Reflections on the Uganda International Writers Conference – By Zaahida Nabagereka
Reflections on the Uganda International Writers Conference: Contrasts and similarities of working within the African literary scene in London and Kampala.
In March, 2017, I participated in the Uganda International Writers Conference, which was held in Kampala, Uganda, under the theme: Contemporary Publishing Trends in Africa. It was hosted by the African Writers Trust.
Speaking on the panel: DIY Narratives on Current Trends in African Writing and Publishing presented an opportunity to talk about Afrikult. The contrasts and similarities of working within the African literary scene in London and Kampala are intriguing.
In Kampala, being able to share some of the reasons why Afrikult. started and learning from my fellow panelists about why they started their own initiatives was a very valuable experience, especially as we discovered poignant similarities. A common theme was not being satisfied with what was going on in our respective literary communities and feeling that we could contribute positively. The way we all engage with social media to promote and orientate ourselves with respect to our audiences is a major similarity. Our perspectives on how education has or has not contributed to young people engaging with and appreciating African literature was also interesting. In the UK, African literature is only really studied at university level, which is not dissimilar to the situation in Uganda, however one of the main issues for Nyana Kakoma of Sooo Many Stories is the lack of encouragement from schools for children and young people to read for pleasure.
To date, Afrikult. does not publish so it was great to hear more about Sooo Many Stories in Uganda and Huza Press in Rwanda; finding out about some of the successes and challenges they have faced. It was particularly interesting as Afrikult. may well publish in the future so getting advice and tips from these innovative start-ups was a real bonus. As Afrikult. has already collaborated with Sooo Many Stories in 2016 during theWritivism Festival, it was great to hear how Nyana has been progressing and developing. It was also interesting learning about the different contexts in which these initiatives have started; hearing from Louise Umutoni for example, about some of the language issues Huza Press has had to navigate,it was really eye opening.
One of the overarching themes of the conference that really struck me was the idea of “the archive” which Bibi Bakare-Yusuf articulated in her dynamic keynote address. As Africans in the diaspora, and on the continent, we need to keep in mind the kinds of texts we want to see in “our archive”. Combining this with an impetus for further partnerships and collaborations between literary organisations is key to positively developing publishing and creativity in African literature.
The curation of the conference was excellent, as it not only encouraged healthy debate but also gave room to focus on some marginalised issues. Inclusion of performing arts for example, was very well received, and some of the liveliest debates focused on the topic of publishing and performing art. The space that was given to discuss language within the panels was also really refreshing; language and its ensuing issues, such as literacy levels in local languages, came up at different intervals. All in all, it was a wonderfully executed three- day event, that drew on the depths of creativity not only in Uganda and Africa but the diaspora as well.
Zaahida Nabagereka is Co-founder of Afrikult., a London- based platform that seeks to celebrate, promote and discuss African literature. Zaahida is also studying for a PhD focusing on literary production in Luganda at the School of Oriental and African Studies,University of London.