The Swahili Literary Festival 2019 opened at the Swahilipot Hub, Mombasa on March 1, 2019. The opening ceremony highlight was the keynote address by Prof Rocha Chimera.
The opening evening of the inaugural Swahili Literary Festival started with a keynote address by Prof Rocha Chimera where he would trace the past the present and the future of Swahili literature. The keynote was preceded by a panel featuring SwahiliPot Hub Chairman Mahmoud Noor, Dr Rukiyah Harith a lecturer at the Kiswahili Department at the Pwani University, mshairi (poet) Mama Amira Msellem, Prof Mohamed Khalil and, radio personality and published poet Alamin Somo. The evening was overseen by emcee Nima N’zani Kassim.
The evening started with a welcome from Mahmoud Noor a telecommunications expert who is also the chairman of the SwahiliPot Hub that was hosting us. The SwahiliPot Hub we were to learn, is an incubator in the mold of the Ihub or the Nailab that people in Nairobi might be familiar with. Unlike in the capital city, the SwahiliPot Hub opted to incorporate not just tech but the arts in its programs. There were also remarks given by the other panellists to welcome us to this festival.
The highlight of this session was the address by a barefoot Prof Rocha Chimera with an extensive introduction by our emcee. The gentleman is one of the most accomplished in the world of Swahili literature today. As an academic, the former Professor of Swahili and former chair of the Department of Languages and Linguistics at Egerton University is now the Dean, School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Pwani University. His work includes Ufundishaji wa Fasihi: Nadharia na Mbinu which won the Noma Award in 2000 as well as the trilogy Siri Sirini (get book 1, book 2 and book 3). The keynote and the following question and answer session was conducted in Kiswahili.
He spent a huge part of the lecture shedding a light on the people who have done a lot of work in producing Swahili literature in poetry, prose and other forms. They included Fumu Liongo, Sayyid Abdalla Bin Ali Bin Nasir who’s poem Al-Inkishafi a British academic compared to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Mwana Kupona the author of the poem Utendi wa Mwana Kupona, the prolific poet Muyaka Bin Hajj comparable to William Shakespeare for his ability to coin new words, and Alamin Mazrui famous for Kilio Cha Haki.
He felt that those in the past and those who were in the now had produced enough of a body of work to drive the genre forward. The don urged the audience not to leave the university to decide the future of the form but to take an active role in its production. You can listen to the keynote in full below;