Africa is often depicted in literature and in the mass media as a backward continent with many negative stereotypes to her name. The TEDTalk given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the year 2009 discussed how Africans are perceived in the world.
The narrative of illiteracy, suffering, war, AIDs and poverty is not the reality of every African but that narrative is sold to foreigners. Despite all these negative stories, Africa as a continent boasts of great writers like Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Buchi Emecheta, Professor Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thongo, Bessie Head, Nadine Gordimer, Binyavanga Wainaina, Nuruddin Farah, Meja Mwangi, Amma Darko, Ayei Kweh Amah, Mariama Ba among many others.
Writing for African writers is different: it goes beyond telling stories. It is showcasing the richness of African culture, highlighting our achievements and being so good at what we do that the whole world has no option but to give us a standing ovation. It is telling stories that crush negative stereotypes about Africa and encouraging social change in our own way.
African writers like Prof Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ken Saro Wiwa, Keorapetse Kgositsile and Ngugi wa Thongo have been able to fit into the role of activist, besides writing.
For example, Professor Wole Soyinka was arrested by the Nigerian government for his attempts to stop the civil war in 1967. Upon his release in 1969, he went on to continue in his activism and later write his book, “The Man Died” which told the story of his prison experience and was released in 1971. Mariama Ba was a women’s rights activist in the 1950s and her book, “So Long a Letter” helped show the burden societal roles and culture had placed on many women.
Ken Saro Wiwa helped draw attention to the environmental pollution in his community and writing in pidgin English with his book, “Soza Boy” before he was sentenced to death by hanging in the year 1995. Writing is thus an agent for social change and growth in the African society.
Writers have the ability to connect with their readers emotionally. The pages of a book will leave many sad, happy, angry, confused or ready to make a different decision. Writers in Africa can use their gift to inspire their readers.
New waves of thinking especially on sensitive issues in our society such as abuse, gender based violence, war, poverty and corruption can be subtly communicated with pen and paper or a keyboard. When writers in Africa address these issues in their writing, they evoke change in their societies. People of all ages are able to access literature that helps form a blueprint for a better society.
Children are the future of any nation. Another way writers could contribute to the development of Africa is focusing on improving the state of children’s literature in Africa. Our children should be able to read stories about characters with dark skin and kinky hair and also be made more aware of African history. Stories that tell them about the lives of Queen Amina of Zaria, Queen Nefertiti of Egypt, Ezana of Aksum, Mansa Musa of Mali, Cetshwayo of the Zulu kingdom and many others. This will give them a strong sense of identity and confidence in who they are as Africans.
African writers as citizens of their countries should never forget their important role. Writers are activists and movers of change that contribute positively to the environment in which they live in. It is important to be law abiding, pay taxes and contribute positively to the economy of the country in which they are citizens. In conclusion, writers in Africa can do their best to change the negative narrative that surrounds the continent and positively inspire change.