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Africa: A nation of young, vibrant people who do amazing things, wear fabulous shoes

A session on Afropolitanism at the Jaipur Literature Festival showed that African writers who chose to express themselves in English often grappled with many of the same issues that troubled Indians writing in the language.

JaipurLitFest Updated: Jan 29, 2018 19:22 IST
Prerna Madan
Prerna Madan
Hindustan Times, Jaipur
Afropolitans,Meaning of Afropolitans,Afropolitanism
From left: Chika Unigwe, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Nadifa Mohamed and Abeer Y. Hoque during the session The Afropolitans at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Monday. (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

Not all voices from Africa think of themselves as Afropolitans, often touted as a description of Africans living ordinary lives within multi-cultural societies.

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, winner of the 2017 Nigerian Literature Award for his novel Season of Crimson Blossoms, said at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Monday, said the term was created to counter the popular narrative of poor African nations and the issues faced by their citizens.

For Jaipur Literature Festival full coverage, click here

Calling it a “counter-argument”, Ibrahim said the idea of Afropolitan came up to challenge this projection of war, famine, and poverty in Africa. “So they came up with projection of an Africa of young, vibrant people who do amazing things and wear fabulous shoes,” the Nigerian author and journalist said jokingly.

But Ibrahim also said he feels Afropolitan is an “extreme reaction” that isn’t always representative of Africa. “I am not sure I’m comfortable about being described as an Afropolitan.”

An essay by writer Taiye Selasi -- of Nigerian and Ghanian origin – popularized the word Afropolitan, which literally means African citizen, in 2005.

Somalian author Nadifa Mohamed too said Afropolitan wasn’t a term she could connect to. “For me, it applies more for people who left Africa, who have family, wealth and pursue artistic endeavors in other countries. It’s definitely true for some, but it isn’t true for me and it isn’t true for many African writers,” said Nadifa, who settled in Britain when civil war in Somalia broke out.

To this, award-winning Nigerian writer Chika Unigwe said: “I can understand why the idea of global African citizenship is attractive and seductive for Taiye. She isn’t actually rooted in an African country.”

She asserted that the concept of Afropolitan is also flawed because it counters the popular narrative with another monolithic narrative of the continent and its people. “The entire truth of African reality” is incomplete even in the idea of Afropolitan, said Unigwe who wrote De Feniks or The Phoenix based on the protagonist’s loss of “voice” and her loneliness after moving to Belgium.

Selasi was born in the UK, lived in Ghana and then moved to the US.

The panelists also discussed opting to write in English and explained why they hadn’t added glossaries of ‘local’ words, of African languages, that they had penned frequently in their novels. With a defiant tone, Unigwe said the writers had chosen to “reverse power” and “colonise the English language” because “no one explains the West”.

Leave it to the readers to understand what they mean, moderator Abeer Y Hoque quipped.

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First Published: Jan 29, 2018 19:22 IST