Writings of the general word's body

Monday, September 25, 2006

Ifowodo @ the Jazzhole

The poet Ogaga Ifowodo is based in the US but is back home in Nigeria currently. He reads this Saturday 30th September @ The Jazzhole, 168 Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. Time is 5-7pm.

Ifowodo is the author of 3 poetry collections: Homelands and other Poems (1998), Madiba (Solitude, 1999) and The Oil Lamp (Africa World Press, 2005). The Oil Lamp is a volume of poems on one theme only - environmental degradation in the Niger Delta.

Credited with poems including You're Chic Now, Che and God Punish You, Lord Lugard, Ifowodo was imprisoned from 1997-98 by the Abacha military regime. He is widely anthologised.

  • Photos taken at the National Film Theatre, South Bank, London, on 25 June 2005 - by MW.

London Poetry Festival

On August 23, I was one of the performers in the
London Poetry Festival organised by the Poet's Letter Magazine. The man behind the magazine and the event, is Munayem Mayenin (seen onstage in one of these photos with musician Johnny Vallon). The event was at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in Gower Street, London. I came out of Goodge Street Station and rain was pounding down. My small umbrella was no protection in the torrent, and I later took my turn on the stage at RADA during the Second Session of readings, still drying out from the rain. I read 4 poems, and got a very good reaction to my 'anti Blair' poem, Election Day.

My friend
Nnorom Azuonye was supposed to be on the programme but was unavoidably absent. The chance meeting with another Nigerian writer I'd had some correspondence with in the past, was an unexpected bonus. Toks Ogunbiyi (in red shirt) has written some social commentary on Nigeria World and had come out on a rainy night to soak in some poetry - and found I was on the programme. It was nice, to finally put faces to our names. There was good camaraderie on the night, with many others on the British poetry scene, some of whom I knew by reputation, including Malgorzata Kitowski and Roi Kwabena.

Leanne O'Sullivan, one of the youngest poets published by Bloodaxe (a major poetry publisher in Britain) - was a memorable performer on the night. Asked how she would like to be introduced, O'Sullivan reportedly said: "as an Irish poet". And Ireland runs deep in her poetry, much of which uses myths of the country and her people to explore issues including Catholicism. She was enchanting and the way her red hair lit up under the RADA stage lights - was something to see. I was very pleased when she told me later, that she saw a connection between some of her work and my poem Incantation, which I also performed at the event.

Carole Baldock, a poet and editor one of whose magazines
Orbis, I read regularly, was also on the programme. I was pleasantly surprised to hear her name called and later listen to her read, as I'd not known she would be there. I meant to go and introduce myself to her after the event; I would really have to find a way to explain who I was, I thought, as I didn't think she'd know about me. I never got the chance to meet her, until I had to leave. But when my latest copy of Orbis (edition no. 137) arrived in the post a week ago, I was really touched, to see that Carole Baldock had included a little sticky note, to say: "Nice to hear you read at RADA last month."
  • Images by MW

Half of a Yellow Sun

(for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

War-wearied families dizzied by un-slaked thirst
Conjure again and again, from memory, images
Of beloved salt, fresh salt, salty foods-
Now as dire and scarce and sweet

As fresh love’s touch, tongue to tang
Through the sore half of a yellow sun.

Time, bold and buoyant and beautiful,
Thinned to a desperate Salt-Quest
Across depleted bunkers and borders of strife,
Through the sore half of a yellow sun.

Abstract thoughts of its crystal vitality
Float and fall on the aching head.

Abstract images sweeten one starving second,
But tantalize the belly and the mind timelessly.

Chiedu Ezeanah
  • The poet posted this on the Half of a Yellow Sun website on 12 September. It is reproduced here in its original verse form, with permission.

Nwokolo & Friends

So, when your ISP telephones
with an installation date,

Wait for the camel.

For the journey is the message
and it cannot be emailed.

& though the river may be dead
though her bed be dust
this may just be the day of the month of the year of the century
that it rains...

Chuma Nwokolo Jr
Writer-in-Residence, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Join Chuma Nwokolo for Journeys
a Literary Evening in Black History Month
@ The Mallett Gallery, Ashmolean Museum, Beaumont Street, Oxford OX1 2PH
On Saturday 7th October, 2006
5.30pm - Guided Tour of the Treasures Exhibition
6.30pm - Chuma Nwokolo & Friends
7.30pm - Special Gospel Choir
Entrance is Free but booking essential.Contact Henrietta Gill
tel - 01895 288 181 /email - henrietta.gill@ashmus.ox.ac.uk

Sunday, September 24, 2006

new read

"My interaction with a cross-section of contemporary African writers living in the West, suggests that they are slightly irritated by this constant attempt to pigeon-hole them and thereby tele-guide their work toward certain directions pre-determined by the all-powerful gatekeepers of the Western cultural establishment."
~ ~ ~
The above, from Muhtar Bakare’s paper delivered earlier this month at the ASAUK conference, is probably a good point at which to introduce a short story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jumping Monkey Hill, published in the new issue of Granta print Magazine.

Nigerian Ujunwa Ogundu joins other African writers, including a Ugandan who has just won the “Lipton African Writers’ Prize with a prize of fifteen thousand pounds” - on a Writers’ Workshop held at a hotel in South Africa. The coordinator is Edward, an English benefactor and facilitator of African writing.

“There was a short silence… after the Zimbabwean read an excerpt [of her story]… Then Edward spoke. The writing was certainly ambitious but the story itself begged the question ‘So what?’ There was something terribly passé about it when one considered all the other things happening in Zimbabwe under the horrible Mugabe. Ujunwa stared at Edward. What did he mean by passé? How could a story so familiar be passé? But she did not ask what Edward meant and the Kenyan did not ask and the Ugandan did not ask and all the Zimbabwean did was shove her dreadlocks away from her face… Everyone remained silent."

Jumping Monkey Hill raises questions the average African writer will have to grapple with inwardly, from time to time. There is a story within the story, which connects rather nicely with Ujunwa's experience.

Read Jumping Monkey Hill in
Granta 95.


Dept of English, University of Lagos in collaboration with Teamwork Communications, LAGOS, cordially invites you to a Symposium organized in honour of Cyprian Ekwensi MFR to mark his 85th Birthday Anniversary

Date: Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Time: 10.00am Prompt
Venue: Arts Theatre, UNILAG

Distinquished Speakers:
* Prof. (Mrs.) Akachi Ezeigbo
* Dr. Hope Eghagha
* Dr. Patrick Oloko

Host: Special Guest of Honour: Prof. V.O. Awonusi
Pro. Ayodeji Olukoju
Head, English Dept., UNILAG Dean, Faculty of Arts, UNILAG.

Samuel Obialor
Project Consultant

Kowry Kreations Media…
shell of creativity Presents “Poetry Potter”
Venue: National Library Hall, Opposite Casino Cinema, Alagome, Yaba, Lagos , Nigeria .
Date: Every last Saturday of the month ( Sep 30th, 2006 ) Time: 3 p.m. prompt.
No African time, please. Admission: Free, Free; Free!
Guest Artiste: Ayodele Arigbadu,
author: Parody of Moremi & co-author of the Three Kobo Book.
Highlights: dance: Crown Troupe of Africa, music: Are, Awoko & Cornerstone.
Dress Code: Endeavour to come in your native attire.
R.S.V.P: Aderemi Adegbite 08035149337, Ropo Ewenla 08032311574, Lekan Balogun 08027727751
All Lovers of Literary Existence Are Invited

Muhtar Bakare's ASAUK Paper

Panelists were asked to consider some of the key themes in the recent literature produced by migrant African writers such as leaving, journeying, and managing cultural difference. They also debated the broader context of Diasporic writing. To what extent has this new literature eclipsed or erased writing emanating from the African continent itself? Does the difficulty of publishing within Africa mean that we will only learn about contemporary African experiences as the Diaspora mediates them? What kind of connections are emerging, or might in the future emerge, between publishers in Africa and writers in the Diaspora?

I will start by providing an overview of our business and against that background, attempt to look at the challenges of publishing in Nigeria, from the perspective of an entrepreneur who takes up the task of making culturally useful and commercially viable books available to the reading public. I will draw largely from my own experience over the last two years, to comment on the specific questions posed to the panel.

Background – Starting Out
We started as a free online magazine, publishing prose and poetry by contemporary Nigerian writers. It proved to be a useful strategy. This was how we first made contact with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sefi Atta, Aniete Isong, Molara Wood, Akin Adesokan, Igoni Barret, Tolu Ogunlesi, Ike Oguine, Chika Unigwe, Toni Kan and many others. These writers were not only scattered all over Nigeria, but also all over Europe and America. Start-up costs were low and we had an immediate global reach. Which would prove useful later on, in commissioning new articles or titles, and in contracting out editorial work.

We established a presence among literary enthusiasts and started building up a reputation as a credible outlet for good quality contemporary Nigerian writing. It is interesting to note that as far back as 2004, we had published online, an earlier version of a short piece called Fide by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Another version of Fide was published earlier on this year in The New Yorker. When her first Novel, Purple Hibiscus, was later released in the US, we built on our existing relationship, to persuade Harper Collins to sell the West African rights to us. We had an initial print-run of 13,000 in late 2004 and have since sold over 12,000 copies. A year later, we released our second book, Everything Thing Good Will Come by Sefi Atta, whom we also met on the Internet. Sefi recently won the first Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. We printed 5,000 copies of Everything Good Will Come in late 2005 and have sold over 4,000. We are about to order an additional 5,000 copies of each novel.

Today, we are set to release six new titles before the end of the year. Two of them; Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and The Activist by Tanure Ojaide are works of fiction. I am particularly proud to say that for these two titles we negotiated the rights directly with the authors. The other four, which are non-fiction, are: The Architecture of Demas Nwoko by John Godwin and Gillian Hopwood; Celebrated: Nigerian Women In Development by Ayona Aguele-Trimnell; June 12: The Struggle For Power In Nigeria by Abraham Oshoko; and Social Studies For Nigerian Schools by Adisa Bakare, Ayisha Belgore and Eniola Harrison, in collaboration with the faculty and staff of The Corona Schools Trust Council.

In all, we plan to release about 50,000 books into the market this year. In 2007 we plan to do no less than 200,000 books depending on how the elections go.

Background - Historical Summary
Book publishing in Nigeria is a colonial legacy with which the legatees have not yet come to terms. Although the industry was established to serve colonial commercial and political interests, Nigerians quickly embraced it for their own benefit. There existed at that time and in immediate post-colonial Nigeria, an active and growing reading public. The educational system was good. The university system produced and nurtured world-class talents in the arts and sciences. It was not unusual for novels to sell in tens of thousands. Authors such as Chinua Achebe, T. M. Aluko, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Chukwuemeka Ike, Cyprian Ekwensi, Naiwu Osahon, Wole Soyinka and Kole Omotosho were household names. The highest circulation newspapers sold as many as half a million copies daily.

Things began to fall apart for the Nigerian publishing industry when the military first intervened in the political arena in the early sixties. They went on to destroy all social infrastructure. They mismanaged the economy and entrenched a culture of corruption. They added little to the infrastructure of commerce and allowed whatever existed hitherto to fall into disrepair. Of particular significance was their destruction of the educational system. This is would have wide-ranging consequences for a country where the language of the inchoate national culture, English, was not indigenous, but learnt in school.

The universities, being the centre of opposition to the military tyranny were especially targeted for decimation. The institutions were routinely shut down, with academic calendars disrupted. Outspoken academics were harassed and hounded into exile. The result has been a long and steady migration of some of the most brilliant teachers and academics from the country, as well as an erosion of literacy and literary culture.

The Literary Landscape Today
Today, forty-six years after independence from Britain, what remains of the industry is mainly licensed from British publishers and concentrate almost exclusively on the production of textbooks. A number of Nigerian independent publishers exist, but they also focus mainly on textbooks. About 90% of all the published books in Nigeria are for Primary and Secondary education. There are over 17 million children in primary and secondary schools at any point in time. No wonder everyone is trying to corner the textbook market.

It is generally accepted that there are about 130 million people in Nigeria. 42% of them or 55 million are below the age of fourteen. The national literacy level is put at about 68%; that is; 68% of the people over 15 years old, who can read and write, presumably in English. That is 68% of 75 million or 51 million people. This is a very attractive market size indeed.

Literacy And New Materials
Regardless of what statisticians say, employers of labour have for the last decade or so bemoaned the decline in the literacy of graduates from the various educational institutions. A cursory review of the leading quality newspapers in the country gives a good idea of how well the average Nigerian uses the English language today. This is a big deal for a publisher in a country where literacy in English easily dwarfs literacy in all the indigenous languages, and where publishing in the local languages remains, a small fragmented niche.

Since the military were forced out of power seven years ago, there has been some sort of rekindling of nation-building and cultural activities. Literature usually presages such development; as people try to articulate and codify the complex interplay of social and political forces transform society around them. We certainly do not lack for submission of new materials. Majority of the manuscripts we do receive however, even if not lacking in imagination in terms of conception, are seriously deficient in their use of English. The reality facing commissioning editors, is that a great deal of editorial input is required to get the overwhelming majority of manuscripts into any publishable condition. To compound this serious problem, good quality editorial talent is no longer readily available in the labour market.

It is not that highly literate writing and editorial talents do not exist, they do, but the structure of the economy is such that they can only be employed in those sectors of the economy, such as oil and gas, finance and lately, telecommunication, with the requisite levels of investment capital to pay the kind of wages they command. Since the mid-eighties, the publishing industry has not made the necessary investments in commercial infrastructure that is required to extract its fair share of the massive value inherent in a market of 130 million people. And so, we have some of the most talented writers and editors resident in our country today, working in oil and gas, finance and the telecommunication industries.

It is not an accident therefore that some of the most insightful and engaging pieces published by our magazine have been contributed by these amateur but accomplished writers who earn their living as lawyers, financial consultants, engineers, web designers, and doctors. And of course, we are also compelled to reach out to Nigerians living abroad, who through their access to more stable creative environments, enjoy the mediation of more mature publishing industries, to produce quality work that remain faithful in their attempts to tell our own stories, on our own terms.

I must point out here, that the themes of leaving, journeying, and managing cultural difference are marginal in the novels produced by writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Helon Habila, and Sefi Atta who still have very strong ties with Nigeria. These writers and some others, might have journeyed, they certainly have not left. They wrote and continue to write novels about Nigeria and Africa, which are firmly rooted in Nigeria and Africa. And although the work of writers of African descent who are more rooted in the West, such as Biyi Bandele, Diran Adebayo, the prodigiously talented Helen Oyeyemi and more recently, Diana Evans may explore the theme of cultural differences, nonetheless, I suspect that, for now anyway, they are here in the West to stay. Some of them were born here in the Diaspora, and are not particularly hung up on leaving (Africa) and journeying (to the West).

My interaction with a cross-section of contemporary African writers living in the West, suggests that they are slightly irritated by this constant attempt to pigeon-hole them and thereby tele-guide their work toward certain directions pre-determined by the all-powerful gatekeepers of the Western cultural establishment.

I will leave this matter for now, to the academics who are perhaps better qualified than I am to pontificate on them, and dwell a little on the difficulty of producing and selling books in Nigeria.

Production, Packaging and Commercial Infrastructure
The greatest impediments to the growth of a local publishing industry in Nigeria include

The low level of investments by existing publishers in their own businesses:

Even if they know what it takes to produce good quality books at affordable prices, or what it takes to persuade the 50 million or so literate Nigerians and their 10 million kinsmen scattered all over the world in the Diaspora to buy them, or what it takes to distribute these books efficiently throughout a country four times the size of Britain, while at the same time collecting all their sales proceeds, Nigerian publishers have not been successful in marshalling all the requisite resources together. The industry is obviously not well capitalized and even if competence exists, capacity is severely undermined.

The dearth of the required commercial infrastructure to support the industry.

Distribution and retail networks are limited, fragmented and as challenged as the publishing houses themselves in terms of scale, capacity and outlook. Also, commercial contracts are very loose and difficult to enforce. Collection of sales proceeds is very problematic, putting severe financial strain on publishing businesses.


The collapse of basic social services such as

  • Electricity supply
  • Good road network
  • Reliable postal services
  • Affordable telecommunications.
These make the cost of doing business prohibitive, discourage investments and lead to the easy option of sacrificing quality for cost.

All these issues are extensively and sensitively discussed in the book, The Ordeal of The African Writer by Charles R. Larson, which I strongly recommend to anybody who is interested in the subject.

With respect to the question posed at to;

What kind of connections are emerging, or might in the future emerge, between publishers in Africa and writers in the Diaspora?

I will like to say that all these financial and infrastructural challenges will continue to make the connections between publishers in Africa and writers in the Diaspora more emotional than financial. For as long as most Africans, either by choice or otherwise remain on the continent of Africa, the most business-minded of our writers in [the] Diaspora or their agents will eventually come to understand that no matter how successful African writers may be in the West, until the Western literary establishment stops categorizing them as ethnic or minority writers, their natural markets will remain in Africa. There are strong indications to suggest that, until they are embraced by the mainstream imprints, they may have strong prospects of selling more books in Africa, especially if they work with the right publishers who are, as we say in Nigerian politics, on the ground. They must also write on themes that are relevant to, and topical in, Africa.

For us publishers to continue to engage and maintain these relationships and also to nurture home-grown talents for the potentially larger and more lucrative media markets in the West, we will have to overhaul our business models, make the necessary investments and modernize, just as other sectors of the Nigerian economy are now doing and quite successfully too.

Mobile Phones, Nollywood and Banking
Data coming from the 5-year-old GSM phone industry may give an insight into the purchasing capacity of the Nigerian consumer. With an estimated 10 million subscribers, spending an average of 10 dollars every month, Nigerians spend about 100 million dollars every month in settlement of their mobile phone bills. Those of us in publishing are being compelled to ask ourselves, how come the average Nigerian is willing to spend about ten dollars every month on phone bills and yet not willing or able to spend a comparable amount on books? The Home Video industry is even more comparable to publishing. However, despite the fact that it is barely 13 years old, and totally homegrown, it is already reputed to be the third largest film industry in the world. The industry sells units of its products in millions, all over the world, wherever there are African people. A conservative estimate puts the annual income generated by this industry at over $250 million. The commercial success of this industry suggests that there may be a disconnect between contemporary Nigerian literature and its natural markets. In the words of award-winning novelist Sefi Atta Nigerians will buy novels in their hundreds of thousands if they see their own stories or aspirations in those novels. Ntone Ejabe who edits the very cool and admirable literary magazine Chimurenga, out of Cape Town, sums it up thus: The most authentic Nigerian stories are best read on video.

It is commonly argued these days that Nigerian videos are so successful because they tell our stories, unapologetically, on our own terms. And those stories resonate deeply with the millions of black people all over the world who watch them every day. This for me, answers succinctly the following questions put before this panel:

To what extent has this new literature eclipsed or erased writing emanating from the African continent itself? Does the difficulty of publishing within Africa mean that we will only learn about contemporary African experiences as the Diaspora mediates them?

Speaking from a Nigerian perspective, I do not think there is any chance of any literature produced outside Africa eclipsing those produced inside Africa. What is important in my view is how relevant the contents of the works are to the target audience and the capacity of the publisher to push the product in the target markets. The current popularity of the so-called contemporary Nigerian Diaspora writing is due mainly to the relevance of those novels to the Nigerian situation and also to the very focused marketing activities of their Nigerian publishers. After all, there are many very successful African writers who are celebrities in the West but are barely known or read outside the literary circles in their home countries.

How the West chooses to learn about contemporary Africa is the prerogative of the cultural gatekeepers in the West. I will concede though, that those of us publishing in Africa can certainly do more to push the best of our wares out here in the West. And this will be easier to accomplish, once we have made the necessary investments and the appropriate structural changes to our businesses.

In conclusion, in terms of sheer ambition, chutzpah and achievement, the Nigerian industry that its publishers have the most to learn from is banking. When Nigerians first entered that industry 16 years ago, foreign banks and the local remnants of colonial banking interests dominated. (Very much like in publishing today) Within 16 years, Nigerian entities have invested about 5 billion dollars in the industry, which they now dominate, pushing the banks with foreign interests to the margins. They have grown beyond the shores of Nigeria, through West Africa and are even looking beyond. They did these by investing the necessary capital, buying the requisite technology, hiring qualified, talented business expertise and adopting business models that have been proven elsewhere, while remaining sensitive to Nigerian peculiarities.

These steps taken by the nascent investors in the Nigerian banking industry 16 years ago are my same recommendations to our publishers today, to see us to an equally glorious future. Thankfully we never really have to re-invent the wheel.
  • Muhtar Bakare of Farafina, Kachifo Limited, Lagos Nigeria, presented this paper at the African Studies Association UK Biennial Conference 2006, held at The School Of Oriental and African Studies, University Of London, on September 12, 2006.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Suffer the Little Children

Who will cry for me?
I died
Drenched in blood
Open wounds on my head
And legs
Cut down
On my first day in school
Who will bury me?
My friends
They died
Blown up
Bloody parts
Strewn around
Dying for what
We do not know
Who will weep for me?
I died
Belly distended
Flies clustered
Over my face
Gunfire and screams
The last sounds
I heard
Who will mourn for me?
My mother
She lies senseless
Protected by her grief
Who will grieve for me?
My father
He is long gone
To fight war for his God
Who will wail for me?


  • Suffer the Little Children was written for the Global Day of Action on Darfur. Reproduced with permission.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Endgame in Darfur

* * *

“Never Again” is the mantra we hear over and over again, when people talk of the horror of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda. Then, the World (and in this sense, the World is the International community and the ones who hold the balance of power, led by the US. The World of course is also the United Nations, which to its eternal shame, was able to do absolutely nothing in Rwanda). Yet the World acted in Yugoslavia. More people were killed in Rwanda in 100 days, than in over 9 years of the Yugoslavia Campaign. As Romeo Dallaire once said: "The World is Racist".

We all know what happened in Rwanda in 1994. I will never forget the television news footage of bloated human bodies floating like mutant mushrooms upon Lake Victoria. So many. So many were they, that one couldn’t even see an inch of water in some places. How can I ever think of Lake Victoria again without re-imagining that nightmarish footage?

Now it is Darfur. The World again is being its (or is it her?) old useless self. The World is being racist again. Not only are the people being killed in Darfur as black as night, they are Africans - a terrible thing to be if you want the World to care about you.

What is more, the Dead, Dying and Displaced of Darfur are Muslims. I don’t know which is the worse thing to be in the current World order - African or Muslim. The people of Darfur have a terrible Double Whammy of an albatross round their necks.

In the last few days, the anxiety over Darfur is choking. Sense of asphyxiation worsened by helplessness and the horror of what we know: that time is running out. And why this anxiety? After all, Darfur has been with us for some time. An estimated 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur since 2003. The World has been busy twiddling its thumbs.

And so the new anxiety. And how inadequate a word is ‘Anxiety’. But what word should we grasp and attempt to speak, to express the unthinkable?

And is the new ‘anxiety’ because Hollywood liberal George Clooney spent 5 days with his father in Darfur in April, and in the last few days urged the US government to do something about “the first Genocide of the 21st century”?

Or is it because earlier today, faith leaders in Britain (remarkable, in light of Pope Benedict’s grossly unwise remarks about the Prophet Mohammed; Pope John Paul II, how irreplaceable you were!) - Anglican (Church of England), Islam, Jewish - led by Cormac Murphy O'Connor (leader of the Catholic faith in Britain) prayed at the door of 10 Downing Street. A prayer/letter was also read on behalf of Archbishop Desmond Tutu - you can’t have more moral integrity than that… [I don’t know whether the last few sentences comply with the rules of composition, but what is composition in the face of genocide?]… All these faith leaders came to express their anxiety at the front door of power in London earlier today. They were met at the door of Downing Street by Baroness Amos (don’t know why Blair himself couldn’t do it). We are told that Blair has written to fellow European powers urging action in Darfur. I don’t know that Blair’s gesture is not just another case of twiddling thumbs.

And the anxiety… African Union Peacekeepers have to leave Darfur by September 30. The Government of Sudan (in effect, an Arab government in the North) has refused to agree to a UN peacekeeping force in the region. They are adamant in this stance.

And the fear now, is that the government and its Janjaweed are planning The Final Solution to the Darfur 'Problem'. Genocide! And the World twiddles its useless thumbs. When it’s all over and done with, the World will again chorus: Never Again.

The World is Racist.

* * *

Salih on the Sudan

I'm sorry, I don't feel able to blog the usual stuff today. I've been thinking about Darfur in Southern Sudan.

I'm reminded of Tayeb Salih, Sudanese writer of Season of Migration to the North - the book considered to be the most important Arab novel of the 20th Century. I photographed him (above) During African Visions at the British Library last October. My article on the Salih event was published in The Guardian, Lagos, on Sunday 9th April 2006. He had some things to say about the Sudan. The piece is reproduced below...

Recalling Tayeb Salih at African Visions
By Molara Wood

The 5th African Visions Literature tour, organised by the Africa Centre in London, took place at the British Library over a weekend late last year. With diverse writers from across Africa taking part in various events, timetable clashes were inevitable. And for an hour on the afternoon of the second day, one could either hear Malawian poet Jack Mapanje reading from his collection, The Last of the Sweet Bananas - or catch a discussion with Sudanese writer, Tayeb Salih.

The Salih event was a rare opportunity during African Visions to hear a writer that straddles the divide between Africa and the Arab world. And with the situation in Dafur, Salih, an Arab from Northern Sudan, would come with a particular perspective. Any disappointment at missing Jack Mapanje was soon forgotten by members of the audience as they fell under Tayeb Salih’s considerable gift of the gab. Salih would often speak on and on in mesmerising tones only to then stop and ask: "What was the question?"

Born in 1929, Salih is the author of Season of Migration to the North, the book selected by a panel of Arab writers and critics in 2001 as the most important Arab novel of the 20th Century. In an event tagged in Arabic as ‘Hiwar Ma’a Al-Tayyib Salih’, the author was in conversation with Dr Ahmed Al-Shahi, a social anthropologist and author who specialises in Sudan and the Middle East.

Introducing Salih, Al-Shahi observed that: "Some people say, is he Sudanese, an Arab or an African; he is very international… We can all be grateful to Salih for enabling us to know how it feels to be Sudanese." He added that in Salih’s books "we are told that life in the rural area is graceful and beautiful."

Tayeb Salih discussed what he called the "mosaic of the Sudan", asserting that: "The Nubian civilisation was not an echo of the Arab civilisation; it was a civilisation in itself. Then the Arabs came, [then] the English, the Ottoman and God knows what. Sudan is really a mound of civilisation and I approach it like an archaeologist… layers of civilisation. I am very grateful to have been born in this area."

"The favourite colour of the Northern Sudanese is not white or brown - it is black. Akhbar is black. Later in America they said: ‘black is beautiful’. With us, beauty is in being black. Sudan was Christian for centuries. Then Islam came - it was not imposed [but spread] over time through inter-marriage. They have never thought that religion is something to fight about." Salih argued that the Sudan was "a harmonious society - no exaggeration. Anyone who lived there in the 40s, 50s, and 60s will agree. Sudanese Jews - we didn’t know they were Jew until they emigrated to Israel - we’d always thought they were Sudanese!"

"I was re-reading Achebe recently. I was amazed at how much of the rituals had crept to the Sudan. The Sudanese get the essence - the African essence. What is Africa anyway? We tend to oversimplify; the oversimplification comes because of political conflict." Chinua Achebe had been instrumental in getting Salih’s work published in the African Writers Series, and the Sudanese spoke of his friendship with his Nigerian counterpart. "There is a great fondness between my humble self and Achebe," he disclosed. "It’s the same world in my work and Achebe’s. Of course there are differences, but deep down, it’s the same society."

Salih returned to the Arab/African question. "People these days fuss too much about whether one is Arab or African. The Northern Sudanese have solved this problem; to them, one is either blue or green." The Arabic language, he pointed out, has a wonderful approach to the racial issue when it comes to its treatment of colour in people. "The words ‘black’ and ‘white’ do not exist in Arabic… people are red, blue or green, which is a very good way of solving the issue. We don’t conform to the stereotype of the Arab. [When you read the] history of Arabs in the Peninsula, they were not white or black; they were blue and green. I hope the day will come when people will move away from stereotypes."

However, having declared that: "I don’t believe in Arab superiority," Tayeb Salih was somewhat controversial in his view of the conflict in the Sudan. "Our brothers in the South wanted to make a case that they were oppressed but [they were] not oppressed in the way they describe. Then they went on to say that the Northern Sudanese is intrinsically racist, which is not true." He added that: "We are Africans because we are in Africa - we also have Arab blood. We look African, for God’s sake." A member of the audience probed further about Southern Sudan. "The word is racism, really," the author cut in. "You are trying to say the Arab in the Sudan are racist. I don’t believe so. If you believe that, then you are very mistaken, my friend."

Asked how he got his first break with the BBC by a lady in the audience who complimented his voice, Salih replied: "I am very flattered that you liked my voice." He had been working as a teacher in Rufah when he saw a BBC advert for an announcer and, having had problems getting higher education, he "felt London could help, I got a letter and so here I am." He continues to write in Arabic because "English is not my language. In Arabic, I can take risks, so why bother, when there are good translators?"

Growing up in his home country under British rule, "we didn’t know the British were our masters - can you believe it? - because they were so rare, we only saw one in a blue moon." The author said he would have liked to go back and live in the Sudan, but "we know that something unattractive has occurred. With due respect to the [Sudanese] Ambassador (in the audience), I don’t want to say anything nasty, but something horrible was done."

Nevertheless, Salih remains very proud of being Sudanese. "It is a matter of principle to me - what some would call a question of identity. I have lived [in Britain] for a long time, married here and I have never asked for British citizenship - and I hope the British don’t feel insulted. But it is really a stupid thing on my part because the Sudanese passport has become very difficult, with all due respect to the Ambassador - it’s not his fault! The Sudanese passport - it changes colour - sometimes it is blue and yellow."

Tayeb Salih then went on to share a traveller’s experience that would ring true to most Africans - Nigerians especially - who travel through Western airports. "The worst is when you try to enter America. They do horrible things to you. They make you go naked into paradise!"

Monday, September 11, 2006

read on

Osofisan on poetry and limbs...
Femi Osofisan keeps things brief, in a shortish interview with Amatoritsero Ede in this month's issue of Sentinel Poetry Online. Noted for his many plays, some may overlook the fact that Osofisan is also a poet with several collections to his name (he also writes under the pseudonym, Okinba Launko). Asked whether one calling interferes with another, the answer was, No. It is "rather like having different limbs," in fact. Osofisan also touched on the lingering controversy with the NLNG prize for Nigerian literature...

You know I was on the Board which decided the policy, and so I am equally responsible for it. The reasons we have presented elsewhere, and I am prepared to defend them any time. However, the interesting thing is that, after all the controversy started by Odia, some of us were sacked rather unceremoniously from the Board, and a new Board set up. And what was interesting is that this new Board reconsidered the decision, and reaffirmed it! But I am glad to have been sacked, because it now makes it easy for me to compete!

And Osofisan is in competition for the NLNG Prize (awarded this year for Plays) this time round, as it happens. The former director of the National Theatre, Lagos, is one of 3 people on the shortlist, with his play, Ajayi Crowther. The other 2 on the very short list for the $20,000 prize, are: Ahmed Yerima (Osofisan's successor at the National Theatre) for Hard Ground; and Emeka Egwuda for Esoteric Dialogue.

-


Further to Naguib Mahfouz, Hisham Matar (author of In the Country of Men) recalls a literary evening in 2004 in a Cairo hotel with the now departed great man of Egyptian letters. More like a secret rendezvous, really... Mahfouz's assistant has to keep tabs on how many cigarettes he has left, as he's limited by doctors to 5 a day; and Matar gets to ask a nagging question...

After one of the long silences Mahfouz turned to his assistant and said, "How many do I have left?"

"Three," the assistant said.

Mahfouz took out a cigarette and smoked it with obvious relish.

Then came my turn to speak. I suddenly became doubtful about my visit; there was so much I had wanted to ask, but now none of it seemed important. I have always felt ambivalent about meeting literary heroes. Margaret Atwood once said that "wanting to meet a writer because you like their books is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pâté".

I asked a question that immediately exposed me. I shouted in his ear: "How do you see writers such as myself, Arabs who write in English?" He said nothing and continued to look straight ahead. Feeling awkward in the silence I pressed on. "Do we belong to Arabic literature, or the literature of the language in which we write?" Words like "we", "belong", suddenly seemed weightless.

"A writer serves the language he writes in," Mahfouz said unequivocally.

A few of the gathered nodded in agreement.

I felt annoyed at myself, at my naked soliciting of an embrace. I had wanted him to say that, regardless of my exile, we were still brothers. I recalled at that moment what the Syrian poet Nizar al-Qabbani, who had lived and died in London but had never surrendered his Arabic language, had once said about young Arab writers who, due to their early exile, were now writing in languages that were not their own: in his eyes, we were like wild horses - untamed, beautiful, but lost.

Then Mahfouz said: "But who cares now where Shakespeare was from?"

This made me feel worse. He must have noticed my desperation and was being charitable. Mahfouz turned to his assistant and asked again: "How many do I have left?"

"Now, two," the assistant said.

Then Mahfouz lit another cigarette.

- Read More.

African Writers Evening

Writer Nii Ayikwei Parkes plays host to Wangui wa Goro (Kenya) & Togara Muzanenhamo (Zimbabwe) - @ the next event in the African Writers Evening series.
The Poetry Cafe
22 Betterton Street
Covent Garden
London WC2
Date & Time: Friday 15th September @ 7.30pm

Film & LitFests

The 8th Lagos Book & Arts Festival is at the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos - from Friday 15 September to Sunday 17th. More details from CORA.

Tunde Kelani's film, Abeni, is @ the Toronto International Film Festival on the 14th & 16th of September.

This year's Stavanger Literature Festival is on this week in Norway, with a significant Nigerian presence - details below.
  • Wednesday 13th
    Opening Lecture by Booker prize winning author of The Famished Road,
    Ben Okri.

  • Thursday 14th
    Chris Abani talks about his novel Graceland. He's also out and about at the festival on Friday 15th, exploring what poets can learn from Jazz musicians.
  • Jack Mapanje (Malawi) and Chenjerai Hove (Zimbabwe) discuss what happens when non-native English writers write in the language.

  • Poet Benjamin Zephaniah (Jamaica/UK) and Uzodinma Iweala (author of Beasts of No Nation) feature in the Critics' Lounge. Iweala is the 'International of the Day' on Friday 15th.

  • Friday 15th
    Poetry Marathon with, amongst others
    Kat Francois (Grenada/UK), Zephaniah, and Chris Abani

  • Reggae Poetry - headlined by the leading Dub Poet, Linton Kwesi-Johnson.

  • Saturday 16th
    Sefi Atta, author of Everything Good Will Come & winner of the 1st Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature, discusses the problem of growing up privileged - with exiled Nigerian writer/journalist, Isioma Daniel.

  • Later in the day, Atta and Kat Froncois are among women writers sharing experiences about describing men in their work. Atta & Francois have shared a billing before, at the Spit Lit Festival in London in March 2005.

  • Benjamin Zephaniah is the 'International of the Day'.
Festival closes on Sunday 17th.

Brixton Stories

Biyi Bandele's play, Brixton Stories, opened at the Lyric, London on 5th September. It follows Ossie and his daughter as they walk the streets of Brixton - also the setting of Bandele's novel, The Street.

Brixton Stories is @ The Lyric until September 23.

  • Photo: Production image

Lost in Hawaii

Here's a newspaper clip, through which I first learned of the arrest of actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who plays Mr Eko in the television series, Lost. It's the latest in a string of arrests involving cast members of the show, which is filmed in Hawaii. Still, it could have been worse. The actor will bounce back bigger and better, I expect.

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in brief...

"...London-born Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje who was asked in a media interview last week if there was pressure to make his name more Westernised to fit into Hollywood. His response was: “I’m of Nigerian descent, from the Yoruba tribe. Names are very significant in that culture. It basically states your purpose in life. Ade is ‘the crown’, Wale means ‘to arrive’, so that means ‘the crown has arrived’. Akin is ‘warrior’ and Agbaje is ‘prosperity and wealth’. Every day when someone calls my name, they remind me of that purpose and for me to renounce that would be sacrilege. The name caused a lot of scrapes growing up. And having come this far, I wasn’t going to abandon it for Hollywood. People are getting used to it. They abbreviate it to triple A.” - Culled from The Punch newspaper, Lagos, Nigeria.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Critique Reading Session - September Edition

The Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Abuja Chapter, announces its September Critique Reading Session.

The session enables the works of writers to be closely read and critiqued. The process involves writers sending their material in advance so that copies can be made for circulation.

Material for the critique session MUST be sent by email to anaabuja@fastermail.com at least a fortnight before the event to facilitate reproduction and circulation.

This event takes place at the American Corner of the Bola Ige Information Technology Centre at the National Centre for Women Development.

Date: Thursday, September 14, 2006
Time: 4:30 pm (Event starts at the designated time.)

Uduakobong Kanico

ANA Abuja
Special September Reading

The Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Abuja Chapter, announces its special September reading session.

The Guest Writer for the event is Dul Johnson, author of Shadows and Ashes and Why Women Wont Make it to Heaven. Both are collections of short stories. Dr Johnson currently teaches at the National Film Institute, Jos, Plateau State.

All lovers of the literary arts are invited to this event which takes place at Reiz Continental Hotel, behind Nicon Insurance Plaza and adjacent to the National Library, Central Area, Abuja.

Date: Thursday, September 28, 2006
Time: 5:00pm

Contact the ANA Abuja Secretary (08027433095) for the books.

Uduakobong Kanico

Half of a Yellow Sun website

Above is the half-page advert for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 2nd novel - as appeared on the back page of the UK Guardian's Review section yesterday.

Meanwhile, the author has launched a dedicated website for the novel. Find out all there is to know about Half of a Yellow Sun, read an excerpt - and post your Biafra story, if you have one.

Reviewing WS

Not the Wasted Generation

The importance of memoirs cannot be underestimated because they provide insights that sometimes cannot be found in history books. So memoirs are essential towards our understanding of a particular history, because of the knowledge, however little, they pass on. The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche noted in 1873:

Every person and every people, according to its goals,
forces, and needs uses a certain knowledge of the past,
sometimes as monumental history, sometimes as
antiquarian history, and sometimes as critical history, but
not as a crowd of pure thinkers only watching life closely,
not as people eager for knowledge, individuals only
satisfied by knowledge, for whom an increase of
understanding is the only goal, but always only for the
purpose of living and, in addition, under the command
and the highest guidance of this life.

That need for understanding the past becomes all the more urgent for Nigerians whose nation’s history has thus far been anything but peaceful and successful. Nigeria continues to be a puzzle of underachievement, a conundrum of missed opportunities, a riddle of failures, an enigma of misplaced values, and a mystery of misused potentials and roads not taken.

Little wonder that at his 50th birthday anniversary in 1984, Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka, frustrated by the grip of hopelessness and despair on the nation, lamented that his "has been a wasted generation". But has it really been a "wasted generation" ?

You Must Set Forth At Dawn, Soyinka’s third memoir, following Ake:The Years of Childhood and the faction, Ibadan – The Penkelemes Years, provides an intriguing retraction of that famous phrase. At the end of what is easily his lengthiest and most fascinating book, a hefty 500 pages in the American edition sans pictures, appendix, and index, and an almost intimidating 626 pages in the Nigerian edition courtesy of the Ibadan-based Bookcraft, there is no evidence that his generation has been a wasted one.

Yes, the generation has not fulfilled the promise with which it emerged as the potential successor to the local leaders who had overseen the country’s transformation from a British colony to an independent state. But even as students of higher institutions in the United Kingdom, Soyinka and his colleagues could see the quality of leadership that the country was about to be blessed with.

The nationalists, the first-generation elected leaders and
legislators of our semi-independent nation, had begun to
visit Great Britain in droves. We watched their preening,
their ostentatious spending, and their cultivated
condescension, even disdain toward the people they
were supposed to represent. There were exceptions, but, in
the main, they did not appear to have emerged from the
land and people we had left behind when we journeyed out
to acquire some skills and learning. While we dreamed of
marching south to liberate Southern Africa, they saw the
nation as a prostrate victim to be ravished.
(P. 48)

Contrast that with how this young generation saw itself:

We knew, beyond all doubt, our place within the evolving
organism of new nations. We, the young generation of that
independence phase, a renaissance people who would
transform the strange bequest into a world. The only way to
grasp this confidence, this self-assurance is to treat it as pure
knowledge. Not intuition, not revelation, not blind faith, not
ambition, not deductive reasoning or a conscious sense of
mission – no, simply as knowledge in its purest, unassailable
form. And we were working in our various fields – quite
indifferent to any special designation – to bring about this
(P. 43)

That the renaissance has failed to materialise especially in Nigeria is not totally the fault of these purveyors of progress.

Soyinka’s account shows how the euphoria of Independence progressively turned into a cycle of bloodletting, rigged elections, coups, a civil war, and more coups. And yes, more of his generation gradually become part of the ruling establishment that leads the nation from one disaster to the other. But it is also his generation that sets the standard in various fields of human endeavour; standards that are yet to be surpassed, for instance, in the field of literature.

It is also his generation that has been at the forefront of opposing the variants of misrule that the country has experienced, with Soyinka himself becoming an arrowhead of sorts from the moment he daringly swops the tape of the recorded speech of the Premier of Western Nigeria with his own denouncing the rigged elections.

One shudders to think of what would have become of Nigeria if there had been no consolidated resistance to the various forms of misrule and tyranny that have been our lot since the Union Jack was lowered October, 1960. In one sense then, You Must Set Forth At Dawn is a tribute to the resistance that has ensured Nigeria has not gone down the drains. A resistance that has paid the price in many ways. But it is a passionate ode to steadfast, loyal and sacrificial friendship. The roles of his bossom friends especially Femi Johnson and Oyetunji Aboyade are crucial to several of his interventions in the nation’s political arena. Their loss is fittingly captured in this epic narrative. Indeed the tribute to Femi Johnson influences the structure of the memoir.

But this epic is more than a tribute. It also enables us understand and appreciate, and rightly so since it is through his perspective that the narration takes place, Soyinka as political motivator, activist, writer, hunter, wine connoisseur and noble Nobel laureate.

First, it is evident that the author is driven by the credo of justice. When the quest for justice possesses him, he undertakes highly risky ventures like going to negotiate the possibility of a truce on the Biafran side during the Nigerian Civil War, pleading a reprieve for Mamman Vatsa and other alleged coup plotters, or taking unorthodox and dangerous procedures of going into exile to escape Abacha’s murder squad. He puts everything into the resistance including the windfall from the Nobel Prize. This desire to see that justice is done propels him to intervene beyond the shores of Nigeria, to stop the bloodletting in South Africa or Northern Ireland.

Soyinka has an almost religious devotion to wine and hunting and several examples turn up frequently as attestation. Likewise, he recognises his limitations and would not be enticed into doing things he knows he does not have the capacity to deliver to the required standard. Soon after the demise of Abacha, he is courted by both Abdulsalami and a pressure group to consider taking over as the nation’s leader. He declines the offers and promptings even when there is a promise to bankroll his campaign if he accepts to contest:

My immediate objection was that I would not make
a unifying president. An influential caucus in the North-
a feudal elite whom I had never spared, and who in turn
had indoctrinated their constituency with the convenient
notion that I hated the North in its entirety – viewed me
with great suspicion. To make the ideal president, I would
first have to dismantle that lie, and that, I knew, would
require making undeserved concessions.

Soyinka comes across as a pragmatist and this he exhibits in his religious syncretism as well as in his involvement with at least one or two military regimes. He justifies the latter thus:

It boils down, ultimately, to one’s personal confidence in
determining the length of spoon with which one dines with
the devil and one’s ability to keep a firm hold on it. This
involves deriving no advantages, no gains, no recompense
in the process – if anything, expending oneself both materially
and mentally for the attainment of a fixed and limited goal,
retaining one’s independence of action. Most deliciously
of all is the ability to walk away from the dinner table, flinging
a coin on to it as a tip for the host.
(P. 215)

This justification for working with an Artful Dodger of a dictator will certainly make some wince and shake their head in total disapproval.

You Must Set Forth At Dawn is also a timely warning to Nigerians on the need to be alert, watchful and sensitive about the safety of democracy. It is a collective responsibility, the memoir strongly suggests, to ensure that the ethos of democracy is not hijacked and subverted by those who have self-serving and dictatorial tendencies and ambitions. As the nation’s history has shown, even within the scope covered by Soyinka’s account, each time democracy is undermined the task of restoration becomes more onerous, with greater sacrifices having to be made.

Although not directly stated, it is apparent that the effectiveness of the Resistance over the years has been hampered by lack of proper organisation and coordination. From the Third Force to the NADECO/NALICON era, the Resistance appears to limit itself to Lagos and some sections of the Southwest.

A major insight that this Soyinkan tome provides is that a lot of work needs to be done in the area of sorting out perceptions. There are still genuine fears within the ethnic entities of the nation. Unfortunately any dialogue that has taken place thus far seems to be only when a leader wants to manipulate the political process for a self-serving goal. Consequently the age-old fundamental concerns are given a cosmetic treatment.

In his portrayal of the various key players in Nigeria, Soyinka gleefully savages quite a handful even in the way he describes them. But the indictment of the quality of leadership Nigeria has had to put up with does not come directly from the Nobel laureate. As the black on black killings escalated in South Africa across political and ethnic lines, the danger of a civil war increasingly loomed on the horizon. Various efforts to solve the problem, including external interventions made virtually no headway, especially on the side of the African National Congress, as some hardliners would not allow for dialogue. Yet at some point Nelson Mandela and Chief Buthelezi, the Inkatha leader showed the true stuff of leadership:

The no-dialogue rhetoric continued for some months,
escalating in intensity even as the sheer statistics of
reprisal settled into a numbing spiral. Then one day,
several select assassinations and indiscriminate
massacres later, including the detonation of bombs at
political gathering, right on the heels of yet another
fire-breathing ANC bulletin that promised to wipe out
Inkatha and Inkatha’s like response, news emerged that
Nelson Mandela had quietly shunted aside his Executive
Committee and traveled out on his own to meet Buthelezi.
(P. 323)

Of course, the consequence of that deft move was that South Africa pulled back from the brink of what would have been a tragic civil war.

You Must Set Forth AT Dawn comes to a tantalising end as Soyinka returns home from a physically, mentally and emotionally excruciating exile. This closure seems to indicate that Ogun permitting and without Esu intervening, another Soyinka memoir is very possible. This monumental, critical and perceptive account further proves that the Nobel Prize has been far from a "kiss of death" for Soyinka. Instead, like vintage wine, he is proving that with age even his accomplished standard of the mastery of language and its application to the public good can be surpassed.

  • Emman Usman Shehu's review of You Must Set Forth At Dawn at its formal presentation in Abuja on Tuesday 5th September, 2006 at Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre. Quotes are from the Bookcraft edition.

Facing Kilimanjaro

Tade Ipadeola (right, photographed by this blogger at Terra Kulture, Lagos, on 7th September 2005) placed 2nd in the Muson Poetry Prize 1999 - with his poem, Facing Kilimanjaro...

Facing Kilimanjaro

‘I have something to say I want to say
But it surpasses saying.’
- Kofi Awoonor

Hold my hands
Upon this mount of visions,
Hallow this hour hedged
Past haruspications.

The black and blue Nile knit
Purple robes,
To cover this nakedness
So strikingly stark -

Billows blow breathlessly on
The sapped continent…
But we shall rise.
We shall be strong again
We shall not be naked


From these heights I see
Restored to lands;
And people of the land
Strength from Kibo
I’m flushed with light
And from this height
I speak
Peace to troubled turfs
Where I see
The hair on hoary heads.
I see the depths:
Stones of a richer mine
Untouched and unsoiled,
Beckoning, beckoning to me
Richer stones unlaundered
From Kimberly’s belly
All mine
In the savannah sprawls…
I am rich again -


But vultures also wait
Circling for the death scent
For the air to reek
With arbitage

And who are these brethren
Thrusting turgid stones
At one
What blindness, what darkness!
What blind unseeing!
They close in on us
On blood scent
Because the night has fallen
Yet again…

Low as a lie
The vultures circle,
Scarlet unfurls her bloody mast
She glows at the stench
And swoops
To scoop the entrails
Of gods.


Women bleed milk
For each travelling man
That they may remember the way back
If ever…

In the fields
Maddened men
Slash and slit their brothers

I heard a gurgle
In a trunc-
ated throat
No song.
I see the compound eyes
Of flies and spies
And I hear the women wail.
They wail over wombs
That will not heal
Among women

And I saw them:
Vultures and scarves
Skiing down Alpine slopes,
A host of hopes
In their wine wakes


Weep for the waifs,
Cry for the child soldiers

Ghouls caress their infant heads
No homely little cradle beds
Their nascent bloom so soon is shed
Child soldiers…

Weep as they sleep
Wasted infant gunners

Somewhere in the heights
A tear trickles
A head
A head

Mourn the mass of innocence unsung
Time is
Time is not


I mourn the mounds
Of infant flesh
Soaked in damned dreams

I see a sea
Of brine
A sea of wine
So you see
My eyes.

I wait for day
For dreams to sail on streams of light
For children to be innocent again

My longing:
To see birds nest on the trees
The hunters hunting herds in peace
To face the mountain with a cup
To drink the waters at the top…
To climb in peace


Then up to Kibo
To know life
Wrought whole and well
Like the ancients
Of the ancient tribes -

To go up with Mandela
The Kabaka
And all of God’s children
Marcus, Martin, Malcolm;
And all of God’s shopped children
Up to Kibo
From distant lands
Turning, returning
To the Fatherland
To Kibo
Facing Kilimanjaro.

Tade Ipadeola

  • Facing Kilimanjaro is taken from The Rain Fardel, Tade Ipadeola's 2nd volume of poetry (Khalam Editions, Ibadan, 2005).
  • Reproduced with permission.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


“Do you remember? How quickly the memories are slipping away. What do you want? To chant? Or just call out? To whom? For what? There’s a voice speaking inside of you. Do you hear? Do you see? But where? There’s nothing. Nothing. Darkness and more darkness. A gentle motion’s pushing with the regularity of the ticking of a clock. The heart is flowing with it. There’s a whisper accompanying it. The gate of the garden. Isn’t that so? It’s moving in a fluid, rippling way and slowly dissolving. The towering tree is dancing gently. The sky… the sky? High, expansive… nothing but the calm, smiling sky with peace raining from it.”

Palace Walk, Vol 1 in The Cairo Trilogy (Black Swan edition, 1995).

Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006)

  • BBC Radio 4 will broadcast a reading of Naguib Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy in the Classic Serial programme slot, starting on 15th October 2006.

ANA Lagos

ANA Lagos' September Reading!

Association of Nigerian Authors, Lagos Chapter Presents
September Reading!
Whether you are a Poet, Playwright or Fictionist, You are warmly welcome to the motivating monthly Reading of the Associations of Nigerian Authors Lagos Chapter (ANA-Lagos).
Venue: National Gallery of Art (Aina Onabolu Complex), National Theatre, Iganmu.
Date: Every second Sunday of the month (starting: September 9th, 2006)
Time: 2.00 p.m. prompt.
Highlights: Readings, Music Presentations, and lots more.
All Lagos Writers are invited.


It walts, slow, arrests your gaze
With its wounded grace
As you fly by on a Lagos bridge.

It spins a sad pirouette on swampy axis
Reeks, the grandeur of an ageing barge
On a festering sea of green.
Or a spaceship, stuck on pitiless plain;
Adrift in the cosmos, bereft of stars.

In the musty caverns, marshy tongues, claws
Fangs and creepers - lay their swarthy claim.

Here the dark joys sang, danced and
Jumped - to the glory of the race

In the seventy-seventh year of a lost century.
Now it echoes silence; an amphitheatre for ghosts.

  • After a visit to the National Theatre, Lagos, Nigeria - 16 August 2004
  • Amphitheatre is published in the 1st issue of The Poetsletter Magazine, August 2006.

© Molara Wood

new reads

“Bismillah,” he says, rubbing my shoulder. “No woman needs to be manhandled and that is good news about your friend. I hear you too have good news in your family. Hassan’s wife had a baby boy?”

“Last week.”

“What is his name?”


“Hm. Every baby boy in this town is called Osama.”

“What’s wrong with Osama?”

“Nothing, but you would think the man is our sarki barraki the way we carry on.”

He smokes his cigarette. People name their boys Osama to make sure they will grow up fearless. The real Osama is more revered than our sarki barraki. He is so popular here you can’t find an Osama poster to buy anymore. They’re sold out. What did know-it-all Binta have to say about that? That a thousand Osama posters cannot beautify our mud walls.

-Read on...

“The only good thing about Father’s death,” Peter had said in his careless way, “is that we will not have to put up with his tiresome relations.” We learned soon enough that this prediction was premature. Death does not sever the ties; it binds them ever tighter, for it is in death and its attendant processes that kinship asserts its triumphant claims. He had been lent to us as husband and father, but in death the clan reclaimed him. They buried him in Shurugwi, where we had to travel for hours on uncertain roads to visit his grave. Kinship asserted itself through the funeral rites, in the ceremony to release his spirit, and in the accompanying ceremony of inheritance. His family had even attempted to speak on his behalf. They consulted a diviner who interceded between this world and the next: Father did not rest easy, was his uncompromising verdict. It appeared that the reasons for his discomfort were mainly financial.

- Read on