Academic journal article Tydskrif vir Letterkunde

Woman for President? 'Alternative' Future in the Works of Kenyan Women Writers

Academic journal article Tydskrif vir Letterkunde

Woman for President? 'Alternative' Future in the Works of Kenyan Women Writers

Article excerpt

Introduction

Gloomy and nearly apocalyptic vision of the future, characteristic for many works of contemporary African writers, mostly portraying the totalitarian dystopian societies of the future, ruled by various dictators, seem to find an alternative standpoint in recently produced texts by some writers from Eastern Africa. It should be mentioned, first, that contemporary authors from East African countries (I will mostly be referring to the period of 1990s and 2000s) are dealing with present-day reality, with less concern for future prognoses. At the same time, those writers who have in any way dealt with the topic may be broken, conditionally, into two categories. While some of them draw dismal dystopian pictures of future developments in various (unnamed or imaginary) African countries (it especially applies to the adepts of the so-called 'experimental' or 'new' novel in Swahili (see Khamis 2005), others seem to have a more hopeful image of the continent's 'days beyond'. In their works, the oppressive rule is eventually destroyed by will and act of protagonists, supported by the mass of the country's people. What is even more significant--in most of the cases, the protagonists (mostly male) are winning through active support of their female allies. The most remarkable in that sense among the recent works is the latest novel by Ngiigiwa Thiong'o--The Wizard of the Crow (2006) originally written in the author's mother tongue of Gikuyu and self-translated into English. The novel depicts the rule of a ruthless dictator, nicknamed the Ruler, in the fictitious republic of Aburiria, destroyed by two brave young protagonists, a young man Kamiti and his girlfriend Nyawira. In many novels, this 'female support' becomes the crucial factor of victory, since the 'female supporters' are semi-divine creatures with supernatural powers--even in the novels by Swahili language writers the hero manages to withstand the evils of the dystopian world, pictured in these books, with the help of a magical female supporter (whose assistance sometimes gives a hope of victory over the evil forces and a brighter future (see Nagona [1989] and Mzingile [1990] by Tanzanian writer Euphrase Kezilahabi).

The idea of a brave female character that gives the others (and the readers) a hope for 'alternative', positively portrayed and rather utopian, then dystopian future, is strongly expressed in the novels by East African female writers from Uganda to Tanzania. In this study, I try to trace the emergence of such character and the 'alternative' vision of the future that she represents in Kenyan women's writing, using as examples three novels by Kenyan women authors published from 1996 to 2003. The novels under study represent different forms of the genre--from a novel-as-parable, strongly 'spiced up' with magical realism, to a social critical and detective novel--but in all three, a figure of a strong woman as an agent of an alternative, positive future is given an important place in the novel's system of characters.

The following discussion of the works by three Kenyan women writers is largely informed by the theoretical points made by Susan Andrade in her seminal study of feminisms in African fiction in the period of thirty years up to 1988--The Nation Writ Small: African Fictions and Feminisms (2011)--where one of the main aspects of the argument is the representation of the national allegory in female fiction. She bases her argument on the assumption that in the period under study the nation was represented by women writers through family, and the basic concerns of women's literature was "critiques of local patriarchies" (203) and the creation of "domestic tale of women's emancipation from local patriarchy" (205), while nowadays "one can say that increasingly African women write about politics, including national politics" (207). She confirms that latter point by stating that "no longer can we say that sub-Saharan black women hesitate to represent the nation in conjunction with fully developed female characterization" (206). …

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