Writers are not ‘people who write’.

I have recently been receiving numerous invitations to write for various publications from people who rightly valued my work highly and treated it accordingly. It isn’t immediately apparent why, but this seems very specific to German clients from Newspapers, publishers and educational institutions. Typically it is “Dear Dr. Ogada, I am writing to you from XXXX, we are a publishing house/ periodical/ University press, and we would like to invite you to write an article of XXX words on the subject of XXX and we will pay you XXX for the assignment”. I get the impression that these invitations often come from people who know what it takes to do literary work, they are generally book publishing houses, newspapers and periodical magazines. Next is the British and American invitations, which are irritating in the way they seek to impress upon the writer that the ‘offer’ they are making is something of a privilege for you, yet they are unable to write it themselves.  It is truly amazing how many people in publishing are so completely seemed unaware of the true value of what they purport to trade in.  The term “Writing” itself is a very inaccurate reference to what writers actually do, because it describes the movement of the pen, or keys on a computer, but completely neglects the intellectual work, which is the core of the said activity. It is like referring to Michael Soi as a “Painter”, rather than a sage who communicates through painting. There is no greater indication of mankind’s intellectual decline than the reference to serious intellectual work by its physical manifestation. The most difficult part of this conundrum is dealing with fellow Africans who try so hard to be ‘white’ in the way they handle our intellectual outputs. I recently quit a socio-political analysis contract because of the ‘violence’ of their editorial processes. I had to fight every single month because the people purporting to ‘edit’ my work either didn’t understand what I was saying, didn’t believe what I was saying, or wanted me to change the way in which I was saying it. The articles came out as they did and were well-received in spite of, rather than because of the editorial process. I found myself in a situation where I was ‘defending’ articles in a manner akin to a postgraduate student defending a thesis, something that I found unacceptable, having last done so over 15 years ago. When did people forget that the skill of a writer is in his reading, or the skill of an artist is in his eye, just as that of a speaker is in his listening, or that of a singer in his ear?

Africa has a powerful oral tradition, rich in priceless idioms, proverbs and colloquial expressions, even within the confines of standardized foreign languages like English. That is why you can hear the ‘Luganda’ in Joachim Buwembo’s writing, the ‘Kikuyu’ in the late Wahome Mutahi’s writing, or the ‘Luhya’ in Ted Malanda’s prose. One of my favourites is Jerome Ogola, who writes unmistakable, fluent ‘African’ in impeccable English, despite being a child of many ethnicities between which he switches seamlessly.

Failure to accept that ‘colour’ in our expression is simply western vandalism, with no place in a civilized world. It is the literary equivalent of the looting of artifacts and destruction of African civilizations in the 18th and 19th centuries by European invaders. It is now time to civilize publishing by including the diverse scents, sounds, colours and beauty of Africa. For those who keep inviting me to publish in “peer-reviewed” journals, this is the reason why I consistently say ‘no’. It is a primitive structure, and I’ve outgrown it. I’m too civilized to do that stuff now. Read more material written in ‘African’. That’s where the truth about Africa resides.