This morning I spent time reading a two part series from ThisIsAfrica.me, a website that does a lot of writing about the identity of Africans. The title of the series written by Rachel Hamada is “We need new stories”.
The main thrust of the series, as I read it, is that there is a need to start reimagining the travel writing game which is sorely lacking in local new voices. Hamada tells us that “Travel writing is a simple yet strange concept. In Western terms (and on Western bookshelves) it has commonly meant middle-aged white men visiting ‘exotic’ or otherwise alluring places and commenting in world-weary tones on the vagaries of the local population or inviting the reader to share a wry laugh at their comical antics.”
The writer references a few people in the first piece including Noo Saro-Wiwa (Looking for Transwonderland) Teju Cole ( Open City) and Binyavanga Wainaina’s (One Day I Will Write About This Place). She chats with Saro Wiwa and Chika Unigwe, two Nigerian authors staying in the UK and US respectively. The piece discusses how travel writing has been perceived in the past as a space where white men dominate the narrative.
The second piece references more folks who have written on this genre both in books and online as they reference Noo Saro-Wiwa (again), Chika Unigwe (again), Wanjeri Gakuru, Emmanuel Iduma and Ayo Akinwolere. In it, Hamada asks these authorities to give tips to those who want to get into the game of travel writing. Seems legit no?
The one thing that I have never understood is this narrative that Noo Saro-Wiwa is THE pioneer in this travel writing genre as Togolese Tété-Michel Kpomassie wrote An African in Greenland in 1981. So I would have assumed that he was THE real pioneer on the continent.
Then there is that discussion about a need for “New Stories.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s just start from this very blog. South African writer Sihle Khumalo has written three excellent books talking about his travels across the continent two of which I have reviewed. They are Dark Continent My Black Arse (2007), Heart of Africa (2011) and Almost Sleeping my way to Timbuktu (2013). These are books where an African moves across the continent on public transport from Cape to Cairo, Cape Town to the source of the Nile, and across largely Francophone West Africa without any French language skills. You would imagine that anyone writing about travel writing in Africa would want to chat with Khumalo right? Nope. We have to cart out the same old names that will allow us to rehash our tired stereotypes as revolutionary new content. It’s easier and no one will know the difference.
Let’s move on to the discussion of using social media and blogs for travel writing. For travel writing in Kenya alone there is a wealth of content producers. As an example, the Bloggers Association of Kenya has annual awards and they have an award dedicated to blogs that travel. Last year’s nominees?
Any of these blogs written by white men? Is there a dearth of travel writing content? You tell me.
What about Nigeria? I don’t know much about travel writing in that space but a search for “Nigeria travel blog” will give you two of the following websites;
All these blogs are doing travel writing and are updated regularly enough to make it to page one of Google. None of them is managed by a white man and they have great content. Do we really need new stories yawa?
My submission is that the content is there. We don’t need new stories. We need journalists who are more willing to research what’s right before them and telling us the truth. Enough with this article that has been written over and over again already. Enough.