By Daisy Okoti
Published December 24, 2013
A three-day international conference in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, has decried what it called declining standards of scholarship and creativity.
The meeting–with participants from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Denmark, Germany and United Kingdom–has called upon scholars in East Africa to rise up and take their rightful position on the international platform of literary scholarship and creativity as they work together in laying a foundation upon which future generations will continue to build.
Taban lo Liyong of Juba University–he of the often quoted controversial statement, ‘East Africa is a literary desert’–said the standards of creativity in East Africa have hit rock bottom.
In conversation with Literature lecturer Chris Wanjala of University of Nairobi and writer David G Mailu, Lo Liyong said the reason why the standards of creativity and scholarship in East Africa do not improve is because critics are not only too nice but also too eager to praise non-existent ‘creativity’.
“No one is beyond criticism,” Taban lo Liyong said.
Saying scholars must play their role faithfully, Lo Liyong added that politics should not be allowed to mar scholarship and creativity.
Another area of concern addressed by the conference—dubbed East Africa@50 and held on the theme ‘A Celebration of Histories and Futures’—was the scant attention given to Kiswahili literature in Kenya and the level of scholarly creativity in the region.
Raya Timamy, a Kiswahili lecturer at University of Nairobi, said that the teaching of oral literature in schools in Kenya should be revived and examined at the national level because the understanding of the subject would enhance national unity and patriotism among learners.
Sheng– an evolving code that mixes English, Kiswahili and various vernaculars and used mainly by youth in Nairobi—was identified as yet another challenge to standard Kiswahili.
The meeting brought together academics, students, journalists and publishers to discuss and analyse the history of literary scholarship in the East Africa region as well as chart the way forward. The conference also looked at music and film and examined inter-country relationship among scholars.
This inaugural edition of the literary scholarship conference is expected to become an annual event aimed at expanding interaction among scholars in East Africa as well as provide an avenue for cooperation among academics and the creative sector.
The East Africa@50 symposium was organised by Department of Literature of University of Nairobi, English Department of Stellenbosch University, Kenya Oral Literature Association (KOLA) and British Institute of Eastern Africa (BIEA) and held at University of Nairobi September 10-12, 2013.