Penpoints, Gunpoints, and Dreams: Toward a Critical Theory of the Arts and the State in Africa

By NgŨgĨ Wa Thiong'O | Go to book overview

Introduction

IN August 1991 I visited South Africa, a guest of the Congress of South African Writers. My visit was in solidarity with the democratic forces in the sunset of the apartheid regime. In an interview with the BBC I was asked, how did it feel to be in South Africa at a time when I could not possibly go back to an independent Kenya? Indeed here I was, in a country where, until recently, writers had been gaoled, exiled, and murdered by the state; where the products of their imagination had often been banned; and where, at one time, my own works had been embargoed. Yet, here I was, speaking out as a guest of a progressive writers' organization without fearing that I would be gaoled, or worse, if I returned to my beloved country. I was the guest of a legally functioning writers' organization in what was, until recently, the world's leading republic of fear. But in my own country the Writers' Association of Kenya, of which I was the chairperson in 1982, had been completely crippled by the state. Most of the founding members of the association now live in exile.

Unfortunately what has happened to Kenyan writers is symptomatic of the general condition in contemporary Africa. As far back as 1967 Wole Soyinka, in a conference of African Scandinavian writers in Sweden, cautioned against complacency by

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