Saturday in Kampala, Uganda saw the African writing community in the form of Writivism Festival 2015 converging at the city’s National Theatre for a series of activites.
The keynote address in the evening was given by Ugandan poet, fiction writer, scholar and columnist John Nagenda. Nagenda is also a senior media advisor to President Yoweri Museveni. He was to be in conversation with Daniel Kalinaki a former managing editor with The Monitor and writer of Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution. This book is biography of a political rival to the President Museveni who ran against him in the last election. The two would be introduced byBusingye Kabumba. The address was to be on What is the place of the writer in politics?
It was a bit of a rambling speech moving back and forth from his days attending the famousAfrican Writing Conference hosted at Makerere Universityin 1962 that we keep talking about in this business of ours. (Sidebar: Some one seriously needs to write a book followed by a movie about that period in our time seriously.)
There is hell of a lot that happened in that conference. Here we see the death of Negritude being espoused by French African writers led by Léopold Senghor and Aimé Césaire at the hands of Wole Soyinka. That can’t have been a very serious movement if one phrase, “Does a tiger feel its tigritude?” would see its death. At the end of it all he explains that while some were very keen to allow their work to be used as part of the struggle, he reckons that whatever folks might say about him he is still here. I have a feeling, not following Ugandan politics as keenly as I should, that this gentleman isn’t a hugely popular fellow. He also explained that he too has taken part in the struggle by placing full page adverts with skulls warning about the return of war in his country while Obote II was looming.
The discussion with Kalinaki was quite heated with the former newspaper man telling us of his shock on learning that the older man had a heart when he had surgery recently. Then it was a back and forth between the two that if it was here, would have caused newspaper headlines and a Twitter meltdown. Fortunately for all involved it was at the safe space that was Writivism. It was lucky for us that Nagenda, who has a blog http://www.onemansweek.com/, opted to join us instead of his preferred offering on a Saturday; cricket between New Zealand and England.
The other days events were just as illuminating. Students performed dance, music, drama inspired by the prose of Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. I loved it. My favourite were the kids from St Kizito SS (Secondary School?)Bugolobi did those interpretative work that brought to mind the videos that would have made Daft Punk proud.
The master classes included poetry facilitated byDami Ajayi and Chijoke Amu-nnadiand editing facilitated by Sara Bruya who is also the managing editor of Transition Magazine. The new Transition please note.
Panels were my favourite parts of this festival which were the richest thing on offer. One of the best wasBreaking down the Francophone and Anglophone walls discussed by Edwige Dro and Ndinda Kioko. They were moderated by the Aaron Badywho is to African literature what Jeff Chang is to American Hip Hop. (If I must explain, Chang is an Asian American who is an authority on Hip Hop a very African American genre, Bady is an White American who bills himself as an authority on Black African literature. The difference is that the former has a book to prove his claim). There discussion was illuminating with Edwige Dro carrying it with her explanations of West Africa and just how disjointed that part of the country is compared to what I had initially thought. Even French West Africa is disjointed. The Cote D’Ivoire translator and Africa 39er was at her finest as she told us how we want to break down the walls. Kioko who is an Africa 39er and Miles Morland scholar spoke about about the need to work together with Jalada Africa which a collective she is a part of in mind.
Eventually we went to the bare bones of the issue. We aren’t distributing in whatever language we speak in. That needs to change one country at a time. Also Edwige suggested that she is working on possibly having a literary festival in Cote D’Ivoire in 2016; we’ll keep you posted.
Another great panel was the Nigerian Literature Conversation featuring Saddiq Dzukogi, Michael Afenfia and Onyeka Nwelue. The three Nigerians have written in threegenres; Dzukogi is a poet, Afenfia has a new sports fiction title Don’t Die On Wednesday and Nwelue has a non fiction book Hip Hop is only for Children. The three were moderated by publisher and writer Richard Ali.
They discussed the trends in literature from African’s biggest nation and it became evident that they have a very developed industry. What I loved is the two schools of thought where book marketing is concerned in Naija. One is represented by the artistic Dzukogi whose main joy as a writer is the actual writing and being published process. The other is represented by Nwelue who believes that the work needs to pay for itself and thus urges aggression where it is concerned. I’m starting to love the latter way of think in recent times. (goes to my social media channels to harass folks to visit JamesMurua.com)
Also of interest was the panel “How do you sell a Fiction book?” featuring self published writers Ciku Kimeria and Jagero Oduor moderated by Ugandan newspaper woman Flora Aduk. In this panel we learnt to be shameless, aggressive, join a community of writers who would promote your work. Also ensure that the product is world class before going to market.
This was also a day of launches.The Crossroads Women Writers Anthology featuring Christopher Conte, Lydia Namubiru, Nakisanze Segawa, Peace Kyamureku, Hilda Twongyeirwe and Sophie Bamwoyeraki was unleashed to the people of the world. Also unleashed was Harriet Anena poetry collection A Nation In Labour.