remember Sister Micere Githae Mugo, the viewing of the body will be on Friday, July 28th, 2023, from 4:00pm to 6:00pm, followed by a Celebration of Micere's life from 7:00pm to 10:00pm. The Memorial will be held on Saturday, July 29th, 2023, from 10:00 - 1:00 p.m., followed by a repast/reception from 1:00 - 4:00 p.m. Micere's remains will be interred at Oakwood Cemetery on Monday, July 31st, 2023, from 10:00 - 11:00 a.m.  The Githae family will hold a memorial in Kenya, on August 15, 2023 at All Saints Cathedral

Numerous people have reached out to the family with requests to send donations. Please note that Micere had ensured that all final expenses were taken care of. Her daughter, however, plans to start a foundation in her name, with all donations used as seed funding.

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Memorial Materials

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Honors and Awards

Title Issuer Year
Lifetime Achievement Award Defenders Coalition 2022
Lifetime Achievement Award Royal African Society 2021
Flora Nwapa Award African Writers’ Association 2013
Award for Visionary Leadership United Women Of Africa 2009
Nia Award Juneteenth Recognition for Community Leaders 2008
Girl Scouts Women of Distinction Award Lafayette Country Club 2008
Francis M. Parks Woman of the Year Award African American Male Congress 2007
Distinguished Scholar Award New York African Studies Association 2007
25 Women in Leadership Award WTVH-TV, Syracuse 2004
Life Time Community Service Award Above and Beyond Community Recognition Awards Inc. 2004
Human Rights Award Onondaga County Human Rights Commission 2004
Leadership, Professionalism, Humanitarianism and Academic Achievement Alpha Phi Alpha & Alpha Kappa Alpha 2003
President’s Certificate of Recognition Claflin College, SC 2003
College Dean’s Certificate of Recognition Claflin College, SC 2003
Sojourner Truth Award for Black Woman Professor of the Year National Association of Negro Business & Professional Women’s Clubs 2002
AAS Fellows’ Recognition/Award for Teaching and Advising AAS Graduation Ceremony 2002
Outstanding Women’s Educator Eta Pi Upsilon, Syracuse University 1996
Finer Woman Award Pi Iota Chapter, Syracuse University 1996
Teacher of the Year Award NACCP, Syracuse University Branch 1996
Kenyan Literary Heroine The Sunday Nation , Kenya Newspaper 1995
Outstanding Classroom and Advising Service African-American Society (SAS), Syracuse University 1995
Image Award for Educator of the Year NAACP, SU Branch 1994
Award for Supportive Community Work NAACP, Elmira Branch 1994
Malcolm X Memorial Award For Excellence in Academic and Community Service Syracuse University African American Student Association 1994
• Nomination for inclusion in the The International Who’s Who of Intellectuals International Biographical Center, Cambridge, U.K. 1993
Nomination for inclusion in Dictionary of International Biography Biographical Record of Contemporary Achievement, FBC, Cambridge, U.K 1993
Award for Writing and Publication Rockefeller Foundation 1992
Award for Research on “African Orature and Human Rights Ford Foundation 1987
Award For Research On “African Orature And Human Rights Ford Foundation 1988
Award For Research On “African Orature And Human Rights Ford Foundation 1989
Award For Research On “African Orature And Human Rights Ford Foundation 1990
The Marcus Garvey Award Canadian Branch of U.N.I.A 1985
Volunteer of the Year Award Ogdensburg Correctional Facility 1983
UJAMAA Award Black Students’ Union, St Lawrence University 1983
Award to Research: “Changing Cultural patterns Among African Americans” USAID 1979
Guinness Award for the best artist in the production of "The Trial of Dedan Kimathi" World Black Festival of Arts & Culture, Lagos, Nigeria 1977
The Sir Charles G.D. Roberts Award for Creative Writing University of New Brunswick, Canada 1972
Special Achievement Record Prize as student-teacher P.G.D.E. Program, Nairobi University 1967
Literature Prize, School Bible Knowledge Prize Limuru Girls’ 1965
Literature Prize, School Bible Knowledge Prize Limuru Girls School 1961
Head Girl's Prize, Best Character Prize, Literature Prize, Bible Knowledge Prize Alliance Girls High School 1960
Runner-up Athletics Champion, & Drama Prize Alliance Girls High School 1958
Class Prize, Drama Prize, & Junior Athletics Champion Alliance Girls High School 1957

Books and Publications

Type Title Year
Books The Trial of Dedan Kimathi (co-authored with Ngugi wa Thiong'o) 1977
Books The Long Illness of Ex-Chief Kiti and Other Works 1976
Books Daughter of My People Sing 1976
Books Visions of Africa 1978
Books Writing & Speaking from the Heart of My Mind 2012

References

No. Title Links
1 Micere’s search from Marxism through orature and ubuntu https://nation.africa/kenya/life-and-style/weekend/micere-s-search-from-marxism-through-orature-and-ubuntu-4296254
2 Open letter to Micere Mugo (1942-2023) https://www.the-star.co.ke/sasa/books/2023-07-08-open-letter-to-micere-mugo-1942-2023/
3 Tribute To A Mother Of Feminist Masculinity – Micere Mugo https://theplatform.co.ke/tribute-to-a-mother-of-feminist-masculinity-micere-mugo/
4 MUTUNGA: Micere Mugo and the message ahead of Saba Saba https://www.the-star.co.ke/opinion/leader/2023-07-06-mutunga-micere-mugo-and-the-message-ahead-of-saba-saba/
5 Micere Mugo legacy in creative thinking and freedom of mind https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/amp/opinion/article/2001476853/micere-mugo-legacy-in-creative-thinking-and-freedom-of-mind
6 Slaying some of the ghosts of neoliberals - Inspiration from Micere Githae Mugo https://www.graphic.com.gh/features/opinion/yaw-nsarkoh-writes.html
7 Who will sing for Mama Micere Mugo’s orphans? https://nation.africa/kenya/news/who-will-sing-for-mama-micere-mugo-s-orphans--4290060
8 Fifty Years Later, The Caged Bird Still Sings https://www.theelephant.info/features/2020/12/18/fifty-years-later-the-caged-bird-still-sings/
9 Embrace Joy with the Poem 'I Want You To Know' by Kenyan Poet Micere Mugo https://strongsenseofplace.com/2023/06/22/embrace-joy-with-the-poem-i-want-you-to-know-by-kenyan-poet-micere-mugo/
10 Who is Micere Githae Mugo? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRRg1Ft0XXA&ab_channel=WachangaProductions
11 Remembering Micere Githae Mugo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cwVOQwKDNg&t=144s&ab_channel=WachangaProductions
12 Who is Micere Mugo? | Eddah Gachukia https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNIYLB8WBVo&ab_channel=WachangaProductions
13 WILLY MUTUNGA: Honouring and glorifying Micere Mugo https://defenderscoalition.org/willy-mutunga-honouring-and-glorifying-micere-mugo/
14 Who is Micere? | Biodun Jeyifo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=seejpZQLLG8&ab_channel=WachangaProductions
15 The 2022 lifetime achievement award to Prof. Micere Mugo by Defenders Coalition. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCLAsQ9GVN0&ab_channel=TwawezaCommunications
16 Ama Ata Aidoo tribute to Micere Githae Mugo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jp4lZ1xUjto&ab_channel=WachangaProductions
17 Martha Karua celebrates Micere Mugo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIxzmmJyqFU&ab_channel=WachangaProductions
18 ALD Interview with Professor Micere Mugo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFVaJPsKGp8&ab_channel=ArimusMedia
19 Mansfield Dialogues Fall 2019 - Micere M. Githae Mugo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Zvng9Jb_-M&ab_channel=MCATCommunityMedia
20 Micere Githae Mugo - Devolving a New Culture https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXcG9H-6cGA&ab_channel=WachangaProductions
21 Interview with Africa Writes Lifetime Achievement Award Winner M?cere G?thae M?go https://royalafricansociety.org/interview-with-africa-writes-lifetime-achievement-award-winner-micere-githae-mugo/
22 Micere Mugo and the struggle for politics http://www.wandianjoya.com/blog/micere-mugo-and-the-struggle-for-politics
23 Prof Micere Mugo pens her last life at 80 https://nation.africa/kenya/news/prof-micere-mugo-pens-her-last-life-at-80-4289638
24 Africa Speaks: Celebrating Prof. Micere Mugo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOjQQWICUVs
25 Micere Mugo of Africa and America: The Syracuse sequence https://www.the-star.co.ke/sasa/books/2023-07-29-micere-mugo-of-africa-and-america-the-syracuse-sequence/
26 I Am Because We Are: The Imperative of UTU/UBUNTU for Transformational Scholarship https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKFEiKtEkOM&t=589s
27 I Am Because You Are: Professor Micere Mugo in Her Own Words https://www.theelephant.info/culture/2023/07/25/i-am-because-you-are-professor-micere-mugo-in-her-own-words/
28 Tribute to literary legend Micere Mugo from nephew https://www.the-star.co.ke/sasa/books/2023-07-14-tribute-to-literary-legend-micere-mugo-from-nephew/
29 Micere Githae Mugo, Another African Pioneer Who Has Left Us https://brittlepaper.com/2023/07/micere-githae-mugo-another-african-pioneer-who-has-left-us-by-angeles-jurado/