“Prof Okoth” by Oprah Oyugi

F-profokoth


Friday 13th Sept, 2013

8.43pm

Yuko kwa gari. Eh, Hapo Koinange. chuckle Mboss!! wify hardcore – MBAYA!
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Ah-ah si eti…. Kuna ka-vodoo kamechomolewa yaani–
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Relax relax boss. Yaani
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Nkt! Sasa? Niende nimnyang’anye ama?
– – Sasawa. Yes sir. Sorry sir. Ntaacha. Ako kwa simu. Kicheko hivi hivi… Mzee? Mzee?
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Ah ok ok malizana basi.
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He-he. Ameshikanisha?
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Uko sure unadai ii story bana, juu, kuna venye–
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Ah-ah, relax mzee, kuakikisha tu. Haina was
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Beberu huyo amecho-moka! Anaishia … shit! Najikata. Acha nikuchunie.
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Yaani kukupigia. Nakupigia

9.04pm
Ah, pole mzee, karibu anicheki bana. Lakini usijali, mimi ni yule Mrong’! Starro in the game! Senior Detective Ng’ang’aricous hapa!
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hahah ok ok. Mzaha tu, usimind. Tuko kwa ile church inakuaga karibu na ofisi zenu.
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Ah-ah, si hiyo, yenye iko karibu na Nyayo House. Ile ya Wacathoo.
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Baas! Holy Family. Ee, hapo. Kako na kajamaa.
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Ah wee! Kwani lazma ujue every?
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Iza bana iza.
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Yaani pole. Nimesikia, haina was. Relax. Ni kajamaa kadogo hivi, mifupa tupu, miaka dhate ikizidi. – –
Usiniharakishe bana. Nakushow. Amechoma kasuti nyeudhi, na shades. laughing heh ii Nairobi watu wataniua.
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Duu. Mweusi ha! Huyu ni giza anatembea. Mjaka mjaka ama mluhya hivi
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Ntakushow wakido ene.

9.24pm
Mheshimiwa! Uko?
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Kagari ka gova kamewatake.
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VW Pasaat, number plate, kitu ka GK B965 ama sijui ni S, sijacheki poa.
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Kuna Dere, passenger wa mbele na nyuma. Wamejaa watano
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ni wanaume wote lakini siko sure. Niko, on their nose! Ama ni trail? On their trail

9.51pm
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Eeh Mheshimiwa?
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Sunajua tu Furahi-day. -laughing- Jam iko Mombasa road inatosha kupaka mikate Nairobi nzima!
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As in, kumeshikana vibaya.
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Kuna jam!
-mumbling under breathe- ujinga nayo?
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Sijasema any. Fuck! Fuck! Karao karao. Fuuuuuck!
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Duu! Wanacheck kila msee
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Zii, niko na license na hizo vitu zote
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Ah ah, nilikushow mi msee wa God. Sishikishangi…
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Errm, shida ni, shida ni
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Kuna mandeng’a nilibeba kwa boot.
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Kwani unadhani wewe ndo mteja pekee yako? Ni kashosho fulani kalinituma.
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Walahi watanishika aki please please waongeleshe. Tafadhali
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-Sound of car stopping and window winding down-
[Gruff Afande voice] Habari ya leo kijana
Safi safi boss. Mmeamua leo ni kushughulikia nchi
[Afande voice] Kama kawaida. Wakenya huwa wajinga weekendi. Wacha tuone kama tunaezaipunguza kidogo tu. Puliza kwenye kitambo.
Ah mazee, venye wasee wamepiga hiyo kitu mate.
[Afande] Utapuliza ama uvute hewa stesheni.
Sawa sawa.
-sound of him blowing out and a long pause.-
[Afande] Fungua hapo nyuma
Afande, kuna venye…
[Afande] Sina time nani. Fungua!
Duu! Chill chill, ongea na huyu mzae.
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[Afande] Hallo. Nani huyu?
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[Afande] Aah, mheshimiwa vipi?
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[Afande] Eeh bana! Ni kasafi, leo hakajaonja. Lakini uso ni jasho tupu. Umemwekea nini kwa boot?
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[Afande] Aah ooh. Safi sana mzee.
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[Afande] Sasawa. -silence as something is passed- Ka thao tano ka chai. Ekelea
Lakini si umebonga na mzee.
[Afande] Eeh, yeye ndo mwenye kusema
Acha nimwulize
[Afande] Sawa basi, Ukipiganga simu, acha niangaliange boot. Fungua!
Duu duu mazee
[Afande] Ekelea kabla ijae sita.
-sound of pockets ruffling. Paper rustling and coins clanking-
[Afande] Weeee! Umesikia shilingi zinatumiwa siku hizi. Ekelea manoti baba. Hata hazijai. Useless! Kwerrah!
-sound of car driving off-
Aki bana umesikia venye beast amenigonga. Sasa mbona ulinishow nimchotee
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Ah relax mani. Hawajaenda mbal-. Shit!
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Hahah nakuchezea tu. Hiyo thao tano lakini
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Nilijua tu alinigonga. Fuck!
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Sasawa

10.47pm
Mzee! Mzee!
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Itabidi niwhisper. Tumefika place ingine apa Emba. Wameshuka wanachapia mguu.
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Eish! niwafuate ndio?
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Sawa basi. Lakini mimi huaga night blind. Sioni ene bana.
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Hiyo – ntaona
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Sawa sawa. Seriousness. Kuna kimbodyguard ivi. Huo mwingine anakaa-
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Shiiieeet!
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Mzee… Acha tu ntakushow baadaye.
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Tulizaaa. Nakudungia. Bibi yako ako na…
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Aki nisiseme.
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Ako na Prof.
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Walahi aki!
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Ati najuaje, nani hajui Prof! Si ni yule wazimu wa Health?! Apana aki, job yangu inadie apa.
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Ati? Unadhani sijafanya job na maboyz wake? Ii raia ni mnyama!

Ah–ah, skiza tutado hivi–
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Duu. Story ni hii–
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Skiza mzae, Ingiza chwaki kwa account, nimekushow penye wife yuko–
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– ucome umchukue.
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Ah-ah Mheshimiwa –ucome
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– msee comia wife
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Ati mangapi?
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Uko serious?
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Sawa. Na ujue najua penye bibi na watoto wako. Usinijaribu.
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Alafu, kabla nijiingize kwa noma, unajua story ya hao wasee – wife na Prof? Kaback story, kahistory? Usinifiche.
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JEHOVAH! Ah-Ah.
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Hii ni noma aki. Wee unajua wachinku wakiingia kwa hii mix…
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Na amekuwa akifanya hivi chini ya maji for how long?
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Wah! Eh, huyu alikupenda aki. Ama, hajui Prof yeye.
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Eh, ii ni noma. Walahi utaongeza senti. Wacha nione chenye ntado. Omba aki. Omba hadi magoti iishe juu penye bibi yuko, mzee ulimess.
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Haaiya. Ntakuchorea.

11.27pm

-whispering-
Mazee Mhesh, kuna venye hii story sidaishi tena.
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Nasema, sidaishi. Utaongeza volume kwa simu juu mimi sitashikwa na ii nyang’au.
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Niko nyuma ya nyumba nyingine hapa.
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Ukiingia Emba kwa hiyo barabara iko chini ya flyover
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Eeh, unaifuata kedo dakika twenty halafu kukianza kuwa kimsitu msitu hivi, chapia left. Ukifuata hiyo barabara ya mchanga utafika kwa kifence bigi. Alipark mbali kidogo, kabla uchape hiyo left.
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Wameshinda ndani ya keja kedo 15.
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Wueh! Ati mimi niingie wapi? Una jokes! Una mchezo daddy!
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Ukajua niko metre kumi kutoka hiyo gate. Ukuwe unaomba Mungu tatu at least
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Shhh! Shh! Kuna mtu anatoka.
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whine
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Mzee! Shiida! -line cut-

Saturday 14th Sept, 2013

00:03am

very low whisper
Mzee, Mungu wako amejam, MBAYA!
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Watu watatu. Walitoka na wife na ile jamaa –
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Prof hayuko. Tumetembea kedo dakika twenty ndani ya msitu. Ita polisi, SAA HUU!
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Mzae, utalipa hongo ujibu mbele, ama utazika mama watoto. Aibu ama kaburi? Apa, ni kuwow.
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Wapigie tu. Sikati simu.
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00.19am
-screams- -gunshot- -gunshot- -gunshot (lady voice) Nisai– -gunshot- -gunshot-
-panting-
Mzee! Mhesh! Ume–! Wako?
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-Screaming now- Wife! Ame–!Ame! Ghai!
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Fuck fuck fuck!
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Ate?! -more gunshots-
Ghaaaai! Wamenicheki! Mabeast wako? MABEAST WAKO?
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-gunshot- Aaaaaah! Sikufi leo, walahi sikufi leo! Skufi! Skuf-
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-gunshot- JEHOOOVAAAAAH! Mbisia nisaidie! Sikufi juu yako aki!
MBISIAAAA–-gunshot-
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-footsteps- -gunshots- -dial tone-

Sunday 13th Oct, 2013

Prof Okoth: Nonsense! There is no proof! Those are lies!
Police woman: Na hiyo ndiyo ripoti kutoka bwana Mbusia
Prof Okoth: I will not take this Bullshit. Useless! There’s a class waiting for me, get out of my way.
Chief: Punguza Moto Prof. Tuliza.
Prof: But–
Chief: Nani ankuchunganga? Si ni mimi. Hizi si vitu za kuwaka moto. Ni kuelewana tu na utarudi job, mara moja
Chief of Police: Prof, wewe ni rafiki. Kubali tu kabla kesi iende mbali
Prof Okoth: What are you talking about? Those claims are proposterous! Ati who is that again?
Policewoman: Mheshimiwa Mbisia
Prof Okoth: The aleggedly attacked and killed–

The police woman kept her lazy eye on Prof. Okoth till he put the piece of paper aside. He removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose.

Prof Okoth: With all due respect madam, why is this piece of paper sitting in front of me?
Policewoman: Ah, Prof, tusijifanye watoto hapa.

He ran his hands in opposite directions along the edges of the mahogany desk.

“Well, you are the one being childish if you ask me. Walking into my office with grandeur and flinging a piece of paper that has been doctored to seemingly incriminate my prestigious name in my face. I don’t know what’s going on here, and I don’t think I care.”

“Tusichezeane akili. Prof. Mheshimiwa Mbusia, alitutumia hii karatasi na kaudio tape fulani a few days kabla yeye mwenyewe adisappear. Ati ni transcript ya phone conversation alirecord ya kijana fulani alikuwa amelipa afuate bibi yake. Alikuwa na allegations noma sana kuhusu vyenye bibi yake na huyo kijana walitokomea. Allegations ambazo zinakuhusu wewe, wafanyikazi wako na kampuni fulani kutoka Armenia.”

Prof rapped on his desk, shook his head and chuckled. “Ah, Kenyans. An this is supposed to shake me? I will not accept these stupid allegations. I will not take this, BULLSHIT”

They stared at each other for a while before Prof reached into one of his drawers and pulled out an envelope. He shuffled through the contents of it, opened another envelope and moved some notes to the first envelope. He licked the envelope seal and handed it to her.

She took it and while maintaining eye contact ripped the top of it open. Her lazy eye lingered on the corner of his desk. She thumbed through the notes and stuck the envelope in a duffel bag she had with her. From it, she removed a huge inkpad and stamp. Still maintaining eye contact she pulled the file he had read from and landed the stamp heavy on it. CASE CLOSED. She threw everything back in the bag and stood up. Prof stood up with her too.

“Ahsante sana for your cooperation Prof.”

“Anytime, the pleasure is mine. And please don’t forget to pick flyers for my new clinic at the reception. We’ll be having a free breast checkup on Saturday. ”

She picked up her bag and walked out of his office.

“Have a good day!” Prof called out.

“Huyo wa Labour anakuaga amesota, tuombe for once itakuwa a good one ukweli.”


Oprah Oyugi is an upcoming filmmaker based in Nairobi, Kenya. She hopes to write stories and films that depict and look into the true lives of Kenyans and Africans. Check out her website: http://www.oprahoyugi.com to see what she gets up to.

“Arabic as a Bridge to the Rest of Africa” by Richard Ali

F-arabicasabridge


Presented at the Abu Dhabi Book Fair 2016 [28th April, 2016]

[Opening greetings.]

I wish to start my talk by reading from a Nigerian letter. It is not the type of Nigerian letter you usually get in your emails, asking for you to send money to someone in return for a share of millions of dollars. This one is, instead, a precious gift from me to you. It will also serve as my personal salute to each of you gathered here. Permit me to read—

Praise be to Allah who created writing as a means of communication between distant men, a vehicle of greeting amongst the scholars, and of sorrow amongst the unlettered; verily, had it not been for it, communication would have ceased and transactions would have been impossible.

 
As some of you might have recognised, it is part of the opening invocation of a letter from one person to another. We must pause at the centrality of learning and particularly, of writing, to the person who wrote this invocation—it is important to my theme. What you might not know is that this particular Nigerian letter was written six hundred and twenty five years ago and that it was written in formal Arabic. Now, let me tell you who the parties were. For the one part, the Nigerian part, there was Uthman ibn Idris, Mai of the Kanem-Borno Empire. The recipient of the letter was Az-Zahir Sayf ad-Din Barquq, a Circassian who at that time was Sultan of Egypt. Seven centuries ago, my ancestors and yours wrote letters to each other, prizing the written word greatly. I wish to tell you the reason for this—it is because words are boundless and expand the scope of the lived experience, giving instant access to experiences that no one man, however well-travelled he may be, can have. Languages other than one’s own, such as Arabic is to most Africans, is thus a type of passport—for want of a better word, I go with that one. But it is not a passport to a specific destination. It is a passport to a place of culture—to everywhere.

This early talk of passports brings me to mention where I am from. I am an African from Nigeria, and I confess to proudly holding a Nigerian passport. Passports, by their nature, tend to separate people into countries in the way widely dispersed languages, like Arabic which is our concern here, joins people together. Yet this country I call my own is but a young country, and its official name is only fifty six years old. So the name “Nigeria”, like many other nations—the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Republic of Kenya for example—is a recent convenience. Yet, I am from an ancient country which was named on the oldest Arab maps as the bilad-as Sudan—on account of the dark complexion of my people—and I am correctly from the central Sudan, which is where today’s Nigeria is located. In the old time of the old people I come from, the tricks of geography and cardinal points and nationalisms and other –isms that have given us these fixed identities of today did not quite exist. We named others based on their characteristics as we observed them and others did same for us. Northern Nigeria, where I am from, was known as kasar Hausa, which translates to “the land of the Hausa language speakers”—it did not mean everyone was ethnically Hausa, but only that a language had joined us. I have given this early digressions in other to show that in entering into my theme, the first thing we must dynamite to bits is the idea, and I admit this misunderstanding is complicated and attenuated, that the African and the Arab are Others to each other. Practically, is the Arabian Peninsula, divided from Africa by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, a breakaway plate from the African continental shelf, or is it a break away from the Asian shelf from which it is almost separated by the Gulf of Oman? Let me tell you, this is a question for the geologists but I do not care for their answer in the same way I do not care very much about passports and modern countries and nations. What I think is that we all share a vast tract of the world, in which God has made all free to move and learn and interact.

Having established this—I wish to speak briefly about key figures that have been human bridges between the African world and the Arab world. As a novelist, I am interested in hybridity and the overlaps of culture and identity. In these people, we can find curious points of contact that are vast fields for mining the future of our relations. In these people, we can read the past to define the future. They are the modern descendants of Mai Idris ibn Uthman who seven hundred years ago wrote a letter to his brother, the Mamluk Sultan Az-Zahir Sayf ad-Din Barquq.

The first of these is an eighteenth century mathematician from Katsina, a city in Nigeria known for its learning. His name was Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Fulani al-Kishnawi and while we are not sure when he was born, we know that he died in Cairo in 1741. Al-Kishnawi was, in the manner of learned men in the times in which he lived, an astronomer, mathematician, mystic, and an astrologer. Of particular interest to him and the matter for which we remember him is the mathematics [or perhaps we shall say the mathe-magics?] of Magic Squares. Group Theory is a major part of mathematics, particularly of statistical analysis today. In fact, the Encryption Key algorithms that ensure digital security—from Gmail passwords to Western Union transaction keys—flows from Group Theory, a field within which al-Kishnawi worked. His reputation as a mathematician in the study of Magic Squares rests today on his book Bahjat al-afaq wa-idah al-labs wa-l-ighlaq fi `ilm al-huruf wa-l-awfaq (A Compilation of the Occult in Egypt), published in Arabic in Cairo in 1751 from a copy dictated to his disciple Muhammad al-Makkawi al-Fayumi. An incomplete copy of the work is available at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London. Al-Kishnawi was of the Fulani ethnic group and indeed, the Arabic script has been used to write in African languages such as Hausa and Swahili. Arabic used in this manner is called ajami. For example, the jurisprudential works of Sheikh Uthman Fodio, who founded the Sokoto Caliphate, as well as of his descendants, even the poetry of his daughter Nana Asmau, were largely written in ajami.

The issue of Palestine remains one of immense polarisation in the Arab world, and the cause of Palestine is one that all conscious citizens of the world, especially of postcolonial countries in a time of neo-colonialism of various types, ought to rally around. It is in the agitation of Palestine that I find my second African example of a bridge—a cultural and political bridge—existing between the Arab world and Africa. What is more, the exemplar, Fatima Mohammed Barnawi, is still very much alive. The 1967 war which saw the Israeli defeat of a pan-Arab army, is correctly known as al-Naksah—a setback—for it seemed as if legitimacy had been granted to the earlier dispossession and catastrophe—an-Nakba—of the Palestinian people. Fatima Barnawi was the very first Palestinian woman to be arrested by the Israelis for planting a bomb at a cinema in October 1967 in protest at a propaganda film celebrating the Setback. This woman, born in 1942 in Jerusalem, is descended from Bornoan grandparents, yet so committed was she to the Arab cause in the liberation of Palestine that she was willing to organize a paramilitary operation in Israel and suffer the consequence of this action bravely. There was recently a documentary on her on Aljazeera.

What I am saying in these examples, and these are only two distinguished examples of thousands, is that we must reject the idea that the Arab and the African are people in opposition to each other. We have shared a lot in the past, as we see in the contributions of the mathematician al-Kishnawi, and we have a lot in common as we can see from the brave pro-Palestinian protest of Fatima al-Barnawi. I shall now turn my eye to the issue of the Arabic language specifically, in the context of literature, for this is a Book Fair and I am here as an African publisher.

Perhaps the best known book from the Arab world is the al-kitab ‘alf layla wa-layla, that collection of tales from many places also called The Arabian Nights, but more correctly One Thousand and One Nights. It came to the attention of the literary world when eighteenth century English adventurer Richard Burton made his celebrated English translation. Yet, the stories in the collection have been well known across Africa from Djenne to Darfur to Mombasa for while it was trade that first brought Arabs to my continent, and while the spread of Islam became another impetus, it is not only goods and prayers that were exchanged. We exchanged poetry and stories and blood too. The recent troubles in Mali have highlighted the fact that the city of Timbuktu has been a centre of learning of the same rank as Alexandria and Baghdad. The almost-lost heritage of African scholarship that was saved for humanity by the bravery of curators like Abdulkadir Haidara was written mostly in the Arabic language. Think of it—thousands of Arabic manuscripts that have been lost to the world might be hidden amongst the tomes owned by scholars of cities in Africa, cities like Timbuktu that is rightly celebrated, as well as Katsina, and Zaria where I studied, which have been seats of learning for countless centuries. The significance of this, as I do not need to reiterate, is that the Renaissance in Europe, which saw the cultural ascendance of Europe and its younger nephew, America, was kicked off by the discovery of Arabic manuscripts of the great classical Greek thinkers including Aristotle and Euclid. We must not forget the enlightened support of the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur, who built the Bayt al-Hikmah—the House of Wisdom—a library-cum-university in Baghdad. These works translated by Caliphs al-Mansur and al-Mamun and their successors were rediscovered and re-translated a millennium later by European thinkers without which there might have been no end to the superstitions of the Middle Ages and its residual dark European primitivism. I restate this to show the great importance that I, as an African writer who is fascinated by scholarship, attaches to your language. And I wonder—what other great treasures in books in Arabic lie un-translated and “lost” all across Africa even now waiting to yield their secrets to the world?

Mention must now be made of one of the world’s greatest writers, now late, who is remembered for his famous Cairo Trilogy—the novels Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street. I mean, of course, the Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988, just two years after my countryman, Wole Soyinka, was the first African to win it in 1986. Mahfouz was an Arab, and an African, and we see what he thought about the many links between us for it informed the topic of his Nobel Lecture where he speaks of being a child of two civilizations—the Pharoanic and the Islamic, which are the African and the Arab really. In the lecture, he says—“It was my fate, ladies and gentlemen, to be born in the lap of these two civilizations, and to absorb their milk, to feed on their literature and art.” Naguib Mahfouz’s novels are an homage to old Cairo—that great cosmopolis where ideas and people from all over the world mixed and created something distinct—a bridge of civilizations. The great Arab public intellectual, Edward Sa’id, also lived in Cairo after the loss of Palestine and his last memoir, Out of Place, attests to the vibrancy of the city, its mix of people and ideas, its intersection, its bridging of many identities.

Now, in discussing our links, we must also talk about the issue of terrorism and violent extremism—which is what put the precious manuscripts of Timbuktu in such great danger a few years back. Violent extremism, by people who have misinterpreted their religion, has become a major source of concern across Africa particularly the countries bordering the Sahel. Regardless of what ones politics is, the destruction of books and items of cultural heritage as has been attempted by armed terrorists in Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and further out, in Syria and Afghanistan, is unacceptable. This situation highlights another way in which Arabic can be a bridge to Africa considering that violent extremism has afflicted countries in Africa and has seen the erosion of the cultural value of Arab identity all over the world, leading to unhelpful and formulaic reductions of which American presidential contender Donald Trump, embodies. Even a week ago, an Iraqi student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, was thrown out of a Southwest airline flight for speaking Arabic. Violent extremism has fuelled a dangerous Arabphobia. Yet, across Africa, many believe that Arabic is the language of God. That the Holy Quran was revealed and written in Arabic adds a great stature to the Arabic language, making it a very good resource for countering violent extremism. Logical as this is, and with embassies of every Arab country in my country and in countries across Africa, we have not seen the sort of bold and rugged deployment of the Arabic language in countering violent extremism. I know that this is a book fair, not an arena for politics, but this issue is very important in the matter of building bridges to Africa. For we who love books, who write them, who read them, are often the first victims of extremism.

As my talk winds to a close, I must recognize the challenges that are inevitable in building a bridge to the rest of Africa using Arabic. Some of these are historic and certainty of causes is difficult even as the offense remains, but some unfortunate conducts between us are recent and still grate even today. As an African and a book lover, I cannot forget the outrage done in 642 AD when Amr ibn al-As, the governor of Egypt, oversaw the destruction by fire of the great Library of Alexandria. It is reported that the rationale for this crime went thus: books that are in agreement with Islam were superfluous, those that disagreed with religion were blasphemous, therefore, no matter what, they should be destroyed. When French general Napoleon Bonaparte blew up the nose of the Sphinx built by my people, when Ansar Dine seeks to set fire to precious manuscripts in Timbuktu or when Boko Haram assassinates scholars and rejects learning for which the Holy Prophet [SAW] says all are to seek “even unto China”, they draw back to the example of Amr al-As and the burning of Africa’s great library at Alexandria. In the same Egypt, the building of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960’s saw the flooding of precious Nubian monuments and artefacts of great value to Africanist studies for an engineering purpose that has in fact led to huge environmental issues. Why this destruction of the artefacts of my heritage, I ask, can someone explain why? And of course, there is the issue of the Arab slave trade which went on for centuries and saw the loss of millions of African lives conducted by Arab middlemen. These issues need to be overcome by dialogue and concrete action based on a need for closure in building this bridge of ours, if this bridge is to be strong and sturdy.

There will be many bridges to Africa, and it is important that Arabic be one of these. I have come all the way here to Abu Dhabi from Abuja, Nigeria, to say there is a lot that has joined us together in the past and a lot more we can learn from each other. I have brought up the example of my fellow African Muhammad al-Kishnawi, and of my sister Fatima Barnawi. I have started my talk with greetings from one king to another seven hundred years ago. I have talked about African seats of learning—Timbuktu and Zaria and Alexandria—where bridges have existed. We have talked a bit about violent extremism. It remains, in closing, to speak about the practical challenges to this Arabic bridge that we wish to build. For me, as a publisher, it is the twin problem of Translation and Distribution. Translation of the works of talented African writers like Nigeria’s Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Kenya’s Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Uganda’s Nansubuga Makumbi and their peers to Arabic is immensely expensive and indeed prohibitive and it halts our desire to make these books available to you just as it also makes our desire to read your books near impossible. A lot of publishers, for example my Algerian friend Hassane Bennamane of Dar el-Oumma, Mohammed El-Baaly’s Egyptian Sefsefa publishing house and of course, Marwan, son of the late Mahmoud Adwan who continues to run his father’s Syrian publishing legacy, are doing a great job in publishing new writing in Arabic. I would love to read these books in translation. Perhaps the apparatchiks of Arab culture gathered here would like to discuss a Translations Bureau which will be the blocks with which we build our bridge? I pledge my support and participation. And if such a service exists, I would like to know about it. Yet Translation is but one half of the problem. A serious-minded roundtable might be necessary between Arab and African publishers, perhaps on the sidelines of a book fair, so we can come up with agreements to distribute each other’s books in our countries. My company, Parresia Publishers Ltd, as well as Cassava Republic and Farafina Press in Nigeria, as well as other African publishing houses like Rwanda’s Huza Press, Uganda’s BN Poetry Foundation, Keyna’s Kwani? are interested in sharing literature across borders. The purpose of words is to break down borders, after all. A lot is being done already to bridge the gap using Arabic. I belong to the Jalada Writers Collective based in Nairobi, Kenya and our latest anthology, the Translations Issue, features an Arabic translation of a story, Ituĩka Rĩa Mũrũngarũ, written originally in Kikuyu by distinguished Professor Ngugi wa Thiongo. The translation was made by Nazar Mubarak al Emam, a Sudanese translator who lives in this very city of Abu Dhabi, and was edited by Adil Babikir, also a Sudanese copywriter based here in the UAE. And, just a few months ago, I am proud to say that an older friend of mine and senior academic, Professor Ibrahim Malumfashi, translated al-kitab ‘alf layla wa-layla to Hausa as Dare Dubu da Daya, employing the Roman script. Perhaps in future an Arab translator will undertake the translation of the classic Hausa texts—Abubakar Imam’s Magana Jari Ce and Ruwan Bagaja as well as John Tafida’s Jiki Magayi—to Arabic?

We, Africans, recognize the importance and potentials of Arabic and have indeed started building the bridge already from our end of the pond. But for this bridge to be completed, it is necessary for our brothers and sisters in the Arab world to also reach out across the pond of identity and history and politics with understanding and mutual respect and start building from their end of the pond. Then we can meet in the middle and shake hands and say; “My brother! My sister!” It is my hope that this bridge will be built by us, the young people of Africa and Arabia, in my lifetime.

I thank you all for listening to me. I thank, once again, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, under whose patronage this book fair is holding. Thank you very much. Shukhran.


Richard Ali (@richardalijos) is a Nigerian novelist, poet and lawyer. He has participated in various writing workshops across the continent and in 2012, he co-founded Parresia Publishers Ltd, which went on to publish great African voices including Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and Helon Habila. He was former Editor of Sardauna Magazine and of the Sentinel Nigeria Magazine. He currently serves on the EXCO of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) and on the Board of the Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation. He is a member of the Jalada Writers Collective.

“Sermon on the Mount of Enugu” by Femi Morgan

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Sermon on the Mount of Enugu

Where a man apes Mbaka
Curses the mankind of Lagos
Troubles the air
Of the street
And tells a story of Satan
In form of landlords.

The apparitions of greatness
Start with daring all to come
See his face
The other tongue is Igbo
A divine ‘otherness’
The mount is his mouth
His holiness is his Enugu accent
The sermon is about repentance

of the Biafrian war.

II

Jesus wept
The war of expletives rages
Before the ride out, before the muezzin, before the cock coughs.

The sun wakes to the hoopla
Of the day
No rest to the powerful.

When you live upstairs
you’re a beautiful Calabar woman
Married to a Yoruba man.

Out of the way of the sun
And the sermon stirs the preacher
For tomorrow
For a nostalgia narrative.

The morning births the blues of celestial churches
The hip hop of Pentecostal fervour
And the symphony of Catholic Mass.

A ‘perfect’ sermon seeks to be bland
Without a taste of rooted townships
But it cannot be

Jesus speaks in local proverbs
And waxes postcolonial
Jesus takes a stand with James Ngugi.


Prayers of the Road

The Prayer
In transit
Preachment like placenta
Disturbing the peace
English breaks a leg
As it glides in the fervour
Of song and prayer
With the interjections of the grinding tyres.

The bus is a stage
Reverse-proscenium
And we are the harangued audience
Members discovered by entrance
Names unknown
Fellowship dead
Brotherhood of fear.

III

Companion
In compact moving box
Waging the war of gallops manoeuvring the crossroads
Of yesterday’s feast
Reddish fear of prayers
Of the experience of Benin Ore Road
Washed by the amen rains.

III

Loneliness
Of a powerbike
In a rain.


Femi Morgan is the curator of Artmosphere, a leading Arts and Culture event in Nigeria and a co-publisher at WriteHouse Collective. He is a co-recipient of the 234Next Fashion Copy Prize and was longlisted for the BN Poetry Prize in 2015.

Credits: Bonus Edition, Jalada 04: The Language Issue

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Managing Editor: Moses Kilolo

Deputy Editor: Novuyo Tshuma

Editors: Ndinda Kioko, Kate Hampton, Anne Moraa, Richard Ali, Linda Musita, Edwige Dro

Poetry Editors: Clifton Gachagua, Kiprop Kimutai, Alexander Ikawah

Photography, Cover Art and Design: Marziya Mohammedali.

The Language Issue was first published in September, 15th 2015
The Bonus Edition published May, 25th 2016
ISSN 2413-0524

© Jalada Africa Trust, 2016
P.O. Box 45140
Nairobi 00100
Kenya.
letters@jalada.org

Copyright © 2015 by Jalada Africa.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, reprinted, or reposted elsewhere without the prior permission in writing of Jalada Africa. For enquiries concerning reproduction of selections from this anthology, write to jaladatranslations@gmail.com.

Creative Commons License
Bonus Edition, Jalada 04: The Language Issue by Jalada Africa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://jalada.org/.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://jalada.org/about/.


Note: In light of the recent revelations made by The Missing Slate of a series of plagiarised poems by Redscar McOdindo K’Ouyga, with whom Jalada is associated via publication, we would like to issue a statement of solidarity with the affected practitioners whose work was plagiarised. Jalada tolerates a zero policy of plagiarism and adheres to a code of ethics of originality, citation and goodwill with regards to artistic production and dissemination. Seeing as this is not just an isolated instance but a case of serial plagiarism, and pending further investigation, we have pulled down Redscar McOdindo K’Oyuga’s poems published by Jalada in our AfroFutures and Language Issues.


“Lingua Franca: From Nigerian Pidgin to Naija Languej” by Eriata Oribhabor

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Nigerian pidgin is the most popular form of communication in use in Nigeria by Nigerians irrespective of tribal or religious affiliation as well as by non-Nigerians who, by reason of long stay in the country or sheer determination to learn it for ease of communication with Nigerians for business and pleasure. Its origins lie in the Niger Delta areas (Warri, Sapele, Port-Harcourt etc) where it has effectively creolized. Early contact with European merchants in the aforementioned areas saw squabbles with the locals over communicating in a strange language (English particularly, European languages generally), which was not unexpected. In the local’s bid to make even for the purpose of trade and communication, what became Nigerian pidgin was born.

The nomenclature called Nigerian Pidgin was preceded by different nomenclatures such as “Broken English”, “Gutter language’’, and even ‘‘Rotten English’’ which was made popular by the late Ken Saro Wiwa (Sozaboy: A Novel In Rotten English, Saro Press), and more. These terms were derogatory for reasons not farfetched; Nigerian pidgin was largely associated, originally, with the lowly classed people, house helps, maids and the like. Yet, over time, it gained currency as many began to have formal access to the Queen’s language even with limited capacity to speak it. As an English-based pidgin, what is now known as Nigerian Pidgin is a combination of transmogrified words from both the English language and words from indigenous Nigerian languages. Considering the multi-ethnic composition of Nigeria, with more than five hundred ethnic groups, Nigerian Pidgin is continually enriched with input from these groups. As Nigerians continually travel and interact for business and pleasure, Nigerian pidgin continues to be the language of choice for millions in the country. What was once dubbed “broken English”, “rotten English” and “gutter language” is now openly spoken by the who-is-who in Nigerian society, with political leaders launching and prosecuting electoral campaigns with Nigerian pidgin. Today, we have all Nigerian pidgin radio and television stations like WAZOBIA and WAP TV respectively and there is hardly any sports programme on radio and television that is not presented in pidgin. While the use of Nigerian pidgin in the media has made it even more appealing, Nigerian comedians have gone further and made it outright unfashionable to use “correct” English in delivering jokes.

Notwithstanding, Nigerian pidgin suffers the lack of standardization for literary usage. On this score, coupled with the fact that it is still being regarded as an unofficial means of communication in the country, the overwhelming need for standardization was addressed at the first Conference on Nigerian Pidgin organized by IFRA-Nigeria, an organization which promotes research in the social sciences and the humanities in Nigeria, from the 9th to 11th June, 2009 at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Amongst others positions, the conference agreed on a name for the expected standardized Nigerian pidgin (backed by an ortography) to guide a harmonized writing system for literary works in the language. Secondly, and importantly, it was reached that a new name should be given to the language, in order to upgrade from a pidgin to a language proper; thus NAIJA LANGUEJ. Thirdly, all paper presenters at the first conference were made pioneer members of a NAIJA LANGUEJ AKEDEMI (NLA) to work towards realizing the complete repositioning of the Naija languej in the scheme of things.

A year after the conference, a meeting of stakeholders was held to address various aspects of Naija languej, towards having a reference volume published by Naija Languej Akedemi. The stakeholders included Professors E. Egbokhare and Rose Aziza (Phonetics & Phonology), Dr. M. Mowarin and others.

As a person born and bred in Warri, Nigeria (widely acclaimed home of Nigerian pidgin), I first came in contact with and learnt Nigerian pidgin before I learned my native Esan (Edo State). The Conference on Nigerian pidgin was, for me, the realization of the first step to my dream of seeing the official recognition of pidgin as a metamorphosed Naija Languej. Having presented a paper at the conference, entitled “The Use of Pidgin in the Media, Arts and Entertainment in Nigeria”, I have carefully monitored the progressive popularity of pidgin and contributed in several ways to the highly sought after corpus of Naija Languej, including my Abuja Na Kpangba and oda Puem Dem (poetry collection, 2011), If Yu Hie Se A De Prizin (poetry anthology which I edited in 2012) and Amebo Yad (also an anthology I edited in 2013). On social media, particularly Facebook, I have promoted Naija languej via pages and groups— Naija languej Promoter, Eriata Oribhabor (author), OL FO NAIJA and Rait for Naija languej respectively.

The biggest challenge facing promoters of Naija Languej is the provision of a reference materials and guides for the use of those interested in the language, scholars and speakers alike. Nigerian Pidgin is generally known as Nigeria’s unofficial lingua franca but with the coming of a standardized Naija languej, the Federal government would have no reason holding back an official seal on a language that is the soul and spirit of an irrepressible people, uniting them on all fronts.


Eriata Oribhabor is a poet and frontline promoter of Naija languej. He started off writing poetry in the indigenous Nigerian Pidgin currently being standardized as Naija languej. Writing in the languej, he authored; “Abuja na kpangba and Oda puem-dem (2011), edited, “IF YU HIE SE A DE PRIZIN” (poems) and “AMEBO YAD” (collection of plays). A former chairman, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Abuja Branch, Eriata Oribhabor is the author of two poetry collections; “Beautiful Poisons” and “CROSSROADS & THE RUBICON”. He is the Editor, WUSHAPA – Beating the Drums of Peace, Who Shall I Make My Wife (collection of Food related poems), and a passionate lover of the streets where he once hawked various items in Warri, Nigeria; his place of birth.

“These languejs of ours” by Wanjeri Gakuru

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How far?

That phrase made me fall in love with pidgin right there in the backseat of a taxi in sweltering Lagos as I listened to an exchange between the cabbie and a mallam, a security guard.

I’d heard it before but it wasn’t until then that I realized the power in reassigning meaning. It called to mind radical feminist and writer, Audre Lorde’s belief that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. Here was a challenge. Here was, in fact, a clever subversion of the Queen’s English.

Nigeria, like many other West African nations, managed to mutate what would become a bitter and crucial component of colonial rule to create a veritable new language. Remoulding the language until it rolled off their tongues to their taste.

How far? means hallo/ how are you?

And it’s just one of many examples within Nigerian pidgin, a dialect now eager to be recognized as a creole having standardized into Naija Languej. Continuing in this examination of Lorde’s statement, I’m reminded of how the Nandi—a Kenyan community that fought back the British as early as 1895—took to stealing building materials to make weapons and ornaments. Imagine that. Telegraph wires become silenced, impotent coils adorning a fierce Nandi woman’s neck, steel cables fashioned into whips.

But why is it that my mind lit up when I heard those two men speak? After all, Sheng ostensibly performs the same function for Kenyans. Practically as old as Nairobi itself, it is an urban patois borne out of English, Swahili and local languages. At once a discrete and secret language that prevents outsiders from understanding the users’ conversations and a vehicle for documenting urban experience and culture.

The truth is, even though I already signpost my resistance to the more insidious aspects of Western culture by sporting natural hair and going by my Kikuyu names, I cannot speak Sheng convincingly. Worse, my spoken Swahili is ok but shaky while my Kikuyu is a one-way street, I can comprehend it but my cadence is off.

Perhaps in that moment in the taxi, pidgin appealed to me because it unapologetically crushed that last stubborn kernel of colonization within me, the ability to speak good English.

Let’s face it, Kenyans are desirous of the prestige that comes from having a polished accent. We use it to get ahead, to survive, to mark ourselves as better, superior. A sizable percentage of my generation didn’t experience the dreaded monto or monitor because we went to school in urban areas. Our parents spoke with dread of a stinking jaw bone, stick or plaque hung around the neck or carried in hand that marked the possessor as inept at speaking English.

Instead middle-class children from the 80s onwards were delivered into an education system that subtly cultivated a disdain for speaking our indigenous languages or bearing the effects of mother tongue interference (read: shrubbing). The monto lessons seeped into the psyche of many parents and they willed to shape their children into proper, English-speaking tots. Mukoma wa Ngugi in his essay, “Writing in African Languages: A question for our times” wrote of struggling to master the sentence the red lorry went round the red bend in his youth. What he describes is the ridicule that befell anyone marked as a shrubber.

It would seem education skewed towards uplifting the White Man’s languages was the case for the non-Caucasian child globally. In Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson’s 1933 book, “The Mis-education of the Negro” he observes that:

“In the study of language in school pupils were made to scoff at the Negro dialect as some peculiar possession of the Negro which they should despise rather than directed to study the background of this language as a broken-down African tongue—in short to understand their own linguistic history, which is certainly more important for them than the study of French Phonetics or Historical Spanish Grammar. To the African language as such no attention was given except in case of the preparation of traders, missionaries and public functionaries to exploit the natives.”

The result of a mis-education of any class of black people is that shame wends its way into their cultural productions. Their work starts to reflect this new value system. For instance, of the most prominent Kenyan radio stations seems to only employ presenters with (real or manufactured) American and British accents—TV stations are just as guilty: far too few Kenyan shows develop storylines that are close to our authentic lived experiences and outside the bible, very little literature in published in local languages.

English has become the socio-economic marker in the shows relayed onscreen. Those with sheng, Swahili or local-language speakers are imagined to appeal to the lower class or people from Coastal Kenya who we’ve othered so much we don’t know how to classify. In his essay “sucking stones”, Keguro Macharia speaks of that inability for the middle class to identify with these characters: “And those who sounded like us on Kenyan television, on shows like Vioja Mahakamani and Vitimbi, didn’t inhabit the lives to which we were told to aspire.

And that’s exactly it. Religion, colonization and education all served to reinforce the idea that what was good for us did not exist locally. The land of opportunity stopped being Kenya a long time ago. Whether gathered at an airport waving bay or before a TV screen playing a foreign show, what we wanted and what defined us was out there.

There has been some obvious pushback. There are Swahili and vernacular TV and radio stations with Ghetto Radio even offering news in sheng. Sites such as Sheng Nation run online dictionaries that track and demystify new and old phrases. Nairobi’s spoken word scene is inundated by poets crafting lyrics dripping with slang. Musicians from every genre have ruled the airwaves with non-English songs. Thankfully, it isn’t strange any more to see a new product launched in the market with a name or slogan in sheng.

We need more though, more authentic work in print, radio and onscreen. We need to reclaim our heritage, embody that spirit of resistance, and find ways to create our modern-day ornaments and whips. It is time we allowed the full expression of ourselves and take the invitation to explore something else, something wholly our own, things only our local languages and sheng and pidgin and patois can offer.


Wanjeri Gakuru is a creative writer and freelance magazine journalist living and working in Nairobi. She is an alumna of the 2014 Farafina Creative Writing Workshop and a member of pan-African writers’ collective, Jalada. Her fiction has been published in peer-review journal, JENDa with Jalada:01 entry, “Transaction” featured in a sex-focused exhibition in Johannesburg’s Stevenson Gallery. Other writing has appeared in True Africa, The Africa Report, Brainstorm and LA Times Magazine. Wanjeri’s profile of Afroelectropop Music/Art Collective, Just A Band was published in “Just A Book”, part of Goethe-Institut’s Contact Zones series. Read more at http://www.wanjeri.com

“On Autonomy and Networks: A Response to Ikhide R Ikheloa” by Robert Wood

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If African writers write to ‘the West’, which mostly means the transatlantic official verse culture power of the United States and Europe, non-white writers in Australia face similar issues of language and the politics of publication when writing back to their nation. I want to highlight both the structural similarities of our positions – our shared lack of market share and authorial autonomy – and also propose a utopian way of thinking against calcified power structures that continue to shape us unjustly. In other words, how might we begin to exist together? How might we find a shared language? And why?

Contemporary linguists estimate there were 500 to 700 languages on the continent of Australia when European colonisation ‘began’ in 1788. To be certain, there had been European ‘visitors’ before that year, and there had long been trade between South East Asia’s Macassans and indigenous Yolgnu, among other groups, from the north. But 1788 was a watershed year in how ‘Australians’ learnt to historicise and for what we think of as the modern state. But there is, of course, a pre-history to Australia, one that does not pay as much heed to European interlopers and recent arrivals. That it remains mainly outside the state recognised discourse on identity demonstrates a racism and conservatism that is boneheaded and shameful. There is, for example, no constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, let alone of the rainbow of people who have made their home here subsequently. Australia still thinks of itself as a white nation. As a non-white person, there seems to be very little space in the official conversation, particularly the artistic one, for someone like me. That is to say, the hegemonic artistic conversation does not often encourage such perspectives. This is not altogether a bad thing. But it gives me a perspective that is consonant with Ikheloa ‘s “Of African literature and the language and the politics of the stories” on a construct like ‘the West’, which is not of course to say, ‘I am African’, but that I relate to this Africa.

I personally don’t write with an audience in mind; there is no reader in my imagination other than my future self. But I have stopped sending my work to the literary bureaucratic establishment in Australia, which is my ‘West’. This means newspapers and journals such as Australian Book Review, Meanjin, Overland and others. I am not willing to make aesthetic compromises that would see me succeed on those platforms. This is not to say I don’t publish in journals that are based on the continent Australia, just not national journals. I routinely publish, for example, with Peril, Cordite, Plumwood Mountain and Mascara. But these are sub-cultural for the most part.

Similarly it might not only be about finding the spaces in Africa that can publish work with an aesthetic integrity and autonomy, and, if not enough of them exist, starting them. But it might also mean denying the well-worn paths of publication and circulation that we associate with success. In other words, why bother with ‘the West’ or ‘the world’ when you can write for ‘Africa’ and ‘history’? It may be some other iteration of the local too. We need to de-hegemonise and diversify our notions of these abstract categories. I gave up ‘Australia’ so I could belong to something better, which may or may not be bigger. It is though, to my mind, a more amenable and receptive audience for my artistic sensibility. This better and bigger does not have a name yet, but it does mean publications like Calabash, Jalada, Counterpunch and others. This is essentially utopian, but if you are not a utopian, why write?

Growing up in suburban Perth, in the world’s most isolated city, my introduction to African literature was through Gordimer, Coetzee and Paton, but I soon shifted to Achebe, Okri and Soyinka. All these writers came to me mediated by Western eyes, through the consecrating power of prizes and the conferment of the status of a ‘classic’, with blurbs and marketing jazz. I didn’t know where to look for ‘good’ writing, so I read the things I could get my hands on. African literature had, and has, to me, an official status that was greater than Australia, hence is more appealing – more interesting language choices, greater emotional resonance and power. It also gives me a way to enter into a network that is less ‘the West’. In Perth, there is no snow. Why should I read about places where winter bit so deep? That is not my life, nor is it there to be found in writing from a great many places in Africa. That I wanted to connect through reading about other places was at once an exoticisation, if not a fetish, and a genuine affection.

I had to console myself that I was not of the nation even as I am not not from it. The consolation was in raced thinking – myself as a hybrid and the great sustenance of Tagore and Naipaul from my mother’s people, and a whole host of colourful other characters including the African authors I have mentioned. But this was misguided too in that I simply replaced one abstract collective with another. But as long as it was not-Australia, I was happy. I was to some extent self-loathing. But my history is my own, my intersectionality was isolating – who are my people? It is not that Africa is speaking to me, but that aine from The Famished Road might keep me company for a little while and in that moment I could glimpse or hope there was someone who was with me. I think that is what gives me strength as a writer and a reader. Who are we speaking to? And how? What are these as specific possibilities? These are the questions.

There is merit in the global Souths approach, merit in finding relationships outside the West that takes world literature in an everyday definition seriously. But there are internal Souths, just as there are internal Wests when we speak about nations and places. I would love to have readers in Lagos and Cape Town, not only Texas and Nottingham. But more than that I would love to have an attentive reader, a close reader, an interlocutor whose name I do not yet know and who might be anywhere and find me anyway they can. I am then looking for a connection, and connections are made as much through our identity position be that ‘African’ or ‘Nigerian’ as they are through idiosyncracies.

What combines us, Ikheloa and me, is not our Otherness to the West, but its Otherness from us. We are central to the story. The routes we take, the roots we make, those are always about engaging the possibilities that will make us the best possible versions of our selves. The key might be how can we undertake activity together, and if we can fight productively. We can do so best by writing literary work that is complex, rich, uncompromising. And that is the task for today for those of us who care about ‘Africa’.

This essay was written in response to a “Of African literature and the language and the politics of the stories” by Ikhide R. Ikheloa published in the Language Issue


Robert Wood has had work published in Jacket2 (US), Lunar Poetry (UK), Counterpunch (US), Southerly (Aus.) and many other journals. He is currently Commissioning Editor of Cordite (Aus.) and on the Faculty of the School of Life. You can read more of his work at: http://www.rdwood.org/writing