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In what is affectionately or derisively called “Upstate New York”, devoid of the cultural diversity of New York City, Brooklyn, the Bronx or Harlem, Mῖcere Gῖthae Mũgo redefined and recreated African space in a myriad ways: creating community, being readily available when called upon to share knowledge, maintaining her national and international presence and commitment to Pan-African politics.

Not too long ago, Micere was invited at short notice to be the keynote speaker for a Pan-African Connections Conference at Cornell University’s Africana Center. Because she had been a visiting professor at Cornell, Micere insisted that she did not want to be paid. Though in difficult health circumstances, she saw her contribution at the ceremony to mark the retirement of Locksley Edmondson as giving back to Africana. This was significant because Edmondson had spent a  critical period of his career at Makerere University and knew East Africa well.

The result was her presentation, “Locksley Edmondson as An Embodiment of Pan-Africanist Connectivity and As a Scholar Rooted In Black/Africana Studies”, which was published in the collection titled Pan-African Connections co-edited with N’dri Assie Lumumba. In declining the honorarium Micere said:

“As I requested, kindly put the money into the fund that was being proposed at the Symposium, either for ASR&C, or for Professor Edmondson. If there is no fund being set up, then I would like to donate the amount to Africana. Micere.”

Micere exemplified Ubuntu praxis in these ways, as her book The Imperative of Utu/Ubuntu in Africana Scholarship testifies. Following on from the early theorizing of this concept by John Mbiti, Micere defines Ubuntu as the way of being fully human in the world that many African cultures still retain: I am, Because We Are. Ubuntu becomes an African pre-text to Western assertions of white masculinity as the equivalent of the entitled rights to the definition of the human that entails subordinating others.

Micere’s approach included care for the next generation as was evident in her love for imparting knowledge to students and teaching memorable classes even though she was someone used to lecturing to large gatherings at African Studies and African Literature Association conferences, and as a special guest speaker at countless universities.

Another example: To an invitation from my graduate students in Literatures in English at Cornell to take part in their symposium, “Words Walking Without Masters”: Conversations on the Creative-Theoretical, Micere responded:

“A very good Monday afternoon and week to you! I hope all is well with you and your colleagues. If I may make an observation, I really like the spirit of team/collective work that shows in the way the symposium planning committee members are taking turns handling business. I’ve been an activist since my teenage days and even at 79 years of age, I remain an “addict” of team/collective/community work. Please feel free to quote me as needed, assuming you will include an acknowledgment. All the best and stay well!


Micere’s quote – which totally invigorated them and was one of the earliest endorsements that their project was worthy and the first to appear on the promotional material for the conference – remains on their website.

The pathways and actual experiences of living in the African Diaspora we know have not been joyous. The first-level African Diaspora was created via the brutalities of transatlantic enslavement and forced labour migration in order to build the “New World” that the Europeans wanted to create while decimating indigenous nations.

Micere defines Ubuntu as the way of being fully human in the world that many African cultures still retain: I am, Because We Are.

The second-level diaspora of voluntary or induced African migration often came post-independence because of economic or political oppression by African neo-colonial governments. Many of these second-level African migrants are not pan-Africanists ideologically as that philosophy was meant to be destroyed with the removal of Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and the generation that included Patrice Lumumba of Congo-Kinshasa. Thanks to new technologies, historical examples, and the possibilities of family reunification under new migration legislation, members of this second-level African diaspora have been able to benefit from maintaining cultural connections that were not available to the earlier diasporas because of the deliberately instituted separations, or what Toni Morrison calls dismemberment, necessitating re-memory or, more recently, DNA-generated connections to prior African national or regional origins.

The pathways and actual experiences of living in the African Diaspora we know have not been joyous.

Still, at the personal level, bearing the loss that exile brings in both personal and public ways, Micere experienced a doubled and unparalleled grief and pain of that first exile and could empathize with the African and Caribbean experience from her personal experiences, and with the indigenous communities with whom she identified. Micere’s understanding of this loss was compounded by witnessing the rapid decline in health of one of her daughters; while Micere always maintained an elegant presence and a gracious smile for those she encountered, that pain lingered in her eyes.

As I worked in Upstate New York during Micere’s time there, we maintained a friendship even though we did not see each other often, her quick-witted emails shot through with wry jokes and commentary about the demise of US democracy, particularly during the last presidency. Several of these emails still exist and could be the source of a whole other discussion. Poignantly, one contains her last words to me after we honoured her via a virtual African Literature Association forum just weeks before her passing.  It reveals the grace that I describe above:

“Hugs, dear sister Carole! Your summary, in terms of coverage by the Roundtable could not be neater.  All of you were stunning and your presentations, WOW!  Sisters, you know how to uplift and empower a sister. For this I say: Asè! Afya! Moyo!

I love you all!


Because my most recent work was on Black women’s leadership across the African world – which led to the publication of Black Women’s Rights: Leadership and the Circularities of Power – I thought it important in this piece to engage with what Micere had contributed on this topic.  I know she had written about the role of women’s leadership as intellectuals, as creative writers, and in community activism, and her book of poetry included some poems about women’s historical leadership.

In reflecting on her work with Ngugi wa Thiong’o on The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, Micere describes women’s role in the struggle as captured in the play thus: “As for women in the struggle, one of the play’s main characters is a woman who coordinated messages from town to forest,  and she trafficked guns. For women played a very dangerous role in the struggle and were hardly cowardly.”

Years ago when I was a graduate student at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, I bought an issue of a popular journal called Africa Woman. I was pleased to find it among some files as I moved office and while looking through its pages found an interview featuring a photograph of a beautiful young Micere Mugo  titled, “Dr. Micere Mugo, Kenya’s Outspoken Intellectual and Academic Critic Talks to Nancy Owano”. The quote above is taken from that interview.

Then a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Micere would go on to become the first and youngest woman Dean but was even then described as “One of the most outspoken academics in Kenya today… an intellectual gadfly … who had won many critics as well as supporters with her ideas on women’s oppression, African Socialism and ‘literary imperialism’”.

But even reading the interview today, it is gratifying to see how timely and advanced her discussions were as she spoke even then about some of the bases of the African feminist politics of her generation. The yet relevant “simultaneity of oppressions” linking the need for socialist praxis as it combines with women’s rights was already revealed. Thus, it is important to note that Micere’s identification of African women’s leadership preceded contemporary scholarly articulations such as mine that were generated out of the African Diaspora experience.   Over the years, she, like her co-madre/commère (in Caribbean parlance) Ama Ata Aidoo, would often in her presentations indicate the long list of women who have advanced liberation struggles. Additionally, both never shied away from identifying feminism as an ideological position to which they subscribed.

Micere’s analysis offered a dynamic first-hand praxis presented with amazing grace and charm.   Her self-defined vision for the future, which has still not been realized – “I see a system where all  the oppressive institutions are dismantled – politically, socially, for the sake of men and women” – offers a discussion in which she affirms that there was/still is a distinct combination of  oppressive systems. Thus is revealed one of the clearest identifications of a simultaneity of oppressions analysis that appears in some of the most progressive African feminist assertions:

First of all, let me note that we cannot only speak of women’s oppression by men. In capitalist systems, women tend to be exploited by the very nature of the society particularly the working and peasant women, just as men are exploited. The difference is that women are hit particularly hard.  Their most obvious hardship is being educationally disadvantaged.  Then you have forms of abuse that cut across class lines:  sexual abuse, wife-beating and the fact that men take advantage of woman’s role as child-bearer. But I won’t give the impression that I foster any illusions.  Sexual abuse, rape, etc., do take place in socialist societies, whose conditions of maldistribution and ownership tend to breed many social problems.

It is gratifying to see how timely and advanced her discussions were as she spoke even then about some of the bases of the African feminist politics of her generation.

Seeing the need to maintain a collaborative vision for Africans generated from within African cultures, “I Am Because We Are: The Imperative of Utu/Ubuntu for Transformational Scholarship” became the title of one of her lectures and appears in her book Writing and Speaking from the Heart of My Mind: Selected Essays and Speeches. Clearly written with a recognition that this had to be one of the available sources for her documented body of thought for subsequent generations, it contains essays organized in categories as follows: Autobiographical Touches Using A Black Feminist Brush; Orature, Literature and Creativity Through a Black Feminist Lens, Culture, Class, Gender, Pan Africanism and Human Development; Democracy, Empowerment and Construction of New Sites of Knowledge.

The author’s descriptive summary in another succinct and clarifying assessment of the role of women in society describes the essays as collectively a book that “highlight[s] women as indispensable resources in society and a major driving force in every aspect of human development.  The essays advocate more than just women’s inclusion in this historical process, reiterating the absolute need for their full participation, representation and empowerment in all areas of life”. 

One sees right away the repeated language of feminist assertion in titles like a “Black Feminist Brush” or “Black Feminist Lens”, for, clearly, like Ama Ata Aidoo, Micere did not shy away from an identification with Black or African feminism as an ideological position but advanced with clarity that each cultural location engenders its own way of defining its approach to women’s rights. In many ways, these early stances contributed to the friendship and “mutual comradeship” between the two writers, honed in their early and instinctive lifetime friendship, seasoned in their joint exile in Zimbabwe.

In her collection of essays, and relevant to this discussion, is Micere’s assertion that a re-reinterpretation of Amilcar Cabral’s Return to the Source means returning to African women’s location as they are the source of knowledge, sustenance, creativity and life. And above all, if Pan-Africanism is to have real actuality, it must come through women’s full engagement with this assumption, philosophically. Thus, for her, “The renegotiated Pan African project has to redress this imbalance”.

Micere asserted that the leadership of African women has been consistent through the historic role of African women as leaders who have  provided emotional resources to their communities and, above all, guidance in tangible ways. “Some of Africa’s great leaders were resources in community spiritualism,” she asserts.  By way of recommendations for the future, she identifies some of the aims of the formation of a PAWLO – Pan African Women’s Liberation Organization  – that she helped to design (and that still awaits full implementation) at the 7th Pan African Conference held in Nairobi, which engaged women’s absence from Pan-African theorizing with the following goals and principles: To promote solidarity between women by building an umbrella organization uniting women and women’s organizations that have a Pan-African agenda; to promote fora through which women can bring about effective changes to their lives in a democratic and emancipatory manner; and to equip women with the knowledge, expertise and confidence to challenge all structure of oppression; to increase women’s awareness of their ability to resist all forms of oppression as well as providing the necessary support services to assist them in their resistance; to provide a forum for women to consider issues which have a direct impact upon them  and hinder their ability to effectively participate as equal citizens in their society; and to rewrite African women’s history  with an emphasis and focus on women as agents rather than as victims of society.

If Pan-Africanism is to have real actuality, it must come through women’s full engagement with this assumption, philosophically.

It is important to say here that, as Micere passes into ancestry, some of these ideas that she endorsed or affirmed need to be carried over and not be lost to new generations who often think they have to start from scratch when there are available templates such as this one;  this is the intent of listing them here.

A committed pan-Africanist and feminist, Micere saw the necessity of bringing these ideological positions together for the benefit of women; even if at times they have had to be effected as separate positions, now there is a mode of engaging them also as collaborative stances and ideological positions. This is one important approach  that typifies the simultaneity of oppressions analysis that is a hallmark of black feminist politics and was Micere’s position, and is even more clarified today as we see it in practice visibly in the US and in other parts of the world. Micere’s discussion of gender in her chapter on “Gender, Ethnicity, Class and Culture”, critiques the predominantly male leadership as presiding over a world “characterized by war, destruction, homelessness and other forms of inconceivable insecurity”.

Thus, Micere’s advice to those of us able to advance progressive political positions for women’s rights, “African women should spearhead the launching of a truly gendered, mass-oriented, youth-empowered, re-envisioned Pan-Africanism.”