Reliving Makerere in Ibadan

Writers from Africa converged on the University of Ibadan last weekend to relive the historical Makerere Conference of 1962 that attempted to chart a course for African Literature.

IT was well worth the wait. 60 years after eminences in African literature, including Professor Wole Soyinka, the late Professor Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, John Pepper Clark, Obi Wali, Gabriel Okara, Bernard Fonlon, Frances Ademola, Donatus Nwoga, Cameron Duodu, Kofi Awoonor, Ezekiel Mphahlele, Bloke Modisane, Lewis Nkosi, Dennis Brutus and Arthur Maimane, met at the Makerere Writers Conference in June 1962, another happened last week in Ibadan, Oyo State.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (then known as James Ngugi), Robert Serumaga, Rajat Neogy, Okot p’Bitek, Pio Zirimu, Grace Ogot, Rebecca Njau, David Rubadiri, Jonathan Kariara and American Langston Hughes also attended the 1962 Conference of Writers of English Expression held in Makerere College, Kampala, Uganda.

Sixty years after they and others who retired academic, James Gibbs, said were not necessarily writers (Okigbo and The Makerere Conference) but included “broadcasters, editors and publishers, and people who were ‘more than publishers’”, their ‘legatees’ met in Ibadan from June 23 to 25.

The focus, as clearly spelt out in the theme, ‘Literature Since Makerere 1962: The African Writers’ Pan African Agenda for Peace, Security and Cultural Development’ was to examine the aftermath of that conference and lend literature to peace-building in a conflict-riddled Africa.

Instructively, peace-building was not just for countries and societies riven with conflict on the continent. The Pan African Writers Association (PAWA), which organised the conference in collaboration with the Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL) and the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), itself needed peace and cooperation in its fold. Luckily, the Annual General Meeting, the first in 28 years, achieved this.

 

Opening Cocktail

With delegates from Liberia, Togo, Congo, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, Zambia, Niger, Mozambique, Equatorial Guinea, Namibia, Malawi, Egypt, Sudan, Mauritania, Cote D’Ivoire, Uganda, Gabon, Cameroun, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Chad, Benin, Guinea, Burundi and Mali arriving earlier in the day on Thursday, the welcome cocktail was a light affair. It featured fraternisation, eating, drinking and lots of dancing. Director, Ghana’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, John Agbeko and Chair, ANA Oyo, Abiola Layonu, led the way in dancing. The lithe Layonu was a delight to watch, twisting and turning to soulful highlife tunes from an excellent band.

 

Literary heavyweights

If the welcome cocktail was filled with bonhomie, the opening ceremony was an outing of literary heavyweights. Eminent critic Professor Dan Izevbaye; Emeritus Professor Femi Osofisan; Professors Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide, Francis Egbokhare, Tunde Adeniran, Toyin Falola, and Akachi Ezigbo were all present at the event where Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo sent a representative. Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo, former ANA President, Professor Olu Obafemi and Dr Tony Marinho joined remotely.

In his remarks, Osinbajo, who was represented by Director-General of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria, Seye Oyeleye, said it was noteworthy that writers were using their art to promote peace, security and brotherliness. He charged them not to relent.

“There is a greater need today for writers to engage and mobilise the citizenry more, especially youths across the region, through creative writing and related engagements to build a more inclusive, enlightened and prosperous continent. Youth participation in politics and governance must take its rightful place. As purveyors of Africa’s cultural heritage in music, film and the entirety of the creative sector, we must harness their energies, enthusiasm and creativity to ensure a more developed and prosperous Africa,” the VP said.

He added, “It is possible to reduce the menace of coups, insurgencies and bad governance in parts of the continent by breeding a critical mass of young Africans using their creativity and energies in culture, entertainment and technology. Our young people are already at the vanguard of advocacy for good governance and the enhancement of citizens’ fundamental human rights, which is as it should be. I hope that the outcome of this important discourse will contribute to a gradual reduction in the spate of coups, unrests and insurgencies in Africa and usher in a period of stability, peace and progress across the continent.”

Other speakers at the opening ceremony included the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Professor Kayode Adebowale, PAWA President John Rusimbi, Agbeko and NAL President, Professor Duro Oni, who presented his speech remotely. They all acknowledged 1962’s historic meeting and why literature must be in the service of humanity. The speakers didn’t fail to track the progress of African literature, holding that more can still be achieved.


There were also goodwill messages from Assistant DG, UNESCO, Firmin Edouard Matoko, Agbeko, Richard Mamman of Network of Book Promoters and Dr Doyin Odebowale, representing the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu. The opening had performances with the Ajowa Cultural Troupe outstanding.

Before the opening ceremony ended, ‘Voices That Sing Behind the Veil’, an anthology of African Short Stories edited by Ivor Agyeman – Duah and published by PAWA, was presented by Prof Izevbaye.

 

Egyptian journalist, Ashraf Aboud Yazid; PAWA Secretary General, Dr Wale Okediran; PAWA President, John Rusimbi and ANA president, Camillus Ukah.

1962-2022

There were two keynote speeches at the opening ceremony. The first was by the Egyptian poet and journalist, Ashraf Aboud Yazid. Swedish scholar Prof Bernt Lindfors delivered the main one virtually. His was titled ‘The Emergence of African Literature as a Robust Academic Discipline’ and engaged in a robust discussion of its evolution.

Lindfors disclosed that he was in nearby Western Kenya teaching when the Kampala conference happened but couldn’t attend because his wife had newly given birth. That teaching experience, he noted, changed his life and allowed him to observe trends and tendencies in the emergence of African literature as a robust academic discipline.

The academic, who further detailed how he got a job at the University of Texas at Austin and became editor of its ‘Research in African Literatures’ journal recalled how interest in African literature began building from that moment to the present. He described this as a good development.

“The proliferation of African literature in English in the 21st century is something we should cherish, for there are now more writers producing more works of quality than ever before, and their achievements are being heralded by a new generation of African literature scholars who want to call attention to them.”

Professor Femi Osofisan, Zimbabwe’s Virginia Phiri, Cameroun’s Professor Sarah Agba, Kenyan Professor Richard Wafula and Dr Abba Abba from Nigeria also presented papers after the opening ceremony.

The second round of papers the following day featured four presenters. Renowned poet and scholar, Professor Tanure Ojaide’s was entitled ‘Shared Glory, Shared Blame: the Creative Writer, the Literary Scholar and Nigerian Literature.’ The kernel of his presentation was that there’s no vibrant literature without vibrant criticism. He lamented that the condition of Nigerian universities is not conducive to creative writing and literature as academics tend to favour publishing only for promotion. He concluded that reading is the way to grow Nigerian literature.

Professor Niyi Okunoye spoke on ‘The Example of the Makerere Generation in African Writing’ and Dr Tope Olaifa’s paper was ‘Women Writers, Security and Peace-Building in Africa’. Ex-ANA President Denja Abdullahi’s was ‘Makerere Conference: The Forbear of ANA’. Professor Izevbaye, who coordinated the paper presentations, disclosed that they would all be published after the conference.

After the presentations, Prof Osundare said a lot had happened between 1962 and 2022. Still, the main problem is politics and relocation and how they affect Nigerian literature evaluation. “The centre of the African soul has moved across the Atlantic and Mediterranean,” he said. Osundare added, “how humanely are we treating ourselves? How humanely is the world treating Africa? How post-colonial is Africa in 2022?”.

 

Festival of life/Election/Awards

It wasn’t all serious business at the conference. The festival of life at the Wole Soyinka Arts Theatre was participatory. It featured poetry recitations in English, French and Portuguese by delegates. There was also dance, drama and music.

PAWA’s first election in 28 years also happened in Ibadan, with a new set of executives emerging. They are John Rusimbi (Rwanda), President; Dr Wale Okediran (Nigeria) Secretary-General; Elfatih Hamadto (Sudan), Vice-President (North Africa); Madam Imela Oyono Anyigono (Equatorial Guinea), Vice President (Central Africa); and Prof Koumealo Anate (Togo) Vice President (West Africa). The others are Prof EgaraKabaji (Kenya), Vice President (East Africa) and Ms Monica Mpambawashie (Zimbabwe), Vice-President (Southern Africa).

A constitutional Review Committee comprising six persons was also constituted during the general assembly which began with a symbolic one-minute silence in honour of the late PAWA Secretary-General, Professor Atukwei Okai. The committee comprises Eric Joel Bekale (Gabon), Mrs Hilda J Twongyeirwe (Uganda), Baseim Abdelazeim Abdelkader (Egypt), Dr Cherno Omar Barry (Gambia), Prof Egara Kabaji and Carlos Paradona (Mozambique).

Ex-Interim PAWA President Professor Osofisan later called for more unity and collaboration during the award ceremony that rounded off the conference. The Noble Patron of the Arts Award was conferred on 13 distinguished African leaders. At the same time, 11 outstanding writers received the Esteemed Patron of The Arts Award in appreciation of their support to PAWA.

Those in the first category included President Addo of Ghana and the country’s Culture Minister, President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, his Oyo State counterpart, Seyi Makinde, who sent a representative to the ceremony, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, Ford Foundation, MTN Nigeria and Professor Adebowale of UI.

Professors Izevbaye and Osofisan, Drs Tony Marinho and Bukar Usman, ANA President Camillus Ukah, his predecessor Denja Abdulahi and publisher Gbadega Adedapo were among the writers.

Some of the decisions contained in a communique released at the end of the conference were:

Appreciation to the Government of Ghana for effectively hosting the PAWA Headquarters in Accra, Ghana, for the past 30 years.

Appreciation to the Ford Foundation, MTN Nigeria, McArthur’s Foundation, UBA Nigeria, the NAL, ANA, UNESCO and all those who made the Conference and General Assembly a success.

PAWA remains committed to the following ideas and principles; The defence of freedom of expression for all Africans and the material and spiritual interests of African writers and their Associations

Promotion of literacy and the eradication of illiteracy in Africa

The encouragement of the inclusion of African literary works in the curriculum of educational institutions:

Promotion of African languages and the translation of African literature into African languages

The promotion of research into recording and retrieving lost or undiscovered African heritage, whether on the continent, in the diaspora or museums and libraries of the world

The promotion of peace and understanding in Africa and the world through literature

Inclusion of Literary activities for young writers in all PAWA’s activities.

The urgent need for Governments of African Countries to fulfil their financial obligations to PAWA in order to enable the Association to actualise its mandate as laid down by its founding fathers.

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