Africans Must Tell Their Stories

Published on 9th December 2013

Children listen to a story teller                    P.Courtesy
Our  distinguished  speaker,  Chimamanda  Ngozi Adichie,  guests,  members  of  staff,  students  and visitors,  It  is always my pleasure to welcome those who honour the University of Nairobi by giving a public lecture at this university,  which  has  been  the  venue  for  public intellectual  engagement  in  this  country  for  a  long time. 

Ms.  Andiche, you  are  welcome  here,  not  just  as  an African writer but also as an African intellectual. We are  here  not  just  to  listen  to  you  and  ask  you questions  thereafter,  but  to  also  celebrate  the conviviality  between  Kenya  and  Nigeria,  between East  Africa  and  West Africa,  between  Africans,  as pan-Africanists.  We are here, as Africans  have  done through the millennia, to listen to a story and renew our  humanity  for  it  is  through  stories,  through conversations,  that  human  beings  know  about  and appreciate each other. 
It  is  significant  that Africans  tell  their  stories.  Africans  should  never complain  when  bad  stories  are  told  about  them  and their  continent.  Why should someone else say good things about Africa when her own sons and daughters are too eager to disparage her?  And  if  bad  things happen  in  Africa,  it  is  still  the  responsibility  of Africans  to  talk  about  them  openly,  archive  such experiences  and  use  them  as  a  reference  to  resolve Africa‟s problems in future. This is why, those  who are here, should read Half  of  a  Yellow  Sun, not just to encounter and follow the story of the devastation of  civil  strife  in  Africa  but  also  to  begin  to understand  the  enduring  character  of  the  spirit  of Nigerians. To watch Biyi Bandele‟s film, “Half of a Yellow Sun,” adapted from the book, is even more fulfilling, and  is an  example  of  the  interdependence of  creativity.  So,  African  artists  need  to  appreciate that  the  creation  of  one  piece  of  art  is  simply an invitation  to  other  artists  to  expand  its  range  of production,  and  produce  more  African  stories  that represent the continent‟s sensibilities. 
African  thought  has  a place.  It  is reflected  in the everyday  stories  or  the wisdom of  our  people  in  the  world, or what  Odera Oruka  called  sage  philosophy.  Contemporary  African writers are not  just  women and men  of  letters; they are  also  the  vanguard  of  African  thought  and intellectual  tradition  on  the  world  stage.  Where politicians  have  failed  to  make  a  convincing argument  at  global  arenas;  the  artists,  especially writers, remain the voice of Africa. Millions of people all over the world know Africa’s worldview through its arts and writing. Our philosophy is in novels such as Americanah. 
The  Arts  and  the Humanities  remain  the  pillars  of  knowledge production all over the world. However technological we may become, we cannot afford to lose our humanity. It is the painter, the dancer, the musician, the poet, the storyteller and such others who remind us  everyday,  after  spending  hours  toiling  in  our shambas, laboratories, classrooms and offices that we are  human. Or  that  we  can  become  better  people, more  tolerant,  empathetic,  kinder,  loving  and peaceful persons. 
The  Arts  and  Humanities  offer  us  the  language  with which  to  confront  the  struggles  of  everyday  life. Some  of  us,  if  not  most  of  us,  call  someone  to tell him  or  her  our  story  when  we  feel  overwhelmed  by difficulties. We tell others our stories, in order to make sense of the world.  Stories help us to define the world. I am sure that most of you learnt some of the most enduring lessons in your lives from reading books. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is not just memorable because of Okonkwo’s successes and failures.  It  is  enduring  because  it  carries  in  its  plot the  smells,  touches,  tastes – senses  that we  all  can recognize as human. 
The  need  to  remain  committed  to  the  study  of  the Arts  and  Humanities cannot be  more  urgent now in the  world  of  today  where  Information  and Communication Technology and  its  byproducts have produced atomized individuals, leading to millions of alienated  individuals.  Such  a  world  demands  more storytellers to speak about the violence, isolation or hopelessness that haunts people and are increasingly hidden  in  the  cyber  world  and  virtual  spaces,  and their consequences on individuals and communities. Writers and artists remain the eyes of the majority of the  world’s  citizens  whose  thoughts,  dreams  and actions  remain  on  the  margins  of  the  mainstream society. 
We  therefore  welcome  you, Ms. Chimamanda  Ngozi Adichie, here at the University of Nairobi, as a child of  what  Ali  Mazrui  calls  the  triple  heritage  because your  stories  resonate  with  ours  as  Kenyans.  We welcome  you  to  the  University  of  Nairobi,  the  place where  a  profound  revolutionary  movement  to  invite African  literature  to  the  world  of  literatures  was initiated in the 1970s in the Faculty of Arts. Some of the  most  distinguished  citizens  of  the  world  have spoken on the podium that you will stand at and they have always left us with stories that have shaped our destiny.  We  believe  that  today  you  will  bequeath  us wisdom,  in  keeping  with  the  tradition  that  defines the University of  Nairobi  as an  intellectual  leader  in the country, region, continent and world. 

By Prof.  George  A.  Magoha, Vice Chancellor, The University of Nairobi,  during  the  Public  Lecture  By  Chimamanda  Ngozi  Adichie.

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