On (African) English Literature and the power of words
Words are powerful, ignore them at your peril. These days, much of English literature in books written by Africans seems. to remind those who are called Africans that they are the conquered. Makes sense. Over the years, literature has served to document the humiliation of the conquered. The narrative is not ours, even when we are the ones writing it. Once the mind is held captive, no prose is powerful enough to hide the chains.
Those who traipse the word writing for and about Africa must reflect on the power of their words. If white folks were keeping cows and chicken as beloved pets, and feasting instead on grilled cat and dog cutlets, Africans would be derided for eating grilled chicken and beef by African writers in Europe chomping on grilled cat and dog cutlets. That is what books like Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83 have taught me.
Our self-loathing is documented in these texts that mock our food, our women and our children, what is left of our religion and way of life. This is cultural appropriation of the worst kind. It is perhaps a good thing that most Africans cannot afford these books written by their own that mock them relentlessness.
And yes, as readers, we have a right to prescribe what we want to read. As a writer, you have a right to reject our preferences . Above all, it is important to write, jjust write. But you are not writing for anyone but yourself. You are definitely not writing for Africa. The real problem is that all of us who deign to think about the fate of “Africa” now live abroad in the West, and I am including those who physically sleep in “Africa” but spend their days and night mimicking everything in the West. We have been indoctrinated to be enamored of the West’s values, norms and culture. Everything else is a pejorative. That is why we are so apologetic about our food, our ways, and ourselves.
As thinkers we are flung all over the West creating self-serving communities of intellectuals and writers enabled by lush funding from Western liberals. From there we pontificate and fight over literary grants and prizes. I know many writers who say they are apolitical, will not say boo about a massacre anywhere inside Africa, but their books are not wholesome bedtime stories, instead they are about the massacres that they would not comment on six years ago. They do find time to rail loudly against Donald Trump. The brand must be maintained: Be fire-breathing political dragons in the West but stay silent on Africa’s issues. There are many reasons for that. It is about fame and fortune.
Much of what we call “African literature” in books today threatens to be drowned in the cloying sauce of orthodoxy and chic, but faux innovation. Nothing much is going on; just a bunch of eager beavers running helter skelter vying for the few literary prizes out there. I think of The undignified spectacle of writers playing what amounts to the lottery every day, and I shake my head. The focus on the self is thus intense and unseemly.
I am tempted to argue that in our current dispensation art is not only irrelevant, but is in the way. We keep telling the same stories of despair and dislocation over and over and over again. Nothing changes, indeed it is the case that many of the storytellers are in bed with our oppressors and/or traducers. What is the point of these stories? What is art to many of us is becoming bullshit to the poor and dispossessed, if you ask me. Where are our scientists, educators, engineers, seers, where are they? All I see are fellow storytellers babbling the same crap over and over again — from the safety of warm spaces. I am not amused.🚶🏿