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Does Africa respect its writers enough?

February 27, 2009

The reception would have done justice to royalty or a movie star when Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe paid a rare visit to his homeland recently, some 50 years after penning his book “Things Fall Apart”.

That book has a firm place on school syllabuses in much of Africa and is studied around the world. Achebe, now 79, has been acclaimed as the father of modern African literature and as the continent’s greatest living writer – his books being very accessible as well as giving a penetrating insight into the struggles of his people.

Achebe’s Igbo community in southeastern Nigeria wanted to mark his homecoming in style and Reuters Television’s Africa Journal programme was there to follow it.

Achebe delighted people with readings from his classic novel, which has sold more than 10 million copies and tells the story of Okonkwo, who finds himself and his traditions pitted against newly arrived British colonialists in the 19th century.

“Knowing that Chinua Achebe with his talent unsurpassed, in the literary world as far as I am concerned, certainly in Nigeria, unsurpassed certainly in Africa, knowing that he comes from my neck of the woods is actually an inspiration to me,” said musician Onyeka Owenu.

The region has a reputation for producing internationally acclaimed writers, including Ben Okri and more recently Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of the prize winning novel Half of a Yellow Sun.

Whether or not their success is also part of Achebe’s legacy, he hopes that he will continue to inspire more African writers to bring their stories from the continent.

But it can sometimes seem as though African writers find it easier to win recognition outside their countries than they do at home. Perhaps that should be no surprise given the state of the publishing industry in a continent where books are a luxury that can be afforded only by a minority – and where literacy rates are in some countries below 50 percent.

Those with the ambition and talent to become authors are in a tiny minority in any part of the world, but should we be doing more in Africa to encourage such aspirations and to pay more respect to our great writers?


Unfortunately what has happened to the African continent, the Igbo nation in particular is a tragedy where the newer generation neutralized the firepower of the intellectuals leaving them vulnereable and powerless.


Only if they agree with the leaders.

Posted by buffalojump | Report as abusive

It’s really a sad commentary. While topflight thieves and notorious clock watchers in the corridors of power are widely celebrated, good writers are often ignored, nay, scorned in their hometowns and state capitals for not “stealing and spraying money” like politicians and fraudsters. But I am hopeful about the future. Things will certainly not remain that way. If the Nigerian legislature could finally have the temerity to question and expose some frauds perpetrated by the previous administration, then the future holds better things for African countries and their gifted writers. If the Nigerian government could finally wake up to the need to rename Abuja streets after Nigerians who are not lost in appreciable collective memory, then Nigerian writers will one day be given the recognition and support they deserve.


It is a pity that writing and reading culture is fast dying in Africa. The daily struggle to be alive and feed on the continent has contributed immensely to the decline of this culture. The social and economic climate in Africa does not favour either writing or reading. When the current generation of African writers die, the continent will be left bereft of rich literary minds. It is indeed a tragedy.


Does Africa respect its writers enough?
Well, the question is a very important one and I would move the bar up a level asking “Does Africa respect its self?”. Hardly!

Africa is full of dictators who would shamelessly kill million of their own to remain in power, creating an environment of fear and distrust, non conducive to progress

Our educational curiculum, it remain largely based on Western teaching, books and materials. Hence, why do you expect I, the African, to respect myself when I went through an educational system that taught me that I and the rest of my people were discovered by some European explorers?
In a continent where, we still use words such as “purity”, “clean”, “clarity”, “heaven” to be white while dark or black, which we are,remain consciously or inconsciously used to represent the devil, bad, nastiness, crulety and etc, it is not hard to see why Chinua Achebe, Wole Siyinka and the others are less celebrated.

For instance, it took Roger Milla to be in the delegation of former President Chirac visit to Cameroon for the Cameroonains government to realise that the country needed to recognise this hero who while ignore in his home country, was the pride of Cameroonians and Africans across the globe.

We have a long way to go if African personalities of Mr Achebe stature are to be respected and honored, but my belief is that the starting point for this recognition is in the mutual respect between Africans and a positive belief in oneself and potential.

Posted by Francis Ngale | Report as abusive

Writing for publication is a lucrative business that Africa as a whole has long neglected, we heavily rely on natural resources as basis of our economies. But the problem is deeper than it looks on the surface, political leaders who mostly acquire power by weapons though having not navigated the education at large view good writers as a threat to their business of dictatorship. The have no interest in education and starve this sector financially as it does mean anything to them


I run a small independent publishing company that specialises in Southern African literature (children literature in particular). I live and work in the UK. I want to comment on whether Africa respects its writers. Unfortunately for many writers like myself, the answer is a big NO. I don’t think the problem is with the African governments alone, but with the general population as well. The majority of Africans don’t have a reading culture. Many people don’t read beyond the set-books (for literature) they read in schools. I know a Zimbabwean writer who has been writing since 1978,has written twelve books (that were all studied in schools as literature set-books), but who does not own even a bicycle. There are a lot of upcoming writers in Africa who have no access to publishing. African governments should set aside grants for arts(including writing),build more libraries and encourage stocking African literature in the libraries. Almost every literate person in my country (Zimbabwe) can quote a line or two, from William Shakespeare, Conrad, Thomas Hard’s writings etc, but they can not quote anything written by an African writer. As an African writer, if I give my friends a few books to read (for free) chances are that they will never open them because to them good literature does not come from people they know, but from overseas.

It’s time Africa respects its writers.


No one respects writers enough.


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