TABAN Lo Liyong is the author of The Colour of Hope.
He was born in 1939.
He is one of Africa’s renowned writers of fiction and literary criticism.
His ideological views and in particular his incisive critique of the post-colonial system of education in East Africa has courted a myriad of reactions.
Born in Uganda, he was the first African writer to graduate from the Howard University and the University of Iowa as early as 1968.
On the completion of his studies in the US the despotic regime of Idi Amin prevented him from returning to his homeland.
He went instead to neighbouring Kenya, and taught at the University of Nairobi. He has also taught at international universities in Sudan, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Japan, and South Africa, and maintains that his diverse experience offers an opportunity to place Africa in a position intellectually on par with the rest of the world, thereby recognising its various and valuable contributions to history and scholarship.
Professor Liyong is currently the acting vice-chancellor of Juba University in South Sudan.
In collaboration with Henry Owuor-Anyumba and renowned Kenyan academic and writer Ngugi waThiong’o, he wrote On the Abolition of the English Department in 1968.
Acknowledging the disruptive influence of European literature over African writing, Liyong and his colleagues called for the educational system to emphasise the oral tradition (as a key traditional African form of learning) African literature whether local or Diasporan.
Through On the Abolition of the English Department, Liyong and his allies attempted a re-consideration of the humanities curriculum at the University of Nairobi, most particularly of its investment in foreign (British) literature and culture.
They questioned the value of an English Department in an African context. They suggested that the post-colonial African university must first establish a counter-curriculum of African languages and literatures as a matter of priority: “If there is a need for ‘study of the historic continuity of a single culture’, why can’t this be African?
“Why can’t African literature be at the centre so that we can view other cultures in relationship to it?”
By placing African culture at the centre of education, “all other things (would) be considered in their relevance to (the African) situation, and their contribution towards understanding (itself).”
This is the essence of Africa-centredness.
Africa-centredness opens up a cultural discourse of true liberation by pushing the agenda of African agency through the conception of the African people as “subject(s) rather than object(s) in the European experience.” (Asante)
A consciousness of being rooted in Africa opens in Africa and in the Diaspora a philosophical positionality and cultural capacity to “see, explain, and interpret a vantage point of (their) existential location.”
Africa-centredness achieves this by combining both spatial rootedness and experiential cultural positionality in its explication of the African world.
It is premised on the philosophy that African thought exists with or without European or other thought(s); that it does not necessarily have to be accountable to anyone or anything except to Africans who create and own it.
In other words, Africa-centredness does not owe its existence to any theory external to Africa, whether as a counter-discourse or corollary.
As a philosophy, Africa-centredness insists that it is not an appendage to any other system of thought perceived or perceiving itself to be superior or inferior: it is complete and sovereign unto itself; and when philosophers use it in juxtaposition to other world philosophies, it is logically for the purpose of creative comparison or to clear widely held misconceptions; otherwise it is far from being inherently antithetical to any competing worldview.
In a nutshell, Africa-centredness is far from competing with fellow African theories such as Afrology, Africology, Afrocentricity, unhuism and pan-Africanism among others. In fact it compliments and strengthens their purpose – that of self-definition and self-determination.
Lo-Liyong’s work emerges from this understanding of the need by Africa to wean itself from a forced marriage to Europe.
His works draw on the continent’s tradition in its form as well as its content.
Of his poetry, Liyong says: “the period of introspection has arrived; personal introspection, communal introspection.
“Only through introspection can we appraise ourselves more exactly.”
Liyong rejects long-established literary conventions defined by Aristotle for effective writing.
For instance he calls for readers to approach text in a less familiar way, that is, not to follow the usual conventions of literature such as “introduction, exposition, rising action, etc. up to the climax.”
Instead, text should be unconstrained by expectation and read with a consistent appreciation for ‘each word, phrase, or sentence’.
Defending his unconventional style of writing, Liyong describes the English Language as a ‘prostitute’ with whom we have all slept in our different ways. He has been accused of using sexual innuendoes in his writings, a charge he defends by saying that if sex is what attracts most readers why not use its language to drive home the most serious messages that Africa awaits so impatiently.
The play that we are about to examine in the next series of submissions is also full of sexual innuendoes.
The Colour of Hope is about youthful rebellion against the sexual excesses and indulgence of the adult world which pits the youths against unenviable exploitation and denial of their own dreams.
Written against a background of the 2007 election ethnic-driven violence in Kenya which saw close to a thousand murders, the play should not be read literally, but symbolically.
Only intermarriages can destroy hardcore tribal boundaries, he seems to insist. He says of The Colour of Hope: the play is a comment on Kenya’s politics and its disillusion.
I say intermarry and you become states or you remain with the current attitudes and you all perish.
This is food for thought for all Africa, is it not?
TABAN Lo Liyong is the author of The Colour of Hope.