Monday, 8 October 2012

The Development of African Literature and Challenges

The international convention of the Association of Nigerian Authors of this year is scheduled to hold on 30th November, 2011 at Abuja. Itmarks the 30th international convention of the Association, andthe theme of this year is “Home Coming: African Literature and Human Development”. This year’s theme is very important because of focusing on African literature. Beingthirty years of literary harnessing in the country,we expect to see the richness of African cultural heritage is read and analysed all over the world.By doing that the whole world would see the root of human development, because the richness of African literature is beyond what many people look. One of the problems of African literature is communication gap, since many Africans are writing in indigenous languages that cannot be understood even by some segments of Africans themselves.
In an international writers’ forum organised by the Association of Nigerian Authors Kano State Branch and Gashingo Publishers Niamey, which was held in November 2006 in Niger Republic,we critically discussed the problems and prospects of writing and authors in local languages. One of the problems identified during the programme is the dearth of translation of indigenous languages to some major international languages. During this international forum, presentations were made in various languages existing within Nigeria and Niger Republic. But the works presented in most cases were translated for the participants to understand each other, despite the fact that these are the countries that are sharing borders, cultures and traditions. What do you expect to hear from Libyan writers, Senegalese or Tanzanian writers that writealso in their local languages? One cannot understand the richnessof African literature unless you think of translating it into the medium that can be read universally. Only from that,will value and potentiality be appreciated.
At the 1st MBA National Colloquium organised for Chief Servant of Niger State Mua’zuBabangida Aliyu, on 19th November, 2011 the Guest Speaker OdiaOfeimun also identified lack of translating others literature into indigenous literature and from indigenous literature to other languages as a major problem of development in Nigeria. He also mentioned non interaction among indigenous literatures as the bane of the problem. We shouldn’t be hiding knowledge, if there is interaction among the indigenous writers the boundaries that blocked our development would be abolished.According to him to build intellectual capacity to move our country forward we have to go back to indigenous literature. Even though we came from different ethnic groups, nature has brought us together and we cannot escape from that. Therefore the interaction is significant in solving our socio-economic problems.
But what I have come to understand with the indigenous literature is that many of our people who are well educated in terms of western education feel ashamed to read their indigenous literature. To me this is purely inferiority complex. When I started writing in my mother tongue (Hausa language), my brother advised that I should write in English language. Another cousin of mine wrote a letter to me when she heard that I am in Hausa literary creative works advising me to disengage myself from that. Soby these one can see that the problem of indigenous literature is that our people do not recognise it; for the singular reason of being a local product. For instance the indigenous Hausa literature is the only language with millions of readers across the West African countries. Despite this advantage we are not utilising and encouraging it, the kind of support the earlier Hausa writers received during colonialism was no longer obtainable. The only thing that remains is criticism and condemnation, on which the writers were blamed for destruction of culture, while in reality the writers are reflecting what is happening in the society. The kind of literature during the period of Abubakar Imam and TafawaBalewa cannot be same with the contemporary literature. Similarly if you want to bring development in anything, you have to invest in it, because by investing in it then you could have a stake in it.
Africa is a great continent with various tribes and ethnic groups. In northern Nigeria, Kano State alone has over two hundred writers whowrite in the indigenous Hausa language. But many don’t know about them; as such do not appreciate their works, simply because of language barrier. Therefore African Literature and human Development is expecting so much from the convention, perhaps by giving room to review and assess what was so far achieved and the challenges ahead.
I expect, after this convention,to see a remarkable development in the publication of African literature. I know lack of publishing and printing houses, willing to promote young African writers, affect literary production in the continent more especially in Nigeria. The few writers that manage to get their works published through self-publishing have a problem of circulating their books, which may not go round the country. Even the so called giant publishers in the country lack international networking to coordinate the distributions and marketing of the African literature. This syndrome that is circulating in the veins of African publishing companies is not new to Nigerian authors, yet is ignoredin waiting for divine intervention.Although many attempts were made to improve the system but remained unsolved.
Writers and literature in developed countries are still booming despite the fact that electronics and internet have consumed many readers. Many people find pleasure to read books than to watch movies, some even argued that the films that were coined from books lack the original perception of the books. The question to ask here is how writers in developed countries enjoy the fruits of writing?
Nigerian writers abroad such as Helen Oyeyemiand some few at home like ChimamandaAdichie, HelonHabila and SegunAfolabi who have had their books published abroad recorded successes. I am sure their books were largely sold abroad than any of their books that were published and marketed in Nigeria. One of the bestselling books of HelenOyeyemiThe Icarus Girl which brought her a generous amount of money and fame was written on Nigerian experience, between Jessamy and a ghost Tilly Tilly. There are great stories to write on African heritage which can attract a worldwide readership.
Based on my own observation, the deterioration of reading culture in Nigeria and Africa had played a negative role in destroying the book industries. Our parents recount to us how they were instructed to read books every week since primary school age; this made reading culture a part of their daily activities. But what is happening to our contemporary parents and teachers? Nowadays parents prefer to buy games for their children or allow them to spend potential hours watching movies. How can they growth with reading culture? No doubt the poor academic performance for our students is still widening, but we keep crying while we are the initiators of the problem.
Let me go back to the western countries where we recognised their vibrant reading culture, which made their book industries relevant. Writers selltheir books simply because the people there read a lot, and are willing to learn from their works. If you go to railway stations or airports you could see people reading books while waiting for trains or flights. This is where reading behaviour is existing despite the fact that modernisation brought the “bookless revolution”.
I am very optimistic that things will change for the better, social changes do come with its new provisions. But we have to be cautiousin guiding how the change will be for our positive development, so that our book industries are put in proper perspective. This is a period when young writers are getting recognition very fast, and they are ready to take a leading role in literary development. But the truth of the matter is that the Association of Nigerian Authors as the biggest writers Association in the country should take a leading role in coordinating and reshaping the future of the book industries.
I suggested that an endowment should be opened to solicit for donations from multinational corporations such as NNLG, Chevron, Cadbury, MTN, GLO, Airtel and others. The fund should be used to establish a very strong and world class publishing company. Nigeria has celebrated writers abroad who would be happy to give their own contribution if they see the merit of the project. This proposed publishing company would play a role of empowering our young writers through workshops and other promotional activities. It would also publish and market their creative works at home and abroad.
The Association should embark on reading campaign throughout the country by collaborating with various agencies and media houses to bring back the glory of reading culture that haddeteriorated.Reading clubs should be supported and encouraged in our various schools throughout the nation. When there is love for literature in the continent it would help in reviving the reading culture, and will benefit writing industries. The teeming population of Africa alone can serve as a marketing centre for African literary works. If GSM companies can invest their capitals in Africa and make substantial profits there like their counterpart in developed countries.Whyshould literature be an exception?
Conclusively I am calling to the Association of Nigerian Authors to come to the aid of our literature, so that our voices can be echoed all over the world. It is high timewe made a move in order to follow the steps of development. The Association is doing well towards the betterment of literature in the country; it coordinated the introduction of new prizes and upgraded old ones; organised workshops, colloquiums and so on. But sincerely speaking it has to go beyond that, let’s face the challenges of poor reading culture and the lack of genuine publishing companies. Similarly, since we have understood the merit of indigenous literature, the national body should call for national workshops for indigenous literature to discuss the future of our literatures. The indigenous prizes for indigenous literature are equally important in bringing back the erstwhile glory of our continent. I am sure if things change for better in Nigeria, it would affect other African countries. The future for writers all over the world is bright; it should also be bright for African writers.
Zaharaddeen Ibrahim Kallah is the Branch Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors Kano State Branch.


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