Millennium Post

‘Salman Rushdie is probably not the most read Indian writer’

Binyavanga Wainaina, 42-year-old, acc-laimed writer and Caine Prize winner speaks to Silas Nyanchwani on issues ranging from the perennial headache of writing in native languages to whether Africa really needs aid. Excerpts:

How do you compare today’s writing to that of ’60s?

Now, I think there is an opportunity for a more muscular engagement with issues.  It wasn’t really different back then, but now we are about to witness people embracing their languages more, new literature in native languages will emerge and a powerful commitment to digital platforms.

Is writing in African languages really feasible?

This argument need not be there. It used to be there in 1970s when the scholars were fighting. The problem is what I can call the ‘Plantation Mentality’ whereby people believed that they must pursue what was prescribed to them and never wished to step out of it.
That syllabus is what we have stuck with all this time. But since in the 70s the educated class was looking up to the multi-national-corporations for employment, they had to stick with it, but really that is a moot argument. We must own ourselves if we are to make a leap forward.
Feasibility is a small idea. And our education system is responsible for this unenviable situation.

Have African writers tried native languages before? And what did they achieve?

Well, in Zimbabwe they have done so much in Shona and Ndebele languages. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was an a student in Igbo. Achebe did poetry in Igbo and is celebrated in Igbo land as much as he is savoured in the whole world. Ethiopia is doing well with their Amharic. In Nigeria artistic productions in Hausa or Yoruba thrived long before even before the Nollywood industry came to be.  It is feasible. Even in India, Hindi is preferred and the native languages are encouraged. Salman Rushdie is probably not the most read Indian writer. 

What is the future of Kenyan literary network Kwani?

Kwani has become donor-funding dependent and that has to stop at some point. We must move and commercialise our material. We need to venture into online platform and minimise our dependence on donor funding.
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