Monday, June 3, 2013

Time for Africans to Tell their Tales

Africa celebrated 50 years with a grand bash that brought together the usual congregation of heads of state in Addis Ababa. And although the condemnation of ICC and crying over missed dreams of improving the lives of more than a billion Africans were the main themes, there is was one equally important issue that was missing in the agenda.

And that is the fact that most African stories are actually told by non-Africans. 

To confirm this sad issue, you only need to pop in your nearest bookstore and check the names of authors of major titles dealing with themes like Congo crisis, the Somalia situation, infant mortality rates and food insecurity.

You will discover that the writers have surnames like Gordon, Maxwell, Simmons and others all of which are of Western origin.
And as expected, the skewed perceptions on Africa saturate their works which, reinforced by an equally biased western media, is the root cause of this continent being perceived as cesspit of global misery.

This explains why a New Yorker or Torontonian gets the shock of their life if they meet an African who have never been bitten by a snake or whose country is not being ravaged by war, famine or AIDS. 

And the most tragic thing is the fact that African writers, either out of laziness or lack of initiative, hardly writes factual books about the positive things happening in the continent to counter this pre-meditated negative publicity campaign.

While I believe scribes like the late Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Ousmane Sembene have done the continent a great service through their fictional work, facts are better told through factual books.

As Chimamanda Adichie, that rapidly rising Nigerian scribe, once said, facts are stranger than fiction.

And the content is not short of positive facts.

We need more Africans doing factual titles on the success story of Rwanda for the last two decades, the gains made in Angola since the end of the civil war, the rise of the African middle class, the success stories of Kenyan athletes and the tremendous and rapid growth of the African information and communication technology sector. 

Even conflict hotspots like Darfur, Somalia, Congo and Mali needs to be told from an African eye, which is likely to see something the Western authors miss either through commission or omission.
Most of the factual work in Africa is done by academics, more often than not as a requirement in pursuit of scholarly honours like PhDs rather than as a quest to inform the general public. This scholarly tomes ends up in University libraries where they gather dust until someone comes calling for class work research.

Hardly do ordinary readers in the streets bother with such books.
African leaders, either for luck of faith in their own or an effort to avoid their stories being told by those who know the skeletons in their political closets, most have their authorized biographies done by foreigners.

Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Daniel Arap Moi are a few examples. But even the unauthorized works of major African personalities are still dominated by foreign authors despite the subjects’ homelands swarming with seasoned writers. 

I suspect the reason why African writers are obsessed with writing fiction is because it involves less physical work in terms of research, with the writer feeding the reader with a concoction creative thoughts weaved through life experiences.

For instance, it took Mark Gevisser eight years of research to write the hugely informative Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred

Many will be quick to say that Africans don’t read hence it matters less whether their story is told by locals or foreigners, but I will counter this by quoting Patrice Lumumba who once prophesied that “The day will come when history will speak…Africa will write its history…it will be a history of glory and dignity”.


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