FRATERNAL MESSAGE FROM MR. ELLIOT AGYARE, PRESIDENT OF THE COMMONWEALTH BOOK PUBLISHERS ASSOCIATION (CBPA) AND IMMEDIATE PAST PRESIDENT OF THE GHANA PUBLISHERS ASSOCIATION (GPA) ON THE INTERNATIONAL AFRICAN WRITERS DAY ON THE TOPIC, “CELEBRATION OF THE INTERNATIONAL AFRICAN WRITERS DAY: A WAY
FORWARD” – NOVEMBER 7, 2021.
Distinguished Ladies & Gentlemen.
I am so sorry I cannot be there with you in person. I am in Oda attending a funeral.
It’s still such a pleasure to share a few comments with you. Today’s observance of the International African Writers Day also marks the 30th anniversary of the resolution to commemorate this day as Africa’s day for writers. Looking back, what the 1991 Conference of African Ministers of Education and Culture in Benin envisioned was the setting aside of 7th of November as a day to afford all Africans across the continent, “a time to ponder and celebrate the role of writers in the continent’s development.” So in essence, they wanted a day on our continental calendar, for all Africans to remember and consider deeply the pivotal role writers have played in our society. They probably had Santayana’s popular quote in mind “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. ”We therefore are here today to remember our heroic writers and to celebrate them.
We are telling them that we will not forget their contributions to the total emancipation of our dear continent.
The sheer scope and audacity of the resolution’s intention is mind blowing today. What we are celebrating was never meant to be an event exclusively for writers and the book industry but a continental event in magnitude and scale. And there is so much that we can reflect on. The sheer history and evolution of African writing is incredible. Where do we even start? The history of Africa’s literary heritage goes way back perhaps 4,000 years. How far back do we go in our reflections on their contributions?
Is it safe for instance, for the sake of convenience to consider as we go through this day of introspection, our pre-colonial writings or the works produced during the struggle for independence, or what has been classified as the literature of hope and despair over the betrayal of the goals of liberation struggles after independence? Do
we focus our attention on what is currently being produced in this period of renewed resistance against internal and external forces? Those that prevent the full realization of the pre- independence visions?
The other interesting consideration is the connectivity of the various phases and themes that have run through the writings of Africans writers over the years. There is no doubt the connections and repetitive themes, from the interesting slave narrative of the life of Equiano (1789) to the writings of our own Joseph E. Casely-
Hayford, who published what is probably the first African novel written in English, “Ethiopia Unbound: Studies in Race Emancipation” in 1911. This book is considered as one of the first novels in English by an African writer and is seen by many to be the earliest example of Pan-African fiction as the story moves between fiction and political advocacy, perhaps a forerunner of Chinua Achebe’s ground breaking “Things Fall Apart.”
We may also consider the diversity in the writings. African writers have refused to be boxed in and have shown that our stories are never static and informed by monolithic values, but have over the years painted on a broad canvas a wide range of images that depict our diversity.
Although there is often an unusual sense of unity among our writers, they have also championed diverse causes and upheld differing social values, set their own goals, motivating different sections of the society and even depicted alternative visions of what our great African continent can be.
Today is a day for some congratulatory pat on the back. And what a better way to start than to celebrate the winning of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature by our own brother novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah for his “Gravel Heart.” And what a good read it is. It’s difficult to put down once you start. And as we celebrate him, we need to
quickly remind ourselves that it is not our first, our illustrious big brother Wole Soyinka won it in 1986. However, it has taken us 35 years to win another. We are the original storytellers; it should not take us another 35 years to secure another. And so, we celebrate, Chinua Achebe, Aminatta Forna, Nadine Gordimer, Alain Mabanckou, my own favorite, Elechi Amadi, … Ben Okri, we also celebrate Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o.
We in Ghana should definitely make special mention of Ayi Kwei Armah, Ama Atta Aidoo, Atukwei Okai, Kofi Anyidoho, Ama Busia, Kofi Awonnor, Ama Darko, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Kojo Yankah, Efua Sutherland, Mabel Dove Danquah, Francis Kobina Parker, and last but not least, we often forget that the great Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah was himself a prolific writer.
But most importantly the day of commemoration is our recognition of the role writers have played and are playing in our development. How can we ever measure their contribution to our national development as has been demonstrated time and again by our writers in “Word” and by “Deed”? Some paid the ultimate prize in the
fight against foreign and domestic domination and others have stood up for causes in aid of a just and equitable society in Africa. Our Writers have also made contributions in promoting and projecting of our African identity against a strong tide from other parts of the world. The projection of cultural identities of others in our space contributes to our domination and exploitation by others. Our writers and creatives are sometimes the last bastions holding the fort.
We cannot celebrate this day without reminding ourselves of writers in fellow African countries who cannot freely express themselves in an open society. We stand in solidarity with them and urge their immediate release from all kinds of restrictions that do not allow them free expression.
We don’t just have to ponder on the past in introspective lamentation, we should also be recreating new and positive visions of our continental destiny. By bending words to our will in our creative endeavours, we can recreate a brilliant new Africa for us all. We can be daring even as we take from the past to create for our future the kind of Africa that awaits us when today’s battles against hunger, disease, illiteracy, underachievement, misrule and underdevelopment are brought to an end. Perhaps those positive and inspiring images brought to life by our writers will unite us all in one great effort to push beyond current possibilities, and give us renewed hope in our own capacity to transform Africa. In so doing, we may perhaps succeed in taking the eyes of our ruling elites from themselves and their personal interests towards the needs of the masses. Africa can “rise like a phoenix from the ashes” to emerge stronger, smarter and more powerful. Our writers need to take the lead once again. Our writers were at the forefront of the struggle to be free from the shackles of slavery and colonisation. It is crucial that they take the lead again.
Africa needs a new push, I will urge our writing community across the continent to mobilise once again, this is a call to use all the creative powers within us for the greater good. It is possible to re-create great Zimbabwe and amazing Egypt again. We are also celebrating this year’s International African Writers Day firstly against the backdrop of a ravaging Global pandemic. Let us exchange ideas on how to turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity for creativity and the rebuilding of communities across the artificial borders even if they are virtual. We can still celebrate the International African Writers Day by spreading the news about giving impetus to the African renaissance. We may not be able to stand next to each other physically in the struggle for fear of this rather potent virus, but we can still strategise together and advocate together and find solutions together.
Secondly, one of the most consequential global conferences started last week through this week focused exclusively on the Environment. How do we avoid an Environmental suicide (ecocide). This should be of serious concern because this continent is apparently most vulnerable. There is an existential threat to human life
as we know it and an important subject for our consideration. We are already beginning to suffer the effects of the changing climate in our own backyard. How can we harness our creativity to be part of the mitigative and preventative efforts to curtail further damage? It always starts with the WORD!
Let me end with these 3 suggestions which in my estimation will enhance the profile of this day and the celebration of this event in the future.
- Ownership of the celebration of this important continental day should not be
left to Writers alone. The resolution is clear in scope. This means national
leadership in African countries should own this event and make it a truly
continental/national day of celebration across the length and breadth of this
- The appointment of a “National Poet Laureate” will also be a good step in
recognizing the contribution of writers to the development of our countries. The yearly transfer from the current to the next appointee with national ceremonies on this day will be an important demonstration of this commitment.
- A Continental and National Writers Award/s on this day will further enhance
the profile of the celebration and anchor the objectives of the resolution firmly
in the minds of all citizens of Africa.
I wish to raise my hat to all writers across the continent who have blazed the trail and have paved the way through the power of their pen. By the sheer force of their actions they have propelled this continent forward in our quest to be totally free from those who hold us back, whether they come from within or without.