Intimidating African Literature

Or maybe that should be intimidating African writers.

In the last couple of years, there has been a surge of a movement which for better luck of words we call the “Telling our true stories” movement. As you can imagine, this can be quiet confusing for African literature especially when there are 55 countries all of them with a different story. Then you wonder whose story is true? What does it really mean to tell the true story of Africa?  Is there really ONE true story of Africa?

But then came the Caine Prize! The salvation to the telling of African stories. Or so we thought. Okay, mostly that some writers like Tee Ngungi, esteemed son of Ngungi Wa Thiongo, do not feel like the Caine Prize honors the true story of Africa.  So in a rather intimidating write-up in the Africa Review, Tee Ngungi wrote on the “Caine Prize and its discontents” The Africa Review off course being a media platform might seem a fair bet for a healthy discussion on what the Caine Prize means for African Writers. On one hand, you finish the article with very little understanding of  what his point is, but on the other hand, you do see the intimidating stance in using one writer and her poetic view of Africa. Simultaneously  he points out that instead of telling the true story of Africa, the Caine Prize  encourages a sugarcoating of the “true Africa”.  On one hand, you admire the man for stating the obvious, on the other you wonder if Ngungi has really thought of the many years of defamotory media stories told of Africa and how much damage that has done to African in general.

Maybe Ngungi and the African Review were not ready to hear the other side of the story, as Abdi Latif Ega, author of Guban pointed out that the one story of the “poor” Africa has to stop at a point- begging the question “Is this all that Africa has to offer?”.  The African Review must not have been happy with such a response, in that…well they deleted that response.  So feeling compelled to point out the other side of the Caine Prize, here is Mr. Ega’s response to Tee Ngungi’s Article.  (PS: the Response below will make a lot of sense of you read the Article by Tee Ngungi first)

This is more of a survival tactic at the behest of the former winners and writers who have created monuments from African misery. At the Heart of this is really an staggering omission is the years of harrowing tales, of pornographic proportions, leaving out no heart strings to pull. The violin orchestra of the cliche young African writer, served this African personality, with a great insularity, never engaged in a all out battle ground about the complexity of the nation state and the position of the rapacious Hegemony of the U.S.A., but a rather crude and surface look at the machinations of the brutality of African Personality. This servered really a western reading public more so than anything. They also refused to engage in the War on Terror, Congos resource military vouyeurism or serving all the former child soldier stories, with a more nuanced depictions of what that true orbit is and what the African national independence is. The more pressing issues were really outcries from the African critiques to begin with, and was carried on by the African public. The main question was very simple is this all Africa has to offer. A if you will liberal catharsis, provided by a young African writers? eschewing the age old mantra of “the white man burden” in its new apparition of the Development and aid. This disappointment finally reached the doorsteps of the prize, and the result is the public has spoken. The young writers to remain viable must engage more constructively with the African public and not bolster the already disenfranchised African personality with one gratuitous harrowing tale after another, to gain admission to the largess of a western readership. The critique is not between the Judges of cain and the writer, but the third dimension, the African public at home and abroad. Indeed one can write about African complicity it is historic and nothing new, but a wider birth for the world’s intrusions into the resource full (both human and raw) and exceptionally bountiful continent of Africa. Somalia, Congo are not just Iconic western media bad guys, the mere mention of them does not absolve the mentioner of a more elucidated rendition of the African existencial otherwise why is the African writer there? We can always get the same nomenclature dehumanizing and oppressive from the corporate western media. Finally African is neither a Country, A blog or the Caine prize. We must heed the craft and authenticity and not ridicule our traditions, by serving them up as done here, like the misleading usage of ubuntu relegating and flaunting the real disenchantment of Africans at home and abroad as ones given to the penchant of romanticizing “The dark continent”, this is what i see in the usage here of Ubuntu. African letters are a shared public wealth of humanity, criticism of a one sided discourse is valid. It is as if no one read the essay about how to write about Africa(Binyavanga)! this is a very good rule of thumb for the young and old archetype wanabee. 
In parting we are as the continent is diverse, varied and polyphonic. One story of violence poverty and warlords, does not suffice as writing or a writers muse. This is the work of journalists . I might add they report this consistently without much thought. The role of an African writer in the twentieth first century should includes narratives of true independence(one that considers Somalia for example as( African sovereign possibility minus the anarchy of one side of it) , and some indeed to return to the canon of a Ngugi for example. Using the center as a conceptual battleground. Some should do what is already being done and others something else. I for one think the era of the child soldier, big bellied poor -as declared dead by the African(people) wisdom – self preservation (Ubuntu) in the hue and cry after the almost decade of this and nothing else has been heard. 
many salams brother Ngugi 
abdi latif ega author of Guban a novel

Is it that maybe African’s have drunk the cool-aid and joined the masses in perpetuating the stereotypes pointed by the satire by Binyavanga Wainaina in “How to write about Africa.”  In our attempt to tell the true story of Africa, lets not forget that maybe just maybe, we have to be smart on how we tell that story.  Yes, there are wars, and poverty. There are bad leaders- but lets also remember that wars, poverty, poor leadership, corruption etc are not specific to Africa. If we study the world, we learn that Africa does not have a special license on all these problems- so why not tell of an Africa that struggles with these problems  but yet remains resilient, and continues to develop?


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