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Is there an African writer?


Between the Lines: Beniah Munengwa

ON each and every May 25, a question haunts me, and the question is: “What makes a writer African?” The nuances that punctuate the term Africa are many.

As such, there had been wars of perspective from times before. Language, perspective, slant and tone have not and cannot be the same.

Ngugi subscribed to the school of thought that a true African writer needs to write in his or her own language, so that he or she communicates in undiluted and far reaching sense to the African person.

At the same time, Achebe saw language as nothing but a medium that anyone would arrest for the best interest of inclusive communication. After all, doesn’t the English dictionary blossom each day, thanks to the multiple words it borrows from all over the world?

But this conflict makes one no better than the other.

The ever present discordance of opposition politics and liberation movements also continue to manifest in writing. From this slant too, some say, to be truly “African, is to tell the African story — the positive one.” Some disagree. To them, the rot must be unveiled in all its shapes and colours.

Africa is not a conglomerate. Justin Steyn puts it aptly thus: “It is easy for African intellectuals to dismiss the multi-culturalism of the African continent in favour of a superficial racial identity.”

He goes on to claim that African poverty is directly attributed to this myth of African unity as a dominant tribe borrows colonial conglomeration to subjugate people from different tribes.

So how can there be a Pan-African perspective when to be African calls for the respect of differences? Why would there still be war, within African boarders if harmony and unity punctuated it?

At the same time, external forces also accelerate the recognition of the existence of differences, so as to infiltrate and expand external dominance over it.

John Eppel in his latest publication, White Man Walking writes: “Non-governmental organisations love building fires, the bigger and more destructive the better — perhaps because they are not allowed to build them in their own countries.”

Struggling in an environment haunted by piracy, a dwindling economy and a diminishing reading population, the African writer is tempted by the blue cheque provided by the publisher, a publisher who by all means seeks to write about a theme that falls into the brackets of the story that the sponsor wants to hear about Africa.

What should appear in words must not disrupt people’s notions into thinking that the West’s acts in Africa, Palestine and in other parts are unjustified.

It is like the Bible and the Quran have already been written and all that precedes are pamphlets trying to comprehend and lighten up what had been said before. No new writings can surpass the pace already set, maybe that’s why no new classicals are emerging.

Today, the Zimbabwean writer stands, either too immersed in politics or completely put off. But the writer’s influence of yesterday is long gone. None can still stand up, and be considered important, simply because one is a writer. That was, maybe a reserve for those who wrote in times before the new millennium.

But in the same regard, equipped with new mediums like WhatsApp and Facebook, the African story teller has somewhat been revived. Not following any format, the WhatsApp status feeds or the Twitter threads allows the author to pour out their story without any inhibitions of format.

These, though short, are inclusive of the daily pains and aspirations of the people. Making them better, is that they reach everybody and in attractive packaging. Should they too be considered as African literature?

Abroad, writing content, outright critiquing the flaws of the African state, at times exaggerating it is what they deem literature. Whether what they write is the ideal or not, it does not make them less than the writer. Another category contain writers who now simply writes targeting to spill into the path of curriculum criteria, again following the pathway of the purse.

All this can be argued, but from Camus to Tolstoy, there could have been a change, if literature changed mind-sets. It is, however, still writing that controls the plot of contemporary life, that is how coding is done. Wherein the reading culture (of texts) has fallen, society still consume chunks of ideology and thought through social media and other broadcasting mediums.

On a different note, the African writer is faced by a huge problem, whereby he has no new thematic concerns to tackle. What Diop, Sembene, Fanon and Marechera wrote on, decades ago continue to manifest as present day realities. By the way, who can write the story when the world is still the same? Monotone haunts the world.

Marechera in his loyalty of presenting literature wrote: “From early in my life, I have viewed literature as a unique universe that has no internal divisions. I do not pigeon-hole it by race or language or nation. It is an ideal cosmos co-existing with this crude one.”

This shows that, the planet of words should, at best be ungoverned. Who truly knows what and how? I guess no one does. Let word play take charge.

 Beniah Munengwa, who writes her in his own capacity can be contacted through email benmunengwa@gmail.com.

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