Thanks to the Kaduna Book and Arts Festival for reminding us that the African story is being told by our writers, poets, musicians and artists. It’s a vast story with multiple and diverse narratives. These stories have also been and are being told by different generations of African writers and we are happy that the new generation is bold and audacious.
This week I’m at the Kabafest2019 in Kaduna for the simple reason that I enjoyed last year’s edition and I have come for more. Kabafest has become important because it has been able to seek out young talents and display them for the greater enjoyment of all participants. It’s refreshing to see a major event in Nigeria where young people are in charge not only as writers, artists, musicians, dancers and poets but also as moderators of most of the debates. As I said in my comments on the event last year, these young artists have made a qualitative leap forward, unlike the Achebe’s and Ngugi’s of the 1960s, as they are simply telling their stories rather than seeking to prove that Africans too are human and have a culture to display. They are not limited by the meta-narrative of telling the “true” story of African nationalism and its discontents. In other words, they feel much freer and the epistemological foundation of their work is more authentic. The festival is organised by the indefatigable Lola Shoneyin, with support from the Kaduna State government and other sponsors. A note most also be made of the efforts of the Yasmin El Rufai Foundation, in providing a safe space where writers, artists, musicians and dancers can express themselves freely.
One of the biggest issues addressed in the Festival is about ‘consent’, a word that evokes strong emotions when it is associated with sex. Mohammad Gulani from Ahmadu Bello University told his story about how he was forced to cancel the panel on consent in the University Abuja arts and books festival (ABUFEST) last July. Opposition rose within the University administration and some religious organisations because he invited Fakhmiyyah Hashim, the brave lady who launched #ArewaMeToo, with the laudable objective that rapists and all those who engage in violence against women must be exposed and challenged. While everyone agrees with the principle, many were emotionally charged that she was saying out loud what is usually whispered and exposing the underbelly of Northern society, thereby exposing them to radicle. To shut her up, they wove a new counter-narrative that those who talk about the importance of consent support homosexuality. Thanks, Fakhmiyyah for refusing to be intimidated.
The most explosive panel so far was the one on “Women as leaders in Northern Nigeria”. Amina Salihu set the stage by pointing out that virtually every woman acts as a leader in her family and community without recognition but the strength of patriarchy is such that women are almost systematically excluded from governance. She made a passionate appeal that progressive Northern Nigeria should work for the development of new tactics and strategy to open more governance doors for women. Fatima Zahra Umar, a politician and lawyer with clear plans to be the next governor of Adamawa State, was more assertive and rather dismissive of being tactical. For her, ‘we have been too nice for too long and it has not worked, so we must now be brave and bold and take power’. The third panellist, Maryam Laushi was as assertive in arguing that no one will give you power if you do not plan and strategise for it. A very hot debate ensued between the panellists and some male participants in the audience and what I can say here is that the male chauvinists who tried to lecture the ladies got the rude responses they deserved.
The Booklogue on two writers evoked strong emotions about identity politics in contemporary Africa. Zukiswa Wanner’s novel, “London, Capetown, Joburg” tells the story of a family of Africans who moved from Europe to South Africa, only to find out that it’s sometimes easier to say you are African in Europe than in Africa…
The panel on ‘banditry, kidnapping and the psychological impact of violence’ was sobering. Folarin Banigbe told the story of why he wrote a book about his own kidnapping. The kidnappers, he said, had a problem with the rapacious Nigerian elite that have messed up the country and therefore decided to take their own inheritance by force. The problem, he explained, is that he is also a hustler trying to survive, so they should have taken someone who bears responsibility for what has been happening to the country. The reality, however, is that they pick those that they can and not the guiltiest. The psychological impact of being kidnapped is massive and affects not just the person picked but the person’s family and indeed, the community. The other panellists – Aisha Armiyau and Bukky Shonibaire explored means of addressing the problem, including through more effective security systems and negotiation but pointed out that at the end of the day, the massive inequality affecting Nigeria must be addressed if we want to solve the problem.
The Booklogue on two writers evoked strong emotions about identity politics in contemporary Africa. Zukiswa Wanner’s novel, London, Capetown, Joburg tells the story of a family of Africans who moved from Europe to South Africa, only to find out that it’s sometimes easier to say you are African in Europe than in Africa and one of the difficult narratives she addressed in the novel is the Afrophobic attacks on other Africans in South Africa, where black-on-black killings recur regularly, while Italian criminal bands operate freely without being attacked. Nnamdi Oguike book of short stories, Do Not Say It’s Not Your Country moves from one African country to another telling stories of human emotions, love, hate and anger. I was impressed when he said he had not even visited many of the countries that provide the setting for his stories. He read from one of his stories of the anguish of a Muslim man in Mpape, Abuja’s falling in love with an “infidel” Christian Igbo girl, which should be good reading.
That promise of a greater tomorrow for Africa, Africans and people of African descent is being told, written, sang, danced and painted every single day. For my readers in Kaduna, do join us at Silversands Hotel, as the conversations continue today.
For the second year running, the master of ceremonies (MC), looking very embarrassed, apologised for Ogaba Ochai’s dance, seeking to reassure the audience that it was not voodoo. Ogaba tells powerful metaphysical stories through dance. People hold their breadth when he marches through the audience to the stage wearing only short pants and paint on his body. Of course prudish Northern society sometimes finds the form indecent but I think this great choreographer is doing Muslim Northern Nigeria a service by reminding them that sometimes, Africans dance in shorts without their shirts on. It’s called diversity and the MC should be warned to stop apologising about the dance.
The consensus is that African literature exists, it is flourishing and telling the African story. What then is the African story? This is one of the joys of attending Kabafest – you get to find this out. Thanks to the Kaduna Book and Arts Festival for reminding us that the African story is being told by our writers, poets, musicians and artists. It’s a vast story with multiple and diverse narratives. These stories have also been and are being told by different generations of African writers and we are happy that the new generation is bold and audacious. That promise of a greater tomorrow for Africa, Africans and people of African descent is being told, written, sang, danced and painted every single day. For my readers in Kaduna, do join us at Silversands Hotel, as the conversations continue today.