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Saturday, October 31, 2020

It is time for African literature to be written in African languages

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The challenge for all of us is to bring the fruits of scholarship to bear on issues of faith and service, to make a vital connection between knowledge and life. We should humanise scholarship with the demands of faith, and illuminate vocation with the light of scholarship’. 

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‘Over the years I have come to realise more and more that work, any work, even literary creative work, is not the result of an individual genius but the result of a collective effort. There are so many inputs in the actual formation of an image, an idea, a line of argument and even sometimes the formal arrangement. The very words we use are a product of a collective history. So, too, is the present work.’

These are not my words they belong to Ngugi Wa Thiong’o.

Today we honour the literary lives and works of two of the most distinguished daughters of the Gambia in her Golden Jubilee year. 

We stand in remembrance of the Lady Hannah Augusta Jawara, whose children are here to receive the honour on her behalf; an honour that she richly deserves!  

And we salute the work and unremitting passion of the visionary Janet Badjan, Forever Young. Founder Director of EBUJAN Theatre Company!!

When we honour you we honour ourselves!! When we praise you, we praise ourselves because you the golden girls you have gone and put our nation’s name in lights.

How do we teach each other about a shared past, a shared destiny and a shared future that works is the challenge of our generation? 

African writers and intellectuals have been writing predominantly in European Languages, and their literary talents and achievement are extraordinary but I believe that 50 years after independence African Literature should in African languages. 

Language is the vehicle of thought and the custodian of the knowledge and values of a people. If we do not develop our languages, who will? If we do not write our stories and folktales in African Languages NOW; when will we? 

Because I believe that if you do not understand your history, you cannot make history.

Why African unity is so elusive is because it has been conceived mainly as a political project, and these days, some economic compulsions providing a basis for unity have become undeniable. 

Nkrumah said as much in his famous 1963 speech in Addis Ababa: 

“African unity is above all, a political kingdom which can only be gained by political means. The social and economic development of Africa will come only within the political kingdom, not the other way round. Is it not unity alone that can weld us into an effective force, capable of creating our own progress and making our valuable contribution to world peace? 

Which independent African state, which of you here, will claim that its financial structure and banking institutions are fully harnessed to its national development? Which will claim that its material resources and human energies are available for its own aspirations? 

Unfortunately that strong focus on the political nature of unity and integration of Africa had served mainly as a barrier to real unity because it took its cue from the colonial maps that had caused the disunity of Africa in the first place. 

This obsession with a Political Kingdom has functioned as a destabilising variable and continues to derail the Pan African Agenda.  

As late as 2000 at the establishment of the African Union Commission, the emphasis is still on political ideas, entities and spaces invented by colonialism: 

“The objectives of the Union shall be to: 

 (a) Achieve greater unity and solidarity between the African countries and the peoples of Africa; 

 (b) Defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of its Member States; 

 (c) Accelerate the political and socio-economic integration of the continent; 

 (d) Promote and defend African common positions on issues of interest to the continent and its people”

Into to the 21st century Africa still has not found the wellsprings of cooperation and unity; Ubuntu or the cultural aspects of unity and the NEW African personality have not been given sufficient prominence in the conceptualization of,  and designing of frameworks for unity for Africa’s diverse nations and people. 

In Africa cultural diversity has through neo-colonial manipulations and serious failure of leadership engendered tribalism, civil wars and genocide as was witnessed in Rwanda 20 years ago. 

“If in these essays I criticise the Afro-European (or Euro African) choice of our linguistic praxis, it is not to take away from the talent and the genius of those who have written in English, French or Portuguese. On the contrary I am lamenting a neo-colonial situation which has meant the European bourgeoisie once again stealing our talents and geniuses as they have stolen our economies.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Europe stole art treasures from Africa to decorate their houses and museums; in the twentieth century Europe is stealing the treasures of the mind to enrich their languages and cultures.

Africa needs back its economy, its politics, its culture, its languages and all its patriotic writers.”

 

[The full text of a speech presented by the president of the Writers’ Association of The Gambia (WAG) Mr Almamy Fanding Taal on the occasion of Gambia Literature Day at the Faculty of Law auditorium, University of The Gambia, on Thursday, 26 March 2015]

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