Kenya attains Uhuru on December 12, 1963. The flags are switched and even though it rains people dance and sing. Everyone waits for something to happen, and someone suggests everyone go to Mugo’s hut, where they stand outside and sing.
The next morning the drizzle becomes a downpour and the wind moans. The sky clears, though, and the celebrations begin. First there are school sports and races. The gloom is palpable until later in the day when a three-mile race is announced. All can take place and the excitement mounts.
Karanja is there even though he got Mumbi’s note, and he prepares to run the race. Mumbi notices him from where she sits with her parents, and is disturbed. Her mind flashes to the night before when Mugo confessed what he had done to Kihika. She does not want anyone to die for her brother.
Gikonyo prepares to race Karanja, seeing that they are rivals again but not sure for what since Mumbi is gone. Karanja remembers the first race and hopes Mumbi cares for him now; perhaps that is why she wrote that note. If he can be with her his life would be complete.
The race starts. Gikonyo is third, passing General R. He believes Mumbi is there to mock him. As for her, she wants him to win but also does not. Karanja’s presence embarrasses her. General R. runs, thinking of his youth and his tyrannical father whom one day he tried to kill but saw his own mother, who was a virtual slave to the man, defend her husband. This shocked Muhoya, as he was called back then, until he saw firsthand how Africans could be slaves to the whiteman willingly. Koina also races, depressed and annoyed by the presence of Dr. Lynd; it was he who was her houseboy and killed her dog. He hates her and wonders why she is still in Kenya.
Karanja and Gikonyo are vying for first place when suddenly Gikonyo trips and brings Karanja down with him. The General wins and everyone cheers, confused. Mumbi runs to Gikonyo to see if he is hurt but feels embarrassed. Gikonyo goes to the hospital, where he learns he broke his arm.
The sun comes out and people anticipate Mugo’s speech. They cannot imagine he will not show up. People talk about what life will be after Uhuru. Breathless expectation fills the air, but it is strange–it seems tinged with a sense of inevitable doom.
The secretary of the Party, Nyamu, calls for the Reverend Morris Kingori to open with prayer; his prayer compares the Kenyans to Abraham, to the Chosen People. People sing and recreate scenes of history.
The speeches begin. Some speak of the Emergency, others of the Party. Everyone expects Mugo to be at the very end. General R. comes up instead, and there is murmuring and confusion. He is nervous, thinking of his struggles in the forest. He begins to speak of why they fought, and what they want. He grows more assured, and comes to the part of the speech where he says the man who betrayed Kihika must be punished. He announces that man is in the crowd and ought to come forward. People look around.
Suddenly a man is seen coming forward; it is Mugo. He walks up and proclaims himself Judas because he was the one who betrayed Kihika. His voice breaks and he walks away. Githua bursts out that he is a liar. People are confused and the sun fades.
Karanja packs some of his belongings at his mother’s hut, including his guitar that he hasn’t played for a long time. He is not that close with his mother, but she would occasionally gently tell him stories about the perils of idle sons. She did not approve of him being in the homeguard or being Chief.
He departs in the drizzle and says he is going to Githima. He runs into Mumbi but she is not happy to see him. He had seen how she looked at Gikonyo and knows he does not have a chance with her.
He takes the bus and stops at an eating-house. He reflects on his fear at Uhuru when he realized General R. was talking about him, and how scared he was of black power. He wonders why he is afraid of dying, and his thoughts flit about. He remembers wearing a hood back in his days of power.
At the train station he steps close to the edge but the train whishes by. The night is silent and dark.
Mumbi comes from Gikonyo’s side, frustrated and also weary of the news she heard of Mugo’s confession, which came to her from her meeting with Karanja.
At the hospital Gikonyo seems changed–softer and more composed.
Mugo reflects on how Mumbi’s confiding in him pushed him to tell her the truth. He thinks of people’s faces at Uhuru and remembers his thoughts when he was preparing to talk. He was calm and ready, and felt a lifting of a burden and a sudden freedom once he did it. This quickly went away, though, and he now he is afraid of dying.
He had left and passed by the old woman’s hut. It began to rain and he entered, drawn to it. She seemed crazed and thought he was her son returned to her, and in turn he saw his aunt’s face there and felt rage. Suddenly the old woman fell dead, and Mugo went back to his hut.
A drop of water falls into his eye. General R. and Koina enter. The General says there will be a trial and Wambui will judge and he and Koina will be the only elders. His deeds will condemn him; people must be responsible for their actions.
Warui visits Wambui in her hut, which is strangely messy. For two days Thabai villagers had kept to themselves and talked little of Uhuru. Warui and Wambui wonder what killed the old woman.
Mumbi comes in. Warui thinks something went wrong on Uhuru and is worried. They talk of Mugo and Mumbi tells them what he told her, and that she wishes she could have saved him.
They speak of rebuilding and replanting and living life. Warui is still apprehensive and Wambui wonders about this “terrible anti-climax to her activities in the fight for freedom” (239); maybe they should not have tried Mugo.
Gikonyo remembers his last detention camp. He also thinks he is ready to start carving a stool again, and begins to plan it in his mind for after he gets out of the hospital.
Mumbi does not visit one day, but then comes back the next. She says the child was ill and she seems weary. He is surprised. He says they should talk about the child now. She says not today and he is surprised by her independence. She says they will, but it must be a long conversation where they open their hearts to each other. He agrees and asks her to come back tomorrow. She says she will.
He thinks about the stool and decides to carve the woman figure big, with child.
The ending of the novel is decidedly mixed in tone and message. On the one hand, Mugo’s confession is cleansing, Gikonyo and Mumbi reconcile, and Kenya is freed from Britain. However, Uhuru is characterized by rain and gloom, by the recognition that a man once considered a hero was not who they thought he was, and by a pervasive sense that something went wrong, that something is off. This foreshadows the next several tumultuous decades in Kenya’s history as the country tries to negotiate what freedom really means, who should lead, how to regulate the economy, what to do about social class disparities, etc.
There are several things to observe at the close of the novel. The first is that of structure, in which critic David Maughan-Brown identifies a tension due to the presence of several protagonists at the same time as the plot becomes focused singularly on Kihika and Mugo. It may be possible that Ngugi is claiming the novel form is “better suited to the individual's lone act of courage than the creative struggle of the masses” especially as “the climax of the plot here elevates Mugo’s lone act of courage and seems to override the tentative gestures towards the creative struggle of the masses symbolized by Gikonyo’s stool.” There seem to be other contradictions of the sort posed by the structure in terms of the fact that the narrative position seems to be one of the Thabai villagers but is in a novel written in English; “the villagers described in the novel would only have spoken Gikuyu.” Also, the focus on the acts of betrayal committed by individuals is within a story whose structure is seemingly “directed expressly against a focus on individual consciousness, [which] can be seen to have been determined by the complex dialectical relationship between aesthetic and authorial ideology.”
Michael Vaughn also looks at the novel in terms of its structure, claiming that it does “incorporate a complex and extensive temporal dimension within the novel, without moving away from the basic compositional principle of individual experience.” There are multiple figures telling their individual stories, but there is clearly something social at play. Uhuru is a community event, a liberation of the masses. It will affect all of the characters no matter what their gender or economic status or profession or role in the Movement. In fact, divisions between the African characters are rather limited, and it is the contradictions between black and white characters that are most pronounced. Vaughn sees “the focal characters…can be taken as simply expressive of the whole, as an essential unity. Adventitious distinctions are swallowed up in a greater identity.”
Mugo’s status as the main protagonist exemplifies this. He can only be redeemed by public confession. He may be a surrogate for the maimed community itself. He combines the public and the private, the true and the false. Mugo’s confession is personal, but it contains lessons for the community. He is honest, humble, and sincere.
Finally, Vaughn considers the role of women in the text. Women clearly have an important place within the community, and even a woman like Mumbi with her occasional rumination on glorious personal deeds has a deep tie to her family network. It is she who inspires Mugo and Gikonyo to be better. Women are also very active in the Movement, with Njeri and Wambui playing important roles. However, Ngugi does not discuss how they are still exploited and oppressed sexually even as they participate in efforts to achieve independence. Mothers and wives and lovers are all at a disadvantage in the power dynamic of their relationships with men. The old woman, seemingly insignificant in the novel, actually has much more importance than one might initially conceive. She is the “mythic essence of the community,” the “communal mother”; however, she is also “isolated, neglected, forgotten, disconsolate, and, since the death of her son, shunning company. This is the utopian motif associated with her. She represents not the actual, material community but its utopian essence, its unrealized potential. Her isolation signals the alienation of the community from itself.” Mugo’s encounter with her at the end in which she dies before either can come to any understanding of truth, is disconcerting and ominous.