Dissertation Makes History at the University of Wyoming

December 18, 2008
Man showing research
Gatua wa Mbugwa wrote the first-ever doctoral dissertation in a Kenyan African language. (UW Photo)

The first-ever doctoral dissertation in a Kenyan African language has been submitted to the Department of Plant Sciences and the Graduate School of the University of Wyoming.

Gatua wa Mbugwa, an instructor in UW's African American Studies Program, wrote the historic Ph.D. work in his native Gikuyu, one of the African languages of Kenya. He has translated an English copy which has been combined and submitted with the original Gikuyu version.

wa Mbugwa, who teaches the Global Impact of African Cultures and Agriculture Rooted in Diversity courses, says the dissertation is a body of extensive research focusing on a self-regenerating winter annual plant species called 'Laramie' medic.

"This medic is an annual pasture legume that enriches agricultural soils and improves livestock nutrition and productivity," he says.

wa Mbugwa's Ph.D. supervisor was James M. Krall, professor of plant sciences and director of research at UW's James Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center. Krall introduced the "ley" farming system into Wyoming and the U.S. Central High Plains region. The introduced ley farming system uses the Laramie medic to enrich soils and improve agricultural productivity. Wa Mbugwa says he plans to introduce the system in Kenya.

Renowned author, Professor Ngugi wa Thiong'o, says wa Mbugwa's dissertation was written in excellent standard Gikuyu and that it is the first of its kind in Africa, and certainly in Kenya. He says wa Mbugwa has "almost single-handedly invented scientific Gikuyu language, thus proving that scientific research can be reported in an African Language without loss of scientific content and value. It should prove an inspiring model for other African languages."

Ngugi wa Thiong'o is currently distinguished professor of English and comparative literature and director of the International Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California, Irvine.

A native of Mutunguru village in Gatundu, central Kenya, wa Mbugwa received dual B.A. degrees in environmental studies and politics at the University of California at Santa Cruz and earned masters degrees in professional studies in agriculture and in crop and soil sciences from Cornell University. He has completed his Ph.D. in agronomy at UW in four years.

wa Mbugwa's master's thesis, which he also wrote originally in his Gikuyu language, was about impacts of biointensive cropping with a focus on Kenyan collard greens. He says he plans to publish the first-ever Gikuyu language scientific text books. He has produced two Gikuyu language poetry CDs, and is a regular contributor in Mutiiri, a journal of culture written in Gikuyu language. 


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