Christopher Farai Charamba The Reader
The continent of Africa has 57 countries — depending of course who you ask — over 1,2 billion people, some 2 000 languages and whole range of cultural diversity.
It is often said that Africa is not a country, a reminder, usually to individuals from the West who try to paint the continent with one brush.
The East is very different from the West which in turn has a varied hue from the south of Africa, not South Africa the country, which is not in any way similar to the North, sometimes known as the Maghreb.
These differences mean that the experiences of Africans across the vast continent are also different.
The daily life of a Zimbabwean is not the same as that of an Algerian even if it involves waking, cooking, eating, learning, working and sleeping.
There are often similarities in the way Africans live their lives and in the values that they might hold but there are many stark differences that make each people and cultures unique to each other.
Where literature is concerned there too one finds differences or at least should do so. Books are a fantastic way to learn about a people, their culture, their interests, their passions, their habits.
Through the descriptions in the written word, one can connect to the attitudes of boda boda operators in Uganda, or envision the swarm of busy bodies in Balogun Market in Lagos.
Books by Africans about Africans can be a gateway to experiencing the continent primarily for other Africans.
Travelling on the continent is often an expensive affair and most Africans do not have the means to book a flight from Windhoek, Namibia to N’djamena, Chad or the time to travel by bus or car from Maseru, Lesotho to Dakar, Senegal.
Through reading books, they can however get a sliver of the experiences of the different people, races, tribes and cultures on the African continent.
One is quite aware that the internet has brought the world closer together and that there are a plethora of other ways in which people can connect and learn about the continent however one feels that books remain uncontested as the best way to do so.
Not only is it a cheaper option as data charges on the continent tend to be expensive and there is limited connectivity for many people, but books are also long lasting and can be shared easily and utilised by many people.
The beauty of literature is that is can encapsulate a number of different devices to bring out themes and create an illustration in the reader’s mind which they can then build upon and if good enough will encourage them to learn more.
African writing books for African audiences should therefore be conscious of the fact that their work represents not just the author but also where they are from, especially if the book is set in such a place.
One finds that the best form of literature tends to carry an aspect of the author within it. As such when writing books for Africans this can be something to enhance the work. By adding cultural and societal aspects unique to the places the writer is from to their work, it can enhance the reading experience for the African reader.
Books by African authors can be a valuable teaching experience on the different African countries, cultures and people and African authors should take full advantage of this.
The mantra by the African Union and other regional and continental bodies has been African solutions for African problems. This can only be achieved if Africans themselves have an understanding of their continent.
For that to happen there needs to be a body of work which Africans can engage with at a social level and literature fits the bill perfectly.
Some might decry the fact that Africans don’t buy books as to why tailoring their work to African audiences might not be their go to but one is of the opinion that like all art, if it is good enough, they will not be able to resist.