By Wale Okediran
THE Pan African Writers Association (PAWA), a leading Pan African Cultural Institution accorded full diplomatic status by the Government of Ghana in 1992, is made up of the 52 national writers’ associations on the continent, and seeks to contribute its quota to moral, cultural and intellectual renaissance in Africa. It is an important voice for African and seeks to restore to our people confidence in themselves as Africans while reinforcing the vision for a common African home. It is PAWA’s strong influence across African countries, as well as its diplomatic status in Ghana that has enabled the organization to interact effectively with African writers and governments.
According to the United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 16 is about the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all and the building of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. SDG 16 also focuses on how to significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere. For the above reasons, SDG 16 is very relevant in a global age beset by wars, insecurity, human displacement, coups and insurgency.
Apart from long-standing cases of civil wars and insurgencies in parts of the world and especially in Africa – Ethiopia, Libya, South Sudan, Algeria, Cameroon, Nigeria and Congo Kinshasa, among others – the past few years have witnessed seven coups and coup attempts in African nations. In Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali, and Sudan, military leaders succeeded in seizing power while they failed in Niger and Guinea-Bissau. Africa’s current wave of coups began in August 2020 after former Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was arrested at gunpoint by government forces.
President of Guinea Writers Association, Facely Mara (left); President of PAWA, Mr. John Rusimbi; Secretary General of PAWA, Wale Okediran; member of Mozambique Writers Association, Lidia Santos and President of Congo Writers Association, Richard Ali Mutu at the conference
The subsequent series of African coups share some commonalities such as political and economic instability and weak democratic institutions. In Mali and Burkina Faso, for example, the governments were dealing with violent extremism from ISIS and Al-Qaeda affiliates in the Sahel. Between 2020 and 2021, according to recent reports, attacks in the region by militant Islamist organizations increased 70 percent, from 1,180 to 2,005.
In terms of the differences, in Mali and Burkina Faso, the juntas have claimed that insecurity and an instability, with threats from violent extremist groups precipitated the coups. In Guinea-Bissau, for example, the recent attempted coup is one of many since the nation gained its independence from Portugal. The country has struggled to establish democratic traditions and institutions. Notably, President Umaro Sissoco Embalo – the man whom the failed coup tried to oust – came to power in 2020 after a contested election, which was still being reviewed by the nation’s Supreme Court when Embalo took office.
And in Guinea, a separate country that borders the smaller Guinea-Bissau, last year’s successful coup came after President Alpha Conde changed the constitution and mounted a power grab that gave him a third term in office. Although he initially won a democratic election in 2010 – the first Guinean leader to do so – his power grab, combined with corruption and deep inequality, apparently provided the impetus the military needed to mount a takeover last September.
It is these kinds of unrests and insurgencies, confirmed by several authorities as being a threat to the African continent, that PAWA tried to address at the Ibadan Conference. Various international think tanks and organizations, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), have convened several times to discuss the unrest described by the former ECOWAS Chair, President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana, as “contagious” and a threat to the entire region.
Even though some countries as well as ECOWAS have imposed a series of economic and cultural sanctions against the erring countries, the spate of unrests and insurgency still lingers on in many of the affected countries. It was for this reason that the Pan African Writers Association (PAWA) in 2022 organized an international conference where writers, statesmen and policy makers from about 40 African countries gathered to proffer solutions to the above-named challenges under the theme ‘The Role of the Writer in a Pan African Agenda for Peace and Security.’
The Conference which is also in line with Article 9 of PAWA’s Aims and Objectives – ‘To Promote Peace and Understanding In Africa and the World through Literature’ – took place at the Conference Centre, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, on June 23 through 26, 2022. The conference, organized in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the maiden edition of the African Literature And Writers Conference which took place in Kampala, Uganda, in 1962, was conducted in a hybrid version (physical and virtual).
The was attended by writers, academicians and diplomats from 40 African countries and the Diaspora that included Ghana, Congo Kinshasa, Togo, Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroun, Zambia, Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Ethiopia, Morocco, Rwanda, Sudan, Egypt, Liberia, Mauritania, South Africa, Tanzania, Chad, Botswana, Burundi, Benin, Somaliland, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Niger, Equatorial Guinea, Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Gambia and Mozambique.
Even though African literature has come of age in literary productivity and achievements in all genres, the conference helped to define and forge a meaningful path for its future. The conference also considered the ‘Role of African Writers in a Pan African Agenda for Cultural Development, Peace and Security’ against the backdrop of a continent in the grips of insurgencies, wars and coups. In a global age beset by wars, insecurity, human displacement, coups and insurgency, the conference could not have come at a better time. It was conducted in Arabic, English, French, Portuguese and Swahili which are the five working languages of PAWA.
Since PAWA is a continental body made up of writers from all over Africa, the primary geographical region of focus will be Africa with some extension to countries outside Africa which still have very strong economic and cultural control over the affected African countries. The justification for this kind of approach is the fact that writers, as the conscience of society, cannot afford to fold their arms and watch unfortunate incidents in their mother countries without adding their voices for moderation. In addition, since the world has become a global village due to the ability of ripples of insurgency to have collateral effects in other countries, the potentially ‘contagious’ incidents need to be nipped at their bud.
PAWA’s long-term goal is to see a significant reduction in the amount of unrests and insurgencies in the African continent. The changes expected at this level will be a gradual reduction in the spate of unrests and insurgencies through the use of dialogue rather than violence among the key actors in the troubled areas in solving their problems. A concomitant improvement in the quality of governance by the political leaders is also expected as pre-requisite for a more peaceful relationship between the government and the governed. These developments will hopefully materialize as a result of the recommendations from our conference which will be to encourage more dialogue in the resolution of issues, for a reduction in the level of social problems such as poverty and to promote good governance in the land.
The event, conducted in Arabic, English, French, Portuguese and Swahili, the five working languages of PAWA, was well attended and produced a communique and blueprint of actions expected to address the problems to be discussed. These documents have since been shared through advocacy visits by PAWA members in their respective countries to political, community, religious and civil society leaders.
All the speakers and lecturers at the conference agreed that African writers and literature are critical to the complete decolonization and development of Africa. There is need to resolve the controversy surrounding the language of African literature by adopting an eclectic approach which recognizes the advantages of writing African literature in the European languages as well as in indigenous African languages. The global spread of African literature can be achieved through translation. African writers should take advantage of new online platforms to propagate their works and to educate 21st century readers.
Critics of African literature should develop Africa-based theories to discuss African literature. African female writers should continue to privilege issues of female emancipation, social justice and gender equity, and celebrate the role of African women as critical stakeholders in the continent.
African literature should be made relevant to contemporary African challenges such as issues of public and domestic violence, war, terrorism, peace-building and conflict management and resolution and security. There is need to develop an accessible archive of African literature. There should be increased collaboration among African writers, critics, writers’ associations and publishers.
African literature should be seen as critical to the development of Africa. The rights of African writers should be safeguarded.
* Dr. Okediran is Secretary General of the Pan African Writers Association (PAWA)