Ben Okri on the Internet and African spiritualism

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American poet and Pulitzer winner Yusuf Komunyakaa (left) speaks to the press during the opening of this year's three-day Storymoja Hay Festival held in Nairobi's Railways Sports Grounds on September 15, 2011. Looking on is Book Prize winner Ben Okri, who sees the African consciousness at the very core of the technological revolution. PHOTO | BILLY MUTAI  

Posted  Sunday, October 9   2011 at  12:36

The invention of the Internet in the past century is the great watershed moment in contemporary history.

Life before the Web now seems like a hazy blur — how did we communicate with random acquaintances, acquire useless bits of information or waste time at the office?

Africa has always seemed to be living on the fringes of technology, playing catch-up to the big boys in Silicon Valley and other hotbeds of technology.

But Nigerian poet and author Ben Okri sees the African consciousness at the very core of the technological revolution.

He makes a startling assertion — that the Internet is an African spiritual thing.

“The Internet is not new to African thinking,” says Okri. “It follows the same linkages as what we know — the idea that you can communicate with someone who is not physically present with you, whether it is the spirits or the ancestors, has always been there.”

Speaking at the Storymoja Hay festival, a literary celebration held recently in Nairobi, Okri says that in the African way of understanding, the universe makes room for the voices of those who may be physically distant — whether we take that to mean those living in the afterlife, or those living in other parts of the world.

“The matrix of understanding that concept is already there.

The way I see it, technology has a spiritual basis in the African mind.”

These assertions could seem like the ranting of a crazy man if they were coming from anyone other than Okri.

Few people can link the Internet — which we know as the definitive invention of the modern era — with the ancient ideas of African cultural beliefs, which we have largely discarded as “juju,” and expertly argue that they stem from the same seed.

But Okri is that kind of person. He says that a writer is “an overly responsive human being, sensitive to all kinds of over-currents and undercurrents, a listener at the oracle of the world.”


His most famous book, the Booker Prize-winning The Famished Road is full of these “over-currents and undercurrents.” It is the type of book that will either bring the universe into utter clarity, or confuse you completely.

Either way, Okri’s writing has the undeniable effect of making one aware of the invisible realm — that maybe life is not only what we can see.

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