So there I was last night, sitting at my desk, reading the paper when I came across this story, ‘Who are the African Writers’, on page 5 of The Citizen’s Education supplement. Here is the lede:
Looking at 75 year-old Professor Wole Soyinka deliver his lecture at the University of Dar es Salaam last week, Rose Athumani started wondering what would happen to literature in Africa when renowned African writers like the Professor, Chinua Achebe and Ngungi Wa Thiongo call it a day? Who is documenting our current affairs and who will write about us in the future?
She then proceeds to ask, “what is keeping our young writers from writing in big numbers”and conclude that “they are relatively few,” relative to what, she never explains. Well, where do i begin? Surely, Ms. Athumani cannot be that ignorant? Even if she is not a big reader, you would think that at least she would know how to use Google search. I mean how else do you explain her not knowing who Ben Okri is. You know, the Nigerian cat whose novel, The Famished Road, won the 1991 Booker Prize. Okay, may be that was a while ago and since the dude has veered off into more spiritual and esoteric subjects, it is forgivable that she is not familiar with his oeuvre. Then she should at least be aware of Mr. Okri’s compatriot,Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who has just published her fifth book, a collection of short stories titled, The Thing Around Your Neck. I hear you say why should a Tanzanian pay attention to what Nigerians are doing. I don’t agree with you because I believe a journalist should be inexhaustibly curious and be as informed as it is humanly possible. But fair enough. Nigeria is a bit far and to expect folks to keep up with what goes on up there may be asking too much. If this is true, then her ignorance of Tanzanian novelists Abdulrazak Gurnah and MG Vassanji is unforgivable, so is her cluelessness of The Caine Prize for African Writing or her being oblivious to the wonderful presence of Kwani? I could keep going but it gets kind of mean, so i’ll stop here.
But I have to say reading that article, I was shocked. How could a journalist miss all this? But what I found most disturbing was that she seemed completely oblivious to her own ignorance. Now I realise that as an adult not everyone is going to share my love for everything literary (though I have to say I find it odd that someone who claims to be a writer would seem to be utterly disinterested in reading) but we can all come together on the idea that a reporter should at least be able to retrieve basic information for her stories, no? I am unable to provide the link to the article in question. It has yet to be posted on The Citizen’s website. And if I was Ms. Athumani I would pray that they never do. It is embarrassing and Ms. Athumani should be embarrassed by it. At best it is an example of lazy journalism, at worst it lays bare her stupidity for all the world to see. Neither of those are laudable accolades.