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Sowore And RevolutionNow: Seventy Thousand Years Of Inheritance

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Sowore And RevolutionNow: Seventy Thousand Years Of Inheritance

Sowore and RevolutionNow: Seventy Thousand Years of Inheritance

THE  TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS

A CONVERSATION WITH OMOYELE SOWORE, PART 4

By

  Toyin Falola

Justice, equality, and fraternity were the tripod forces and principles that triggered the 1789 French Revolution. These became the song on the street of Bastille and other parts of France that year. It was sung and animated so much so that it became the signpost of hundreds of demonstrations of people’s power around the world in the years and centuries that followed. The organization of polities around the notion of a nation-state and the political coordination of such an entity was at this time remodeled. This implies that the 1789 revolution brought a deep search-light on the social contract that existed between the ruled and the rulers. Even more interesting in this year’s event is that since then, the French aristocracy has neither stopped nor yielded its place for another in the history of the people’s revolution against the ruling class and the state.

From here, one wonders what the Great Teacher meant when he called on us to ask for our daily bread in our communication with the universe. Bread might have been the primary staple of that civilization, but it has turned out to be a metaphor for the significance of food consumption in the everyday life of human beings. In the more recent times, as recent as the year 2020, after over three decades of endurance under the draconian regime of Omar Al Bashar and his terrorist state, the people of Sudan finally gained the courage to break the yoke only after an astronomic hike in the price of bread. Scientists have equally equated an empty stomach to a gloomy and temperamental spirit. As Harari demonstrates in his work on the history of humankind, the domination of this planet earth by humans only began about 70,000 years ago when they climbed and remained at the peak of the ladder of the food distribution chain in what could be fairly called the animal kingdom—the world in which man and other animals competed for food and survival in the same environment.

Arriving at this superior pedestal was not an easy fit for humankind after years of cohabitation with other animals, especially the jackals, lions, and other “kings” of the jungle they lived with. But ever since that 70,000-year-old revolution described as the “Cognitive Revolution,” the impulse to constantly reshape and recalibrate their physical and social environment for purposes that boil down to protecting their interests and common good has been one of the great preoccupations of humankind. Through this, humans have made an indelible footprint on the planet-earth, both in collective and individual terms. Not surprisingly, therefore, attempts at the redistribution of wealth have continued to produce and reproduce the history of mankind for over 70,000 years.

READ ALSO: Sowore: Society, Sanity, Safety, and Stability

Since the Westphalia treaty of 1648, this attempt has been increasingly linked to the condition and notion of human rights. Child and female education, freedom of will, association, speech, and all, as well as the rights to a dignified life, employment, wellbeing, and others, are intrinsically weaved into and around the question of wealth distribution. Among several other historical notables, this brought about the Methodist Revolution in England, the Fifth Amendment in America, the Bolshevik Revolution in the old Soviet state, piecemeal independence in Africa and other colonial states, the Iranian Revolution, and the unrelenting press for democracy and democratic reforms around the world, especially since the symbolic or rather, the technical end of the cold war.

Revolution, like development, has never been a destination but a thorough and consciously tamed endeavor by the collective awareness of the people. Nigeria and Nigerians have been in this saddle for over a century since the 1914 mercantile-inspired amalgamation. Before this time, various peoples and cultures, not yet to be called Nigerians, had made a fundamental print on this pedestal of revolution and change. More than any other time in history, this was particularly so in the nineteenth century, which cannot be referred to as the Age of Revolution in the Niger area. Nineteenth-Century political establishments in this area were faced with the odds of not fresh ideas, but refreshed motifs from various forces bent on changing the status quo as dictated in their peculiar environments.

In this regard, one could name the likes of Uthman dan Fodio, Ogedengbe, Lisabi, Jaja, and a host of others. These great men and their protégés reformed and instituted new forms of governance across the Niger area along the line of the socioeconomic reality of the time—expanding trade, burgeoning population, and permanent foreign relations. In some cases, as in the new town of Abeokuta, their attempt at remodeling the political and socioeconomic morphology of the states was spurred and directed by their returnee kinsmen from the Americas and Sierra Leone. Their protégés in the twentieth century, many of whom were descendants of the returnees, and western educated individuals, namely Herbert Macaulay, Dr. Obasa Randle, Chief Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikwe, and Ahmadu Bello, also tuned into the prevailing sociopolitical ambiance of the colonial era to demand change in the coordination of the state affairs.

Their demands ultimately ignited the independence of the state in 1960 but did not put an end to the conditions to which they responded, organized, and expressed their nationalist agitations. In the same way they hijacked the transformational process initiated by these nineteenth-century figures, others in the postcolonial state have taken the gauntlet from them, demanding a better state and the redistribution of wealth. This struggle has been staged on different platforms and has been the career notable of some impeccable and iconoclastic Nigerians. Many of them never joined partisan politics, others did at some points, ostensibly seeing the tomfoolery in demanding a butterfly to act an eagle. Tai Solarin, Wole Soyinka, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Omoyele Sowore, and others have been in this ring and have paid dearly from the tyrannical response of the state.

In all of this history, it is safer to refer to these men as the vanguard of the society. More broadly, in recent times, that is from the twentieth century, they constitute the conscience of the society. Although their predecessors can hardly be described as the conscience of the society, given the circumstances in which some of the revolutions were staged, which were purely a matter of military prowess and quest for power, they all share the commonality of being drawn from the small pool of “enlightened” members of the society whose vision of tomorrow becomes the trailblazer of public action. Many thanks to the age of the Internet of Things, which was heralded by the digital revolution of the current millennium, the works and thoughts of these formidable figures have been animated and easily disseminated to the public.

READ ALSO: Omoyele Sowore: A President, A Prisoner, And A Promise

Since the debut of his online investigative journalism platform, Sahara Reporters, in 2006, Omoyele Sowore, perhaps the youngest and most vibrant of these popular figures in recent times, has become a target of the state. Whereas this was a notch forward in his engagement with the state in the demand for a just society, the battle line had long been drawn between this indefatigable figure and the state since his days as a university student in the late 80s. Talk about the struggle for democracy and democratic principles in Nigeria from this period onward, and you will find Sowore acting in one capacity or the other. If he is not organizing protests and calling for reforms, he is joining the hands on deck to do the same.

From phantom charges to detention, restriction of movement, to all sorts of psychological incarceration that are the hallmark of all dictatorial regimes, Sowore has grown to become the nemesis of the state and the albatross to be constantly checked by its elite political class. Just a couple of days ago, the death of his brother, Olajide Sowore, in the hands of the marauding forces of evil and retrogression was added to this appalling profile. Neither Sowore nor his brother could be protected by the state—and neither is any of us—but they could be murdered, incarcerated, exploited, and dehumanized by the same state they pledged to serve in the national anthem and other legal documents and actions. Such a sad story! Once again, my deepest condolences to the Sowore family.

Remarkably, the activist made it to the Toyin Falola Interviews on Sunday, September 5, 2021, just a day after the unfortunate news of his brother’s demise, a telling tale of the dogged spirit that had seen him navigate the rugged sociopolitical terrain of the Nigerian state for over two decades. This is also a testament to how dear to his heart he holds the restoration of the state, which is on the fringe of collapse, and how much he detests the possible return of the state to the stone-age animal kingdom where life was brutish and short.

Even though, as Professor Olatunji Olaopa rightly observed during the interview session, the structure, approach, and praxis of the revolution championed by Sowore still need a thorough rejigging for clarity, direction, and mobilization, for its modus operandi to materialize, given the mammoth to be subdued in this pursuit, no one can question his commitment to the cause of changing the postcolonial narrative of the Nigerian state.

As revealed during the interview session, and as many must have known, this has taken the trend of building or attempting to build alliances with like-minded individuals and organizations and establishing structures of action across the federation. So, when Professor Moses Ochonu asked if Omoyele Sowore saw no contradictions in the clamor for restructuring by a section of the social movements and space of the state, secession by others, and his own call for revolution, the media guru had no problem drawing the parallel that exists in this public space and efforts he and his comrades have made in building bridges across divided lines. Certainly, no one can doubt the need for a common ground and coalition among the revolutionary forces in the state. As Sowore pointed out, call it demand for restructuring or secession, all are revolutionary drives, and the word “revolution,” which scares the enablers of the status quo so much, does not necessarily have to be violent or bloody. This is why there is the option of a referendum.

READ ALSO: Obadiah Mailafia: The Grip Of Grief

Talking about a referendum, not a few who were present at the live streaming of the latest Toyin Falola Interviews, and most certainly sharing the minds of other patriots within and outside the country, were of the view that the 2023 elections under this current stricture would be another waste of public resources for the recycling of the old problem. Like a commentator mentioned, in some cases, the problem of governance in Nigeria is not so much of having incompetent hands in the saddle of leadership but of a system that has been programmed to make them fail and incapacitated. Others warned that if Sowore were to participate in the charade called elections in 2023 without pushing for and achieving tangible compromises in the current electoral system as well as the rogue constitution, whether by way of referendum, constitutional conference, or even the combination of both and other viable means, no one should be surprised if there is a repeat of the 2019’s.

When pressed further on how he hoped to effect change on the political scene while responding to Professor Ochonu, Omoyele Sowore seems to base his hope on the limited six percent of the population that could relate well and key into the message of his party, the African Action Congress (AAC), the Liberation Movements, RevolutionNow, and others. If this population could upturn the ignorant-majority electing and “de-electing” candidates, it is believed that the political landscape of the state could be hugely transformed. Where then does this six percent lie? They are mainly found among the middle-class population and students, many of whom have given up on the state. Getting this population on board will not only reduce the cost of campaign but is also sure to recalibrate electioneering processes. This way, more competent heads can throw their heads in the ring. However, even with this population of “refined minds,” politics will remain that dirty arena of slings, manipulation, and shenanigans, though this could be at the level of intellectual, rigorous, and stimulating debates. I pointed this out because politics is a game of interests, and interests are never static but dynamic with time and circumstances, even with a guiding principle. Hence, man is a sociopolitical animal.

Interestingly, not everyone buys into the idea of Sowore’s revolution and overhauling of the political atmosphere of the Nigerian state. In place of this, they advocate for the evolution of the state. In one sentence, they subscribe to the evolution of the state, as against revolution, for its sociopolitical and economic transformations. They hold this position to the view that the revolution did not transform the condition in Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, or Libya, as the states have since relapsed into an even deeper abyss of political uncertainty, pandemonium, and dictatorship. Among this group belongs Dr. Ena, who described himself as a pro-investment as against a pro-people person. The young man argued that there could be a dichotomy between these two approaches to development without ripping one’s heart and soul into the bin of degeneration.

Aside from the prayers of fortitude for Omoyele Sowore at the opening of the interview session, Dr. Ena’s stance was another of the most significant moments at the event. It offered to the public caption-clear opposing views dominating Nigeria and the global economic world. The discussion touched on the relations between private and public entities in the state. To what extent should the government be involved in private businesses? And here, the question of the Dangote refinery was brought to the fore. Although Sowore was quick to pronounce this ambitious project aimed at pumping 650 000bpd to West African markets, including Nigeria, a failure, his skepticism, like that of many other well-meaning Nigerians, is unfounded but a palpable one rooted in the political culture of the state. This is even more so considering the primitive approach of the current regime (not administration) to governance, which has repeatedly brought about the accusation of sectional agenda against it from different quarters within and outside the Nigerian space.

However, on a broader lens devoid of sectional interest, the $4 billion commitment of the Nigerian government, which gives her a twenty percent share in the $19 billion project, could be the best conduit for the country to be self-reliant in energy consumption and take a leap in the value chain of global production. I am not acquainted with Mr. Aliko Dangote, but let no one be deceived about an ethnoreligious undertone of this deal. Dangote Corporation and the man are two different entities. By any chance of legal circumstances, the Nigerian government or any other legal entity could even take over the refinery in the future. As far as the interests of Nigerians are duly represented, it cannot be denied that they will benefit from this pro-investment project. Not only can they save from the cost of petroleum products, further infrastructural investments and developments from the returns can also be expected. As a pro-investment person that Dr. Ena is and as shared by many big businesses like Dangote, the elites’ interest supersedes the interest of the people in cases like this.

READ ALSO: Molefi Asante: The Lion Who Refused To Buy The Hunters’ Stories About The Forest

Consequently, we find a recurrent situation where the corporate responsibilities of multinationals are jettisoned for the interest of these elites. Dr. Ena also referenced this in his critique of revolutionary movements regarding the Niger Delta crisis. A pro-investment drive that tags along the wellbeing of the people remains the sure link to development, and not the mere growth often flaunted in statistical data measured by the GDP. From the Nigerian case in particular, and the economic growth story of the rest of the world in general, an upward trend in states GDP is not equal to improvement in the everyday life of the average person on the street. It takes holistic relations between pro-investment plans and pro-people schemes to unleash the potential states as seen in China in recent times. There are no metrics for the damage that pro-investment excesses have caused and its continued cancerous effects on our everyday life. Covid-19 politics have added a new icy to this macabre cake.

Meanwhile, it remained to be seen how evolution could be achieved without revolution at some point or another in the 70,000-year history of man. Earlier in the program, Mrs. Motunrayo Alaka had brought this view to the question of women participation in politics, policies, and public space, to which Sowore admitted that his party failed to do justice to as intended in the previous elections but reiterated their position on the aphorism– “educate and empower women, educate a nation.” The preceding points remain the central and intricate drive of changes and transformation, which have driven human society for thousands of years, and which no nuclear weapon had been able to decimate despite the incarceration and muddling of voices like that of Sowore.

At this point, I join the elders at the interview session to pray for the family of Omoyele Sowore, asking for the strength to bear the unfortunate loss of their son, husband, father, and brother, Olajide Sowore. I also say a big “Ase!” to all the heartfelt prayers offered.

Sowore and RevolutionNow: Seventy Thousand Years of Inheritance

Omoyele Sowore

(This is the second report on the interview with Omoyele Sowore on September 5, 2021.  For part of the transcript, YouTube: https://youtu.be/EoB7kTep0i0  Facebook: https://fb.watch/7QY9iyMdLM/)

Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

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Rethinking African Literature

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rethinking African literature

The Toyin Falola Interviews

Panel Discussion On African Literature (2)

Rethinking African Literature
By Toyin Falola

Every culture has its agencies of cultural and information transmission, written, spoken or demonstrated through various means. At one point or the other, nearly all civilizations of the world have depended on the spoken medium to communicate their thoughts and ideas. The evolution of other means came with the innovation of technology, the earliest one being orthography itself. With the invention of writing, information preservation and exchanges changed radically. People now have the opportunity to preserve their knowledge and immortalize their ideas through the agency of the new technology―writing.

Notably, this revolutionary development began in many places simultaneously, but the character of writing differed from culture to culture. For example, the primordial African civilizations had an orthographic system, but that knowledge was not widespread. Only people who belonged to a particular group knew to decode information lurked in their writing then, but such an approach to information preservation was not embraced in some other societies. Rather than being secretive, some civilizations opened their orthography to their populace, and writing became an instrument of communication. Consequently, literature became redefined. Beyond the pedestrian definition of literature as a body of written works, the concept is associated with the process of documenting one’s worldview and cultural orientations and customs by adding some creative ideas to support the argument made in the works.

To this extent, literature became an instrument of cultural or political re-engineering that (re)conditions the people’s psychological domain for various purposes. In essence, reading some literary text can progressively change one’s ideological convictions. If used in this case, literature would be a veritable instrument for controlling a people’s mind. In some other cases, when literature documents people’s past experiences, arts, and culture, it is believed to have been used as a compass for history to give people the opportunity to connect with their past and make sense of their evolving present. After colonialism, many African writers entered into the business of writing literary works, banking on their cultural resources as the materials of their intellectual productions. Unlike the past oral communication system used with their audience, written literature gradually displaced oral literature with its peculiarities and sociological imports.

Rethinking African Literature

With the aggressive progression of technology in the twentieth century, the world seemed to have faced another imminent transformation of the practice of storytelling, not through writing alone this time, but through visual and virtual interaction. Technology has made it inescapable to organize the exchanges of information, cultural ideas, and intellectual creativity using the digital technology manifested in internet culture, cloud computing and technology, and ICT. Meanwhile, it is noted that African literature, which earlier on graduated from predominantly spoken form to written ones, has suffered mutilations and injuries that many scholars have sometimes suggested that some form of surgical treatment should be recommended. Some have argued that this treatment should be linguistic remodelling, where the African language would be used as the means of the interface in writing. But African languages are numerous, and using several of them would betray its political mission (to challenge the hegemon), particularly as it was a response not to the Africans but to the controlling imperialists. This phase of African literature passed, but the challenges remain—African literary writers battle with this when education moves from the physical to the virtual world. To be relevant in that evolution, their literature must shift to reflect this.

Suppose African literature continues to make meaning to the people and connect with the rising generation whose lifestyle revolves around the internet and the ICT. In that case, writers must come to terms with writing and use the available medium to transfer their information. We should not make a hasty conclusion that because global literature has evolved from what it used to be to what it is today and Africans are gradually incorporating their literary productions into these systems, the problems lurking around African literature have suddenly disappeared. More problems can be imagined; the problems have been redefined and have become deadlier than before. For example, this conclusion is triggered by the awareness that there are challenges with accurately containing the cultural traditions and expressions that people want to make and the challenge of semiotic inadequacies that literature expressed in another language would bring. These problems do not disappear; they have been recreated into the current system that humans now operate with. The gravity of their challenge in the survival of African literature would be understood when one realizes that the younger generation has no preferences other than the internet, and their access to information stored there would mean they will be re-engineered in some ways.

Consider that the cartoon field is another potent literary mine that scholars are mining in contemporary times. Meanwhile, in some ways, cartoons represent a collapse of cultural ideas built into a technological system for consumption. African children, as innocent as they are, become active foragers of the internet, and social media, among others, to seek cartoons that will provide them with relaxation and knowledge. Cartoon stories are generally similar to the Afrocentric storytelling of the pre-colonial time when aged people arranged willing audiences and began to relay important messages to them. Through stories, these children were introduced to their society’s philosophical, cultural and ideological bloodstream, where they accessed a body of information and then used it to build their intellectual system. This practice has been remodelled into the internet, and the narrator of these stories is, in most cases, not the African aged that used to dish out knowledge to their people. It is the western narrators who build narratives that will condition the minds of readers and make them Western in orientation. The children will become enablers of colonization because they were exposed predominantly to cultural ideas that were not African. To challenge this, African literature deserves a rethinking.

The benefits of moulding the African child this way are manifold. The information acquired and stored at their tender age will always be with them for a very long time. They will continue to navigate their existence with the information they have taken in during their formative years. In essence, getting them to understand African philosophical leanings, religious identities, cultural traditions, moral values, and collective virtues will help them develop a permanent ideological base that will help them when they meet different cultural perspectives in the future. There is the possibility that Africans have continued to distance themselves from the cultural inheritance in the understanding that they are weak and perhaps subordinate to others. However, the perspective will not remain the same if they are worked on earlier than imagined.

Meanwhile, the literature of a people continues to prove itself as the best instrument with which they can redesign their lives. Access to the culture through technology will have a multiplier effect on the people and their political existentialism. For instance, they will be able to develop inventions on the internet that are useful to reveal other aspects of African culture to the world while simultaneously influencing world affairs in some ways. All these are inherent advantages that underlie rethinking the literature.

Beyond the transformation of written literature into the digital one is the understanding that writers of African narratives should challenge the status quo with their works. Writers across all generations have different epistemic battles that they must engage in so that the African identity will not die. There was a time the Empire wrote back to the European imperialists to correct the erroneous notions about the African people and their cultural inclinations. During that time, the collective attention of writers was drawn to the exploration of various African civilizations and cultures for proper documentation. It appeared during the period that a chunk of the history and great efforts of the pre-colonial African people have been displaced, distorted by false narratives, or lost completely in some cases. Therefore, continuing to listen to the perspectives of the colonizers about their identity was similar to watching serial assassins subjecting one’s relatives to homicidal adventures.

Apart from the emotional problems one would get from that experience, the psychological consequences cannot be overemphasized. In essence, the period experienced the surge of literary activities that wrestled and won the freedom to existence that Africans would later enjoy. Interestingly, the contemporary generation has a different assignment. The writer in the African context is naturally saddled with the responsibility of seeking to renegotiate African identity through their works as they have suffered untold injuries and severe injustices at the hands of external visitors. Despite this glaring responsibility, the quest for economic and financial stability also cuts in the way of excellently discharging their duties to the motherland.

By dwelling essentially on the diaspora experiences, these writers sometimes find themselves in the murky water of using the West as the nucleus of their writing. This unavoidably leaves the African people, culture, concern, agitations, and cause to be left unattended or given minimum attention. Meanwhile, helpless African culture suffers from the vestiges of corruption and humanitarian atrocities perpetrated, if not exclusively by their bad leaders, but also in collaboration with foreign companies. Problems continue in their countries while writers pick topics that suit Western literary markets to satisfy the urge for capitalist culture at the detriment of the in-house Africans undergoing pestilence, poverty, pensive violence, and violation of unknown magnitude.

Here, some scholars have come up with the idea of disruptive narratives. This is an evolving concept that depicts the employment of narratives to inspire social changes and revolutions by producing works that reveal social injustices and political ineffectiveness that have fostered poverty and diseases of an unknown kind; narratives that empower the people by identifying the underlying greatness in coming together for the restoration of social justice and values; and narratives that educate people about their fundamental responsibilities and the rights that come with them. All of these are ways contemporary literary writers are considering rethinking African literature.

One can logically ask where or how African writers fit in. The layers of undemocratic challenges facing African people come first from their intellectual deficit about the histories and cultures of their forebears, which would otherwise have given them the materials with which they could structure a strong civilization. The problems facing the people are not unconnected to the fact that culturally, they are gradually becoming orphans, making them powerless to construct social bonds that can be used to repudiate all social immoralities that have plagued the continent.

Technology is a great addition to the world, but Africans’ addiction to it brings cultural entrapment. And then we ask, in all of these, what is the role of a critic, or in a more defined form, what makes the writer different from the critic? Writers are the gifted individuals who gather resources together, process and transform them into abstract products ready for intellectual consumption. They refine these resources by sifting out the ones considered harmful for consumption by the people. However, there has been a surge of African writers as there are limitless cultural and ideological resources from which they can draw for their creative enterprise. They have continued to forage into the past African epistemological terrain, ontological reality and moral principles as the base of their works.

READ ALSO: The Toyin Falola Interviews Holds Panel Discussion on Rethinking African Literature In The Modern Era

To that extent, some African writers fit into the definition of creative writers whose works are inspired by the almost unending histories of their forebears and the great exploits that usually stand them out, among others. Their contemporary stories are tailored along the foundational ideals, principles, and knowledge handed down with a semiotic intelligence. Thus, one can take African fictional work and begin to draw out interpretations irrespective of the generation in question. Writers are seen as intelligent creators who have the vision of their community imposed as surveillance on their creativity, guiding them in the process of their artful engagement. However, the critic at the end of the rope interprets the work of arts using theoretical understanding and suppositions as the compass for interpretative engagements. These theories are an accumulation of ideas or sets of them that explain observed facts or situations. Although the professional assignment of the critic and the writer differs in this context, both of them appear to indulge in deep intellectual gymnastics. A critic’s interpretation is thus different from a layman’s reading, underscored by the fact that they use different interrogation techniques from other people.

In African literature, there has been controversy about the importance of a critic using Western theoretical understanding and knowledge to interpret African literature. The argument is that if theories are a set of ideas that explain a phenomenon, how can European facts or phenomena that differ in character and approach to African experience be adequate in interpreting the African narrative and, by implication, the African world? To understand the beauty of this argument, one cannot but look at the composition, the thematic, the epistemic, and the soul of African literature and see how glaringly different they are from their Western counterparts.

In addition, the critic, as opposed to the writer, has the opportunity to get rewarded even in schools and institutions. In many universities, they are employed as faculty members who take students through academic engagements to increase their intellectual values. It, therefore, opens the writers to the destructive hands of politics. Apart from the possibility of insufficient reinforcement for producing intellectually stimulating narratives, the writer may not attract much attention to be employed in corporate organizations for their skills. The logic in that situation is denied its voice as people find nothing bad in having writers relegated to the background as opposed to the critics who use their works. Therefore, when we talk about rethinking literature, we must accommodate thoughts and conversations that address these issues. For instance, some have argued that the writers place themselves at a vulnerable point when they fail to capitalize on their skills as their income sources. They can deliberately withhold their intellectual property if the necessary bodies do not recognize them. The underlying problems in this thinking are numerous, including the fact that the writer is a writer because they are motivated by the action of writing. In other words, they choose that trajectory to fulfil their potential. Critics perform differently as they give meaning to works already perfected by the writers.

Rethinking African Literature

At a grand level, rethinking African literature without reconsidering the language of expression would amount to a fruitless engagement frustrated by the unwillingness to address critical issues. Language is central to the propagation of literature. Apart from being the instrument through which writers send information to their audience, it facilitates understanding of what is being transferred from writers to the world. Notably, the current global community has seen the brutal hands of globalization occasioned by the imperialists’ continued determination to promote and enhance capitalism. Extending one’s economic and political domination to others a few centuries ago led to the large-scale imposition of colonial languages to the world, where colonies were forced to embrace respective language reservations. They continued in the assimilation of the Western languages and their culture, which brought about the postcolonial extension of this extant domination.

READ ALSO: Alternative Paths To Ghana’s Success

African languages have been subjected to the pressure of every kind. Apart from being considered inadequate and unwanted in handing down the information and knowledge of its epistemic environment, they are also derided based on their international acceptability. Therefore, it is no coincidence that the African writers have been compelled to write in the language of their colonizers for one reason or the other. So, if we are considering rethinking African literature, the place of language deserves respect in that conversation. In the distant and proximal history, African scholars have engaged in this controversial debate where leading African creative writers hold an opposing side of the intellectual debate. Some concede that colonial languages can be domesticated and, in some situations, redacted. The ones in this category believe they are themselves products of postcolonial knot and were exposed to only the colonial languages in their development process. It would, therefore, be as counter-productive as it is impractical to use a language for which one lacks the necessary professionalism to pass across their messages.

Furthermore, their ambition to correct the erroneous impression of the West would be immediately frustrated when they wrote in a language their targets do not understand. In other words, the West would be barely convinced (although I am confused as to understand the logic in convincing the West in the first place) of the intellectual capacity of the African people. Those on the other side argue that writing in the colonial language alienates the people from the resources from which writing is drawn. It begs the question if the focus that compelled the African people to write back to the West is still the dominant focus of their texts today.

.This is the interview report with a panel of African writers on August 7. For the transcripts: YouTube:

Facebook: https://fb.watch/eLOPycx-MF/)

 

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Interview

Panel Discussion On Rethinking African Literature Holds On Sunday

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A Panel Discussion On Rethinking African Literature Holds

Please join us for a panel discussion on Rethinking African Literature in the Modern Era by the Pan African Writers Association (PAWA)

Tomorrow, Sunday, August 7, 2022
4:00 PM GMT // 5:00 PM Nigeria // 11:00AM Austin CST // 6:00 PM SAT // 7:00 PM EAT

READ ALSO: The Toyin Falola Interviews Holds Panel Discussion on Rethinking African Literature In The Modern Era

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https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81910990284

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https://www.facebook.com/tfinterviews/live

Watch on YouTube:

https://youtube.com/channel/UC2lvX7A2iVndiCq0NfFcb0w/live

 

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Trends In African Literature

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"Cut Soap For Me!"
Prof. Toyin Falola

The Toyin Falola Interviews

A PANEL DISCUSSION ON AFRICAN LITERATURE, PART 1

By Toyin Falola
I eagerly await the conversation with prominent members of the Pan-African Writers Association under the leadership of the prominent and visible writer, Dr. Wale Okediran. This first piece is to set the historical background to the conversation. The relationship between literature as a human endeavor and society is symbiotic, where the influence flows both ways, and one is shaped by the other. It is an interesting relationship to study, especially when one considers how literature changes form and intent over time, depending on society’s state of decay or otherwise, and also how society changes over time, sometimes due to the fierceness and unrelenting clamoring of literary figures and the body of work they have produced. It is not certain which has more influence on the other; however, it is established that literature, being the mirror of life and human societies, draws the inspiration for its content from societal happenings. Notwithstanding, literature acts as society’s conscience, bringing to light the ills in the darkest parts of society, critiquing, acting as a medium for the call to change, and bringing about the needed revolution.

In African literature, society has a rich timeline and has enjoyed many defining moments that we cannot possibly fully expound. For Africans, literature has been a significant part of our societies for longer than the western world represented in their earliest literature of Africa. Long before the colonial and the pseudo-civilization eras, Africa had its proper literature, although this form of literature was not always documented in the written form. In some communities, pre-colonial African literature was preserved by griots, praise-singers, poets, drummers, and priests, who were the custodians of our collective literature. This was passed down through their family, from father to child.

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Literature was a means for several endeavors then. It served as a way of orally preserving the histories of clans, villages, cities and their peoples and guarding the societal norms and beliefs that were the fibers holding the cultures of several African societies together. Beyond this, literature was also a means of interpreting the mystic and divine and showing reverence to the divine. The creation story and the existence of the divine are native to several African cultures and languages.

Trends In African Literature

Photo: Chinua Achebe

Furthermore, literature served as a medium for acculturation and enculturation, helping the new members of society to understand the modus operandi and what they needed to know to develop into acceptable members of society. In Africa oral literature was didactic. No matter how entertaining the story or how intriguing the ballad is, regular pieces contain some lessons between their lines and statements. Many of the written literature by African writers during the colonial and early post-colonial era was targeted at correcting the erroneous narratives that non-African writers and explorers had written about Africans.

With the encounter with the West, Africans had begun to receive standardized and formalized education, which meant that many Africans had become skilled at writing. As a result of the continent’s colonization, several regions had their newly acquired languages elevated to the positions of official languages like English, French, Arabic, and some other European languages. Thus, the emerging African and Caribbean writers largely wrote in their country and region’s official languages for some reasons. First, to reach more people than they could with their local language and to unify their audience. Second, to ensure that their writings reached the colonizers, who had misrepresented African cultures and traditions, and to correct the anomalies in the stories they told of Africa.

Consequently, African writers of this era were tasked with finding their voice, discovering their identity, and what the identity of African literature should be, revisiting falsely told stories of Africa, and orchestrating a literary rebellion to support the fight against colonialism and for independence across African regions. Ahmadou Kourouma and some other francophone authors led the charge for the Africanization of French through written literature during this period. Chinua Achebe of Nigeria also had his novel, Things Fall Apart, to depict civilized African societies before colonization and the real effects of and reason for colonization. This was also a period when African authors joined forces with political movements and other organizations and associations across the continent to push for the independence of African states.

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The role of African literature in the struggle for independence cannot be sidelined, as movements like the Negritude of Sedar Senghor, Leon Damas, and Aime Cesaire contributed to the earliest early political consciousness among Africans, and Sedar Senghor went on to become the first elected president of independent Senegal. Independence came for Africa, heralding a turn in the trend for African literature. This was not so much different from what writers were tasked with during the colonial era. The earliest period of the post-colonial era jolted African writers to the reality that freedom from colonialism and European rule was not necessarily freedom.

Trends In African Literature

Photo: Sedar Senghor

Several African leaders who had championed their countries’ independence and were also writers who contributed literature to speak out against colonialists’ oppression soon became what they fought against. The leaders who took over the reins became subjected to neo-colonialism, selfishness, and greed, all at the expense of their country’s development. Thus, writers became tasked with representing this oppressive and regressive turn of events for several African countries — albeit now independent — through literature. Some of the writers tasked with this work, using prose, poetry and drama, include Wole Soyinka, Ken Saro Wiwa, Remi Raji, Niyi Osundare, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Femi Osofisan, Nadine Gordimer, and Abdulrazak Gurnah. It did not help matters that civil wars and intermittent military takeovers rocked some of these newly independent African countries. There were cases of gross violation of human rights, corruption, and a heart-rending lack of direction. Many of these writers braced incarceration, and some had to relocate to other countries. They were fierce and held the fort to make literature one of the few things the world respected Africa for during the early to mid-post-colonial era.

Africa’s case is so peculiar that the problems of decades ago, which served as the subject of many a literary work, largely remain the problems of the contemporary African continent. Among other things, contemporary African writers are tasked with writing about the issues their literary ancestors and mentors addressed. Much of contemporary African literature still centers on political ills, the underdevelopment of several African countries, and neo-colonialism, and it circles back to the identity of the African person in a dynamic and fiercely conscious world that is more conscious and sensitive than it has ever been.

Contemporary African writers, from Kwame Dawes to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Assia Djebar, and Sello Duiker, among others, write about identity, feminism, and the backward cultural and religious practices that marginalize some African women, especially in Northern Africa. One trend that has stood the test of time among African writers is that they do not stop at writing. They grant interviews, speak at events, and hold discourses all channeled at bringing about some development and improvement to the African continent and the lives of the African people. It was the same with the earliest African writers of the colonial and early post-colonial era, which is how it is with contemporary writers.

Trends In African Literature

Photo: Kwame Dawes

Technology and the digitization of literature is another trend worth noting in the African literature space. This has increased the number of self-published authors, making writing a profession easier to venture into. In a period where writers do not need to depend on publishing houses and elaborate marketing and book promotion strategies, the freedom to express and influence is becoming more accessible. There is also the embalming of literature in the digital footprints of the metaverse using non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The questions for ardent followers, critics, lovers, stakeholders, and enthusiasts of African literature are: What is next for literature in Africa? What needs to be done? How are writers being made? What should be rethought?

On Sunday, August 7, 2022, the Pan-African Writers Association, in collaboration with the Toyin Falola Interviews, will hold a discourse on “Rethinking African Literature.” The goal is to extrapolate issues and arrive at progressive solutions. Join us.
Sunday, August 7, 2022
4:00 PM GMT
5:00 PM Nigeria
11:00AM Austin CST
6:00 PM SAT
7:00 PM EAT

 

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