The region has been accused of literary barrenness. Today Abenea Ndago looks at credibility of Kwani? in its efforts to demystify literary blame
The late Francis Imbuga said the following to a newspaper journalist a few days before his demise: “It is true that creative writers don’t earn big money, unless your book becomes a set book, but still this is not an excuse for writers to walk around in sandals.”
Evan Mwangi, a Kenyan literary scholar, also wrote in the same paper: “Although I would wish that 21st century Kenyan writers should be included in the syllabus, it is hard to think of any that we would want our children to emulate. Their works are opportunistically written for the high school syllabus by pretending to tackle ‘burning issues of the day’, such as drug abuse. This tactic works better in ephemeral short skits for inter-dormitory competition than in an ambitious work of art that seeks to stand the test of time.” But Egara Kabaji has been more belligerent.
Like the Nigerian literary activist Ikhide R Ikheloa, he keeps lashing at a certain group of Kenyans for “celebrating orthodoxy and mediocrity.”
The target, of course, has been the Kwani? group.
However, my opinion of these people had been different. I thought that we also needed to focus on their positive side as well.
It would be dishonest to deny the benefits of the large space for literary discussion, which they have created through the Kwani? Literary Festival.
This year alone, they hosted writers Charles Mangua and David Mailu (Kenya), Hadraawi (Somalia), Jamal Mahjoub (Sudanese British), Alemseged Tefsayi (Eritrea), Nawal el Sadaawi (Egypt), Helon Habila and Chuma Nwokolo (Nigeria), and Chehem Watta (Djibouti). I was particularly happy that Hadraawi, the Somali sage next door, temporarily purified the Kenyan literary air of its obnoxious one man stench.
But that was then. Today, I must turn against the Kwani? outfit because its approach now appears more poisonous than hemlock.
The latest issue of the BBC Focus on Africa magazine has an article titled Take Another Look by the managing editor of the Kwani? Trust, in which he accidentally leaks out their own magazine’s official literary policy.
Behaving like a mouthpiece for persons called Keguro Macharia and Binyavanga Wainaina, the editor writes that we should give up the “ordinariness” of contemporary African writing together with its “oppressed voice. “Two misrepresentations should be righted first: Rotimi Babatunde’s short story is not called Bombay Republic. Nor is there a Zimbabwean writer called ‘Tsitsi Dangaremba.’