Making Africa smile and busting stereotypes

January 23rd, 2012 - 10:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Jaipur, Jan 23 (IANS) Is i always famine in the heart of Africa? Pause “and think again. It’s time to rediscover Africa through the eyes of love, the true Africa of laughter, joy, creativity and playfulness,” said celebrated Nigerian novelist Ben Okri in a lyrical meditation on the continent that has been trapped in cliches.

“There is Africa in all of us. Africa is our dreamland and our spiritual motherland. We have to rediscover the true Africa of laughter, joy, creativity and playfulness,” said Okri Monday while reading out from his new book “A Time for New Dreams”, a string of poetic essays and epigrams on Africa, at the Jaipur Literature Festival.

“We have to discover the Africa of mysticism, divination, myths and mysticism,” intoned the novelist in his rich baritone, casting a spell over the audience in the Durbar Hall of Diggi Place that is hosting the literary carnival being attended by thousands of book-lovers.

Okri, who won a Booker for his much-acclaimed novel “The Famished Road” in 1991, eloquently argued for dismantling negative stereotypes that have Africa as the place of famine, disease, bloodshed and mindless cruelty and spoke about the need to create a new narrative of this vibrant continent and its people.

“Africa was seen for many decades through greed. This justified all kinds of violence. The world should begin to see light in Africa, its beauty and genius,” said the novelist amid applause from the audience.

“Africa is waiting for centuries to be discovered through the eyes of love and lover. We need to rediscover Africa in us for regeneration of society.”

“It is Africa’s turn to smile. That’s the loveliest gift the world can give to keep Africa smiling,” he said.

“It is easy to dismiss Africa. It is easy to patronise Africa. It is easy to profess to like Africa. It is easy to exploit Africa. And it is easy to insult Africa,” read the opening lines to “O, Ye Who Invest in Futures”, a series of poetic statements about Africa in “A Time for New Dreams”.

“I am not asking for a romantic view, just clear-seeing, to discover the full richness of people for who they are. To see afresh without romance, exaggeration and distortion,” said the poet-novelist.

“I am talking about transforming the perception of a people. It’s always famine in the heart of Africa. We must explode the stereotypes,” said the author. You must fight fire with fire, said Okri, while underlining the need for great African writers to counter the bleak but powerful vision of Joseph Conrad in “The Heart of Darkness”.

Teju Cole, the Nigerian-American writer whose debut book “Open City” has created a big splash, also participated in the discussion, moderated by Taiye Selasi, a London-born writer and photographer of Nigerian and Ghanaian origin.

“A writer has a gift to convert experience into language…and to bear testimony to the truths of the world,” said Cole.

“You’ll know us by our funny blend of London fashion, New York jargon, African ethics, and academic successes. Some of us are ethnic mixes, e.g. Ghanaian and Canadian, Nigerian and Swiss; others merely cultural mutts: American accent, European affect, African ethos,” she read from her essay

(Manish Chand can be contacted at manish.c@ians.in)

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