International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Literary
and Progress in East Africa
Ronald Elly Wanda
history of contemporary political ideas of Africa is a neglected
field in the continent and more so outside of it. As we commence
2009, and near the first decade of what the UN has ambitiously termed
"Africas century", it is important as Africans to
re-examine and discuss our plight in relation to our development.
as a concerned reader and writer places emphasis on none other than
the young African writer, for it is he or she that is likely to stimulate
and catalogue development and historical discourses as per se. This
is because, when it comes to Africa, where African thought has been
studied, expositions of metaphysical systems or discussions of critical
or theoretical thoughts belonging to individual Africans are quite rare.
As a political writer, there are many moments that I can recall where
I have encountered red-tape under the auspices of "editorial policy"
sanctioning me from expressing a certain truth as certain publishers
have feared exposing well-known dictators and other high-profile societal
wrong-doers in Eastern Africa, often citing their own safety concerns.
Concerns which are well-founded.
In East African society today, it is still common place for independent
journalists and writers to receive death threats; face intimidation
and harassment; face arbitrary arrest and detention; be severely beaten
up and or tortured; while media houses risk being raided by state security
agents and their publications and media equipments seized and destroyed
depending on what they publish. More recently, the Monitor and East
African Standard of Kampala and Nairobi respectively have suffered this
fate. On the other hand, public media in the continent still remains
a monopolised government propaganda machinery; New Vision of Uganda,
Kenya Times of Kenya, NewTimes of Rwanda are one such examples of tawdry
For decades the need for analysts to look elsewhere for unofficial
thinking, has been the motivation of newspapers and magazines
such as the Eastern African Magazine or for that matter West Africa
published by Africans for African readers here in the diaspora as well
as those back home in Africa.
While I remain acutely aware of my status as a pan-Africanist in the
diaspora, my role and that of fellow African writers in foreign shores,
so to speak, is to normalize the spirit of promoting positive African
intellectualism, in spite of obvious obstacles at hand. For a start,
we must pester the corrosive big brother culture of gagging
African intellectualism for not only does it suppress the truth but
it also disbands the very apex of political journalism, that of seeking
thy truth and reporting it objectively without fear or intimidation.
In my view, one aspect that has continued playing a strong part against
our development has been our history. Although not motivated by professional
commitment to historical inquiry, nevertheless, I feel impelled to suggest
that the recent past has everything to do with phenomena that are apparent
in East African society today. As young African writers, we therefore
need to engage with the history of contemporary Africa both as a way
of throwing new light on our remote past and as away of understanding
the present. For instance, we played no part at all in the formation
of the so called nation-state. Our boundaries were drawn
up by Europeans who had never even been to Africa disregarding existing
political systems and boundaries. 50 years later, we were given flags
and national anthems, airlines and armies and told we were now "independent".
Five decades afterwards, that independence is now "dependence".
Ever since the British government (the chief predator in East Africa)
bought into the aid agency view of Africa "all Africa needs
is aid" it has reduced its capacity to further understand
the region. Aid with attached conditions is pointless to Africa. According
to a recent study by the University of Massachusetts, there is more
money leaving Africa than is going to Africa as aid. It is estimated
that the capital flight from 40 African countries from 1974 to 2004
stood at $607 billion in 2004 compared to a total $227 billion external
debt owed by those countries. "While the assets are in private
hands, the liabilities are the public debts of African governments",
said the report, also pointing a finger at UK and Switzerland as jurisdictions
likely to enjoy embezzled funds from Africa.
While the EU has only 23 languages in use, Africa has at least 2,000,
and in East Africa alone we have well over 150. So while tribalism is
an issue in our society, it is not some weird atavistic African sentiment
but a logical result of our "imposed history". Most people
Ive met whilst in East Africa speaks at least three languages,
intermarriages are a common thing, and in normal times, there is little
personal conflict between people of different ethnicity, thanks in part
to a resuscitated and enlarged union of East Africa.
In Africa, the concept of the nation-state has failed us, because it
has acted as a cumulative mechanism benefiting certain elites and foreign
agents and not wanainchis (Africans). Naturally it is this reason that
has led wanainchi, especially those in rural areas with little education,
to identify more with their own people, language, culture and society
than they do with the nation-state. Therefore, for me, at the risk of
simplification, the answer lies in regionalisation. Thankfully, the
East African Community is one such work in progress. We ought to laud
this initiative as the first stage of setting ourselves free.
The notion that Africa is post-colonial is hardly satisfactory, not
least because of the continuing reference to the colonial past in this
epithet. Also unsatisfactory is the suggestion from the former South
African president Thambo Mbeki that Africa is now in the age of renaissance
of some sort.
As young African writers of newspapers, magazines, blogs, books etc,
it is our task to construct a history that we can claim is ours, one
that positively identifies the character of Africa in its present age.
After all, history can only make its weight felt on living generations
through mechanisms or expositions of the information that can become
operation. The main task at hand is to inquire into the nature of recent
times diligently and, above all, without the burden of past expectations.
It may then turn out that, for all the terrible events and formidable
problems of recent years, redundant discourses aside; it is an age of
the young African writer to impact.
© Ronald Elly
Wanda February 2009
Ronald Elly Wanda MCIJ is a political scientist based in London.
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