Tag Archives: Africa

Africa Reading Challenge 2012


I like the “2012” at the end. Gives it a rather auspicious feel. Like the World Cup or something.  Well, if you’re a book lover like myself, you’ll agree that this is sort of an event.

First though, let’s get a confession out of the way: I have never really done a reading challenge before, besides the Orange January/July (which requires you to read one book by a previous Orange prize winner). I’m really hoping the ARC won’t fall victim to my commitment issues.

That said, I’m really excited about this! The guidelines for the ARC are over on kinnareads’ blog, but I’ll just re-state them here for your ease:

You have to read at least 5 books – about Africa, obviously; preferably written by African authors.

The genre is up to you: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, children’s books…

Reviews are not necessary, but if you have a blog, they’d be welcome! And if you’re from the APWIC group, feel free to briefly review or update me/us on your reads over on that page!

I have tweaked some of the rules for myself. I will do one book from each region of Africa. I decided to do this because I realize that I tend to favour the West Africans over others. This way, I can finally pick up some North African writers – suggestions, please?

Also, I have chosen younger authors, because as much as I adore Achebe, wa Thiong’o and the other heavyweights, I’d like to see what the young’uns are bringing.

Without further ado, my picks:

East Africa – One day I will write about this place by Binyavanga Wainaina

West Africa – Open City by Teju Cole

Southern Africa – Coconut by Kopano Matlwa

Central Africa – African Psycho by Alain Mabanckou

North Africa – ?? [suggestions, s’il vous plait?]

That’s it from me for now.  Good luck with your picks and looking forward to great discussions and recommendations around Africa’s literature!


This Is Proudly African


In the space of two days, thousands of Africans have risen up and made their voices heard. In Dakar, Senegal, crowds successfully protested against President Wade’s proposal to amend the constitution to create a monarchy.

In the tiny kingdom of Swaziland, a “fundraising” concert which was supposed to be given by Jadakiss for the royal family was boycotted. Not surprising given the fact that pretty much all the revenue in Swaziland goes to supporting the king’s outrageous lifestyle.

Buoyed by this impressive show of solidarity, I embarked on a Googling frenzy. Here’s links to a couple of inspiring stories I found:

In Malawi, an ambitious project is underway to turn the country’s oldest ship into a floating clinic. This is going to save a lot of lives and wages for the 25% population who live along Lake Malawi and currently have to make a 16-hour trip to get to the nearest hospital. They are giving the clinic the unfortunate name Chauncy Maples, but that’s nitpicking.

The Sierra Leone Refugee AllStars are a group of musicians who came together during their years living in a refugee camp in Guinea. Out of two old guitars, a microphone and a shared love of music, their powerful sound was born. They’ve done world tours, put out two albums and appeared on Oprah. They also feature on a cover of the Rolling Stone classic Gimme Shelter as part of the Playing for Change campaign and World Refugee Day. Tragedy to triumph, non?

You’re in hell… but America will save you!


This short post is a largely-unresearched (as yet) kneejerk reaction to Foreign Policy’s 2011 list of the world’s failed states.

In a photo essay titled Postcards from Hell, journalist Elizabeth Dickinson portrays heart-tugging scenes from Iraq, Iran, Haiti, parts of Asia and (surprise!) much of sub-Saharan Africa – all of which have made FP’s list of failed states. How did these 60 countries get chosen? Well, the folks at FP chose from “130,000 publicly available sources… 12 indicators including refugee flows, poverty, public services, security threats”.

According to wiki, the Fund for Peace (which ironically sponsored FP’S little show-and-tell) describes a failed state as one which has:

  • lost control of its territory
  • erosion of legitimate authority to make decisions
  • inability to provide public services
  • inability to interact fully with other members of the international community

On these criteria, can we rank Liberia as a failed state? Nigeria? Kenya? How about Uganda? Iran? Bhutan?

Now, I am not condoning abuse of human rights or grave failures to provide public services by governments.The situations of Somalia and Haiti can certainly not be overstated.

It just seems to me that this American finger-wagging was a result of some biased research. The superlative-filled captions that go along with these pictures are just-so to portray exactly what I think the FP is trying to say : If your brand of government is not modelled after the US, if you’re a Jihad-preaching crazy Ay-rab muslim, we’re gonna put you on the list.

If I took pictures of SouthEast DC or the Bronx and slapped some shocking (but true) stats on the US’ immigration policies or incarceration rates, you might think The Mighty Nation was a failed state too.

Just Like You


there’s no turning around

You sat on your bed, hearing old springs creak loudly in the silence. And you took in the emptiness of the large cold room, the full realisation of it washing over you. You were away from home for the first time in your life. Eighteen years old and eager to grow up. The view outside was beautiful, a grand mountain range spreading large motherly arms around the city, as far as the eye could see. You sighed. It was meant to be a sigh of contentment, but all that came out was a nervous rushing of air. Loud in the silence. You moved away from the window, embarrassed, even though you were alone in the room. You couldn’t even express your emotions right – how would you survive here? How would you cook your food, forge friendships, make everyone at home proud of their decision to send you so far away to get a good education? You sighed again – this time more convincingly – picked up your bags and started the long lonely process of unpacking them.

I’m too far from home

You’re out of breath from running to catch the train. Two years later and you can never seem to make it out of bed on time. A rotund black woman with equally round eyeglasses stamps a ticket and hands it to you. Is that a smile or a snarl? You step onto  the train, locating your usual place, third row on the left. Slumping in your seat, you fish a book out of your bag, wondering for the hundredth time if you will ever get used to the acrid smell of urine, sweat and fish that pervades the cabin. Still,  the third window is one of the two which opens just a crack, offering relief once the train starts moving.

You open the book – glad for the only moment of the day when you can retreat into a world of fiction. You don’t notice the four men – boys, really – who step onto the train in a single file. They are quiet, talking amongst themselves in soft clicks and hushed exclamations. In a moment, the clicking stops. The train is quiet. Too quiet.  You look up from the book and turn to where the four boys are standing around one of the passengers. You crane your neck to find the familiar face of a tall gangly man in a shabby suit. You both take this train three days a week – you, out of breath from running, and clutching a totebag of schoolbooks and laptop. He, in the same clean but threadbare jacket, holding an equally wellworn briefcase of notes in one hand.The first time you meet, you smile reserved smiles at each other.

The clicking begins again, loud this time. You see the man in a suit look up at the boys in confusion. His eyes register a slight defiance, retreating steadily in fear as the boys’ questions take on a harsh tone.

Usukaphi? Where are you from, you later find out.

Usukaphi? Louder.

Two brows furrowed in confusion. Eight brows stare back menacingly.

Ndibonise iI.D. yakho? This you can make out. And a cold realisation sets in – these boys are part of it. A wave of xenophobic attacks you have been reading about in the paper for almost a week now. Makeshift homes razed to  the ground, immigrants barely making it out alive as they grabbed any of their few possessions to seek refuge in churches and community halls.

The man in a suit is a foreigner. Just like you.

In May 2008, a series of riots started in a township in Johannesburg, when locals attacked migrants from Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, killing 2 people and injuring 40 others. The violence spread in the following weeks to Gauteng and then to the coastal cities of Durban and Cape Town. In a month, 62 were left dead, 21 of whom were South African citizens. Reports showed that local leaders orchestrated the violence in many of these areas.

Africa’s new stories


Few things give me greater joy than reading and talking about African literature. So I had a big fat smile on my face when I opened this week’s East African to find a full-page article on the current direction of African writing. The East African rocks. I hope our local dailies are listening.

Aside: did I just describe a newspaper as rocking? I need a new hobby.

The writer of this article, a Kenyan, doesn’t particularly address anything novel.

Yes, our continent’s new writers are increasingly being given voice by Western publishers – Adichie’s writing comes out of US publishing houses, and even Achebe happily set up camp at Brown University.

Yes, African readers often tend to discover their own talent ironically after said talent is honored with a Western literary prize – the Caine, the Booker, the Orange Prize and so on. I’m not saying our writers don’t deserve international acclaim, but what does it say about our continent’s reading culture that we don’t know who Olufemi Terry is until he wins the Caine Prize?

And yes – whether as a direct result of these factors or not – African writers hoping to be discovered are adopting a more ‘global’ language; beyond war, famine and the ills of colonialism to dates in coffee houses, interracial romance and new technology.

What I loved most about this article was the writer’s acknowledgment of our continent’s vast young talent. In Uganda at least, Achebe, Soyinka, wa Thiong’o; these men are still mandatory reading on any student’s list. And rightly so. The stories of our past are fiercely important and there’s no denying that our “all-time greats” have greatly influenced our young writers’ voices (a la Achebe and Adichie).

I’m just waiting for the day when Adichie and Baingana will be taught alongside the greats. Their stories are Africa now – the Africa that studies abroad and returns mind and heart full of cultural confusion, if they return at all; the Africa that is struggling to find a voice and place among a rapidly-evolving technological playing field; the Africa that has to worry about civil war, about HIV/AIDS, about homosexuality.

The writer was good enough to share a list of his personal 25 favorite authors out of Africa. Before I share a short personal favorites list, I must admit to suffering from the indecision that plagued wa Thiong’o about what or who exactly is an ‘African’ author; to being limited to the Anglophones only; and to being kind of a rookie at this 🙂

  1. Chimamanda Adichie (all 3 books so far)
  2. Doreen Baingana (Tropical Fish)
  3. Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Decolonising the Mind)
  4. Achebe (Anthills of the Savannah; No Longer at Ease)
  5. Ayi Kwei Armah (The Beautyful Ones are not yet Born)
  6. Segun Afolabi (A Life Elsewhere)
  7. Monica Arac de Nyeko (Jambula Tree; Strange Fruit)
  8. Naguib Mahfouz (The Cairo Trilogy)
  9. Wole Soyinka (the Brother Jero plays; The Man Died)
  10. Ben Okri (The Famished Road)

I’d like to know your thoughts on African literature as you’ve come to know it, and which writers make your favorites list!

Update: Naija’s new chapter of literary history, CNN

What else is showing


When you are all finished beating the evening traffic into Garden City, queuing for ages to get a half-price ticket (naye, is it just me or is the Cineplex ticket booth increasingly incompetent? Really all they have to do is take your money and hand you a slip of paper!), squeezing past the millions of other di Caprio fans and sitting down to the ridiculously intense knock-your-socks-off crazy-sick 2 hour mind orgasm that is Inception (but fuck that ending. Me I’ve refused) ….

….when you’re done with that, please get another ticket (it’s half-price, don’t be cheap) to see The Silent Army. You probably won’t thank me after — I have no high praise for it myself. It is another case of African movie, white protagonist and doesn’t manage to let go of the usual stereotypes. Modelled closely on our own LRA war, it is set in a fictitious African country in which a rebel group is leading an insurgency, it follows a Dutch cook who goes looking for his son’s best friend Abu – a young African boy who has been abducted by the rebels.

It highlights the evil brainwashing involved in child abduction and induction into rebel (or any other) armies, the hypocrisy of Western-funded African conflicts and all those other lovely things that go with war on the continent.

I’m asking you to see this film because you will enjoy Abby Mukiibi’s turn as General Obeke, the depraved rebel leader; Sam Okello’s brief but evocative role as Abu’s wheelchair-bound father and of course Abu’s (Andrew Kintu) performance as a war-hardened child soldier.

See this film because you will probably walk out feeling quite proud of these 3 Ugandan actors.



While we here were celebrating Heroes Day, our friends in South Africa were blowing those obnoxiously loud horns in the streets of Jozi in honour of Vuvuzela Day. With just hours to go before the kick-off match between SA and Mexico, I can only imagine the excitement over there.

I was in Cape Town when SA took  the last World Cup Rugby title, and if that pandemonium (people streaking on rooftops, complete strangers doing silly dances in the streets) is anything to go by, World Cup celebrations this year are going to be huge.

There was some derision when the country used the benevolent wrinkly face of iconic statesman Mandela to win the bid as hosts of this year’s FIFA. There was doubt that the stadia would be built in time; or that the (numerous) muggers and hobos would be cleaned off the streets before foreigners saw the truth.  There was also the xenophobia scares. And there was outrage when FIFA chose a non-African Shakira ripping off an African song whose words she can barely pronounce to sing their official song.

But we’re past all that now. The moment is here.

I’ve got my vuvuzela and K’Naan on repeat and even though Drogba and Essien might not play, I’ll still be watching and yelling and making a fool of myself. Because more than the songs and politics, it’s about the game, the actual tournament. My lovely boss is letting us off early enough to watch the South Africa-Mexico game tomorrow at 5 😀 Woohoo!! Go Msanzi!!!

join the madness!