Focusing on the community of Ilmorog, Ngugi wa Thiong'o showcases the dilemmas of independent Kenya as the new country worked to shake off the legacy of British colonial rule. Divorcing the new forms of governance from their colonial antecedents was no simple matter, in part because the British had tightly controlled who gained access to administrative positions and the required knowledge to carry out the work of governance.
The centralization of decision-making in the capital and in the hands of a few elites is one key problem. People residing far from the urban center have little input in decisions that strongly affect their lives. Two key areas where this is shown are the road that bifurcates Ilmorog and the brewery that appropriates traditional recipes to enrich outsiders. The people who had played leading roles in the resistance often find themselves disenfranchised, while others who had not played a role negotiate lucrative deals with foreign corporations. The character of Chui embodies the co-optation of some former rebels, who come to see independence as a way to profit personally; he moves from resistance leader to a powerful player in the establishment.