BOOKS: Who tells Africa’s story, and how do they do it?

Friday October 11 2019

Frome L-R: Dr Wandia Njoya with Cape Verde author Dina Salustio her translator Jethro Soutar. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU


Two Pan African literary festivals took place in Nairobi recently, and both focused on Africa: Who gets to tell the story and how they get to tell it.

There was the African Writers Conference, at the Sarit Centre, organised by the Writers Guild Kenya and African Writers Development Trust.

The other was the Macondo Literary Festival at the Kenya Cultural Centre, organised by the Macondo Book Society, which brought together writers from all over Portuguese-speaking Africa.

Both festivals were happening at the same time as the 22nd Nairobi International Book Fair, and were attended by published writers from all over the continent.

The theme of the writers’ conference was Cultural Stereotypes in African Literature: Re-write the Narrative for the 21st Century Reader, and the Macondo festival theme was Re-imagining Africa’s Histories and Stories through Literature.

At both conferences, the the talks concentrated on re-interpreting the African narrative and re-writing it to reflect the realities of the region in the 21st century from an African point of view.


The festivals attracted writers from Cameroon, Mauritius, Nigeria, Canada; and from Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and even Portugal for the Macondo Literary Festival.

But both sets of organisers also have long-term objectives. The chief conference organiser, Nigerian Anthony Onugba, who also heads Nigerian Anthony Onugba, who also heads the African Writers Development Trust, aims to create a single broad-based organisation “to empower writers of African descent’.

The Macondo Book Society hopes to organise more literary festivals to break downdown linguistic and cultural barriers among African writers, and make African literature more accessible.

The conference held literary competitions, and awards were announced mid-way through the weekend. With judges from Mauritius, Zambia and Nigeria, the awards were for African poetry, short stories, children’s literature and flash fiction.

No Kenyan won in these categories, but special awards were given to Kenyans for their contributions to the development of literary space. They included Tom Odhiambo, Jackson Biko, Khainga O’Okwemba and AMKA, a group that develops women’s creativity.