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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Future Leaders

Mwangi Ruheni

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To purchase The Future Leaders

Title: The Future Leaders
Author: Mwangi Ruheni
Genre: Novel
Written: 1973
Length: 215 pages
Availability: The Future Leaders - US
The Future Leaders - UK

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Our Assessment:

B : rough and tumble writing and presentation, but has its charms

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
ASA Review of Books . (2) 1976 Robert E. Morsberger

  From the Reviews:
  • "The Future Leaders is one of the most amusing and entertaining novels to come out of Africa. (...) (T)he novel is not a didactic political tract but a comedy of errors that stumbles upon some serious insights." - Robert E. Morsberger, ASA Review of Books

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Future Leaders is set in Kenya in the time just before it gained its independence from the UK. It is narrated by Reuben Ruoro, who begins his account at the graduation ceremony at Makerere University College in 1958, where he receives his bachelor of science degree in agriculture -- and where he and his fellow students are hailed by the commencement speaker as "the future leaders of this country".
       Reuben describes how he became one of the very few to make it this far: out of a class of thirty-two only two advanced to primary school, and the cull continued at every level. But Reuben was apparently a good student, and he made the cut the entire way. Degree in hand, he is proud -- and quite full of himself. He expects to be treated like a 'future leader', but his education hasn't prepared him very well for the real world.
       Reuben's degree gets him what appears to be a good government post, but Kenya is still a colony and the British administrators have little respect and patience for a local meddling in their business. On the surface, they're very friendly and helpful, but in short order they completely sabotage his budding career, and he's finished almost before he can start. Reuben doesn't help himself: happy-go-lucky and with a fondness for drink, he manages to dig his own hole (though his bosses supply the shovel). But he bears little ill will and just moves on -- though he doesn't learn his lessons very well.
       Reuben isn't much of a 9-to-5 guy, and one of his first priorities isn't getting the job done but seeking out the woman of (he thinks) his dreams, Emma Njoki. She is now a teacher, but facing her own problems -- one which Reuben is roped into even before he realises who he is dealing with. Reuben's mother thinks the sensible thing for him to do is to get married, as that will force him to act more responsibly, and he does set his sights on Emma, but he's not always sure of his decision (and it certainly doesn't stop him from fooling around with Emma's best friend, Pauline).
       Reuben gets another job, as a salesman for the Pennymore Chemical Company, and seems to do quite well there, but, of course, manages to get himself in another mess. He even winds up in jail, and when he gets out happens to be in a bank when it gets robbed, embroiling him in yet another sticky situation (not only does he pick up some of the money the robbers dropped on their way out, he winds up working at the same place one of the escaped robbers does ...).
       Next, Reuben gets a job as a biology teacher at St Joseph Kennedy's High School (where Father Kennedy explains: "academic performance only comes second, and what he is concerned about is religious training and character formation" -- though Reuben (for once) has more sensible ideas). And eventually -- and surprisingly -- he does wind up with what promises to be a career as one of the future leaders of the soon-to-be-independent Kenya
       Reuben comes across as quite the naïf. Part of his problem is, as he recognises:

I am more or less out of step with the rest of society. This may not be the best way of putting it, but I do not seem to fit in the general scheme of things. This is an awful pity, because it means that there is a lot of energy in me which is being wasted.
       Reuben doesn't help himself with his excessive drinking and his big mouth, and he also has a tendency to tell lies (even when it hardly seems necessary). But he's certainly a cheerful fellow, and he more or less takes life as it comes:
     Happiness is a state of mind, and a human being being can be happy in any situation provided he makes up his mind to be.
       For much of the novel, Reuben is often downright silly in his responses and actions, and it's hard to credit that he's a university graduate. Even the rare complex thought comes out all wrong:
I am extremely conscious of the small farmer in this country. The prices of his produce keep going down year after year. The price of the agricultural chemicals on the other hand keeps rising. This is a very good thing. Otherwise how do you balance out things ? Something has to go one way and the other thing has to go the opposite way.
       But elsewhere there are signs of a more sly intellect, first when he gives a lecture at the missionary school that takes the scientific approach to evolution, and then in his final Civil Service interview, where he shows a much better sense of the issues and problems facing the country. But there's no sense of Reuben having learned much as he went along, so this different side isn't entirely convincing.
       Narrated in the first person, Ruheni nevertheless feels the need to employ the fictional device of presenting a few bits of action and dialogue that occur beyond Reuben's knowledge, awkwardly interspersed sections that do provide information but are at odds with the rest of the text. The plot, too, strains credulity, though there are some enjoyable plotlines -- various pregnancies, the bank robbery and its consequences -- and surprisingly many fit together (unlikely though that too is ...). Ruheni is fairly good on character, and many of those Reuben deals with a very well presented. Indeed, it is Reuben himself that is the most confounding character: between his unnecessary lying, his misguided ideas, and his foolish actions (especially his alcohol consumption) he's frustratingly inconsistent.
       The Future Leaders isn't very well written or presented, but it is a rollicking and often entertaining ride, cheerful Reuben an appealing guide (of sorts), and one does get some sense of Kenya around independence.

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Other books by Mwangi Ruheni under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Index of books relating to Africa

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About the Author:

       Popular Kenyan author Mwangi Ruheni (Nicholas Muraguri) was born in 1934.

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© 2007-2021 the complete review

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