Incarceration and Torture in Eastern African Fiction

Issues in Representation

In: Matatu


This article assesses representations of imprisonment without trial and inmates’ torture in three novels depicting severely repressive, murderous regimes—Malawi’s under Hastings Banda, Ethiopia’s under the Derg, and Kenya’s under colonial and successive post-colonial rulers. In The Detainee (Kayira 1974), the narrative of a naïve, apolitical villager’s unjust detention highlights unrestrained power abuse through minions and gradually uncovers atrocities. Under the Lion’s Gaze (Mengiste 2010) depicts several visceral, appalling scenes of torture as a technique of intimidation. Dust (Owuor 2014) has fewer, but harrowingly intense scenes of pain infliction on prisoners as a political tool to silence opposition. All three texts establish their importance as archival evaluations of under-reported regimes, African literary artworks, and morally responsible evocations of undeserved suffering, communicating effectively with both local and international readerships.

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