Wednesday, September 23, 2009

African languages to face the destiny of dinosaurs-Observes Prof. Ngugi wa Thion’go

A RENOWNED Kenyan novelist and a social activist Professor Ngugi wa Thion’go has cautioned African states to use their own languages in order to promote the continent’s social-cultural development. Ngugi who is known by a unique title in the world as a distinguished professor, threw the challenge in an interview during the 6th Pan-African Reading for all Conference which was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania between 10th-14th August 2009. A 71 year old Professor who attended the conference as a main speaker said that, time has come for Africa to use its own languages as a means of production so as to promote what the lord God had given to African continent including its languages which according to him must be used and put in the forefront in every matters to honour African superiority. “You would be amazed to see that about five leading languages in the world is for Europeans, and these have dominated most intellectual properties in Africa” he said in an interview and added that this is because of the fact that, foreign intervention has absorbed the minds of most African idealism.

Mlimani primary school children leading a procession of Pan-African Reading Conference towards Nkrumah Hall a conference venue with attendants who trailed behind at the main campus of the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

He also noted that, most African states within sub-Saharan region do not have a policy of their national languages an aspect that paves the way for colonial mentality going to the extreme of Africa’s traditional affairs and which ultimately distorts African culture. “Many African governments have colonial mentality an aspect which retards their economic development” he said adding that Africa should unite together in a bid to retain its respected moral culture from deteriorating among its citizens. However, he has praised Tanzania for its stance in promoting the use of Swahili language which is becoming an active player in most Pan-African meetings as well as in the global economy. “To promote local languages is a self empowerment of a nation whereas to know other languages is slavery” Professor Ngugi remarked and he further noted that, for him he would rather choose empowerment through reading local languages rather than foreign which he terms as slavery.

Professor Ngugi walks around to view some of trhe books displayed in shelves for exhibition during the PAC conference

Professor Ngugi wa Thio’go shakes hands with Nicole Hunter, one of the attendants from USA during the 6th Pan-African Reading Conference for All which was held in Dar es Salaam, last month.

Professor Ngugi wa Thion’go showing journalists one of his books and explained it into details when he was asked to clarify

Professor Ngigi wa Thion’go reading one of his books which were on display in the shelf during the conference at UDSM.

Professor Ngugi showing to journalists one of his 20 books entitled “Decolonizing the Mind” which he wrote it in 1984. It’s in this book whereby he urged African continent not to be dependent in everything and instead get away from colonial mentality.

According to him, the prevailing power relationships of languages and culture, has to be challenged and hopefully even shaken up, that’s why he prefers to translate almost his more than 20 books he has written as reading is conventional. This was his personal thinking behind his two books he compiled entitled “Decolonizing the mind in 1984 and also Re-Membering Africa” the book which was launched during the conference. However, in view of this fact, he has urged his fellow writers to publish their books in their local languages as this is the only way of promoting African languages which according to him is likely to face a destiny of dinosaurs if care would not be taken and keep on maintaining the mentality of depending on other people’s languages. Recalling back, Professor Ngugi said that in his first prescription was that writers from marginalized cultures and languages had the duty and responsibility of making themselves visible in their own languages the way he did in 1978 when he broke with as the primary means of his writing, particularly in fiction and drama.

Dr. Azaveli Lwaitama welcomes Professor Ngugi wa Thion'go at Nkrumah hall to speak

A senior lecturer of the University of Dar es Salaam, Dept of Linguistics Dr. Azaveli Lwaitama talking before the audience during the conference, and after which he welcomed Professor Ngugi on the stage.

Professor Ngugi stressing a point when delivering his speech. Among the most crucial things he spoke to his listeners was why Africans were fond of using foreign languages as this habit he termed as slavery.

This is how the Nkrumah hall, a venue for the 6th Pan-African Reading Conference for all was fully packed.

Seated closely with his wife who from time to time poured him tea with milk in a cup from the thermos she brought along with her, Professor Ngugi travelled along with his three children

Professor Ngugi wa Thion’go responding to a question asked by a Nigerian delegate to the conference who wanted to know from the professor what is likely to be the destiny of Africans who mostly relies on too much dependence on Foreign aid.

He said, in his first novel in Gikuyu entitled “Devil on the cross”, he wrote it on toilet paper while in a maximum security prison where he had been detained by a post colonial Kenyan government for having participated in the writing and performance of a play in his mother tongue. In spite of this, still he could believe even today that most African writers and other intellectuals have the duty to challenge and shake up that view of languages in theory and practice. The death of any language is the loss of knowledge contained in that language, and the weakening of any language is the weakening of its knowledge producing potential as it’s a human loss. This is a proverb he cited and compared this as the death on old person with the death of a library probably more true of languages. Professor Ngugi is on the view of the fact that, Africa must respect its own language so as to develop its mentality throughout, as Africa’s knowledge is part of economic and political development. Whatever is knowledgeable is an integral part of development.

Professor Ngugi speaks during the Pan-African meeting in Dar es Salaam.

The presence of Professor Ngugi wa Thion’go at the conference created an atmosphere whereby almost everyone scrambled to have his photo for memory at the hall. People with their cameras surged forward each wanting to have a snap

Professor Ngugi wa Thion’go in a group photograph with a preparatory committee team, Tanzanian chapter. Seated on his right is Professor Bugyabuso Mulokozi of the UDSM who was the Chairperson of the preparatory committee of the conference, and standing on his back is the Executive Secretary of the Children Book project Ms Pili Dumea among the committee members.

Earlier, in his paper presentation to participants of the conference Professor Ngugi noted that, in the world today, a handful of western languages constitute an aristocracy while others in a descending order of being occupied. They dominate in the production and dissemination of ideas, they dominate in publishing, distribution and consumption of knowledge, they control the flow of ideas. Intellectuals who comes from the supposedly lesser languages find that, to be visible globally, they must produce and store ideas in western European languages, English mostly. In case of most intellectuals from Africa and Asia, they become visible on the world stage but simultaneously invisible in their own cultures and languages. Global visibility comes at the price of local or regional invisibility. According to Prof. Ngugi, this is because the dominant languages become perceived, even by the dominated, as having all the magic power of knowledge and production of ideas, culture itself, where the dominated languages are seen as having the opposite. They are incapable of producing knowledge and good ideas as this is simply a case of linguistic feudalism, the reality is that linguistic feudalism is being transformed into linguistic Darwinism.

Professor Ngugi in a group photograph with participants at the Nkrumah hall, Dar es Salaam University

It was unbelievable as many delegates from various countries and their representatives organized group photos with the main speaker who seated at the centre during the Pan-African Conference for All at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

The Pan-African Reading for All (RFA) Conference is one of the most exciting and most memorable literacy events on the African continent. It is organized bi-annually by the International Reading Association’s International Development Committee in Africa (IRA/IDAC) and the National Reading Association in the host country. The first edition was held in 1999 in the glamorous South African City of Pretoria. The second edition was held in Abuja in Nigeria in 2001. In 2003, the third edition was held in Kampala, the city of seven hills in Uganda. In 2005, the 4th edition of the Pan-African Reading for All conference was taken down south to Swaziland, commonly known as the Switzerland of Africa because of its scenic beauty and climate. The most recent edition of the conference held in August 2007 took place in the West African country of Ghana, known for its gold wealth. The 6th Pan-African Reading for All Conference took place in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and the forum was organized by the International Reading Association’s International Development Committee in Africa (IRA/IDCA) in collaboration with the Reading Association of Tanzania (CCHAUTA.) and Children’s Book Project for Tanzania (CBP).

Professor Ngugi in group photograph with delagates of various country's representatives during the PARC for All in Dar es Salaa, Tanzania

Everybody was earger to have a photo with Professor Ngugi as seen in the photo above as delegates from various countries scrambled to take a group photo with him.

The conference brought together teachers, educators, lecturers, adult literacy instructors, researchers, librarians, writers, publishers, book sellers, community leaders, policy makers and readers from all over Africa and beyond. Over the years, the conference has continued to register a steady increase in the number of participants from the United States, North America, Europe and Asia, giving it a really global perspective. Besides professional experience participants had an opportunity to visit some successful local literacy projects and exciting tour sites to make their experiences in Tanzania extremely exciting and memorable. Under the theme: “Literacy for Community Based Socio-economic Transformation and Development”. About 204 participants from all over the world shared their experiences in literacy and reading promotion initiatives and practices from different countries and to present, examine, analyze, and seek ways of surmounting the various challenges preventing successful transmission of literacy through formal and non-formal systems of education. The Pan-African Conference has become an important literacy event on the African Continent providing platform for policy makers in government and the donor community to interface with literacy professionals at all levels and researchers to share vital knowledge and information on appropriate ways and strategies of delivering literacy and reading skills to the community at the grass root level. In countries where the conference has been held a number of positive developments have been registered ranging from rapid growth and development of community libraries, adult literacy classes, children’s reading tents, emergence of reading and writing clubs in schools and communities to positive policy pronouncements in favor of the book sector and publishing industry.

Delegates following proceedings during Pan-African Conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

A cross section of delegates who attended the Pan-African Reading Conference for All at Nkrumah hall in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Tanzania, the host country has initiated some of the most revolutionary educational policies for rural transformation and socioeconomic development in living memory. It has embraced the Universal Primary Education; it has some of the most innovative adult literacy programs in Africa; It has embraced the universal primary education policy to the benefit of all the primary school going-age, it has progressive gender policies; the book sector and publishing industry in Tanzania is growing steadily; the population is committed to schooling and education in general. In addition to visiting some successful community literacy projects and tourist attraction sites, participants of the forum also had an opportunity to participate in a trade show/National Book Week Festival organized under the umbrella of the East African Book Development Association, along side the main conference, just within the same vicinity.

Some of the book exhibition stalls during Pan-African Reading Conference for All

Literacy is believed to be an extremely important tool for the realization of the eight millennium development goals especially in the following areas:- Eradication of extreme poverty; achievement of universal primary education, promotion of gender equality and women empowerment; reduction of child mortality by two thirds among children under five, combating HIV/ AIDS, malaria and other diseases as well as ensuring environmental sustainability. It increases people’s access to readily available information in books, magazines, journals, news papers and internet resources for the improvement of their livelihoods. Literacy is not just a mechanical class room affair of dealing with symbols and numerals; it is a way of life which must be integrated into all forms of human activity for it to be of any relevance to the human person. The overall goal of the Pan-African Reading for All Conference is to create a platform for literacy professionals to share their experiences in literacy research and instruction in the class room and in communities with a view to identifying challenges faced and strategies through which such challenges can be surmounted in order to improve the delivery of literacy services for sustainable socio-economic transformation and improvement in people’s livelihoods.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Some of the Professor Ngugi's books in an open exhibition

A book entitled “Re-Membering Africa” the latest version of Professor Ngugi’s 23 books which was launched during the Pan-African Conference for All in Dar es Salaam.
The specific objectives of the conference include: Creating a platform for literacy professionals and literacy practitioners in Africa and beyond to share experiences and adopt best practices in the teaching of literacy skills and management of literacy programs. Creating opportunities for literacy professionals in Africa to undertake research, peer-review their materials and publish articles for their own professional development. Giving professional advice and guidance to African governments on matters of education in general and literacy instruction in schools and communities in particular. To drum up support for the integration of literacy programs in other national programs in order to facilitate a sustainable development of a reading culture in communities. Increasing the community’s awareness of the profundity of their cultural heritage, and need promote and defend it for their own survival and preservation.
Alerting policy makers and media practitioners to support the community through literacy enhancement. Alerting the book sector personnel to the needs of the newly literate populations of the African continent.

Professor Ngugi responding questions from journalists during the PAR Conference in Dar es Salaam

I was lucky to have met Professor Ngugi wa Thion’go a man whose books are a vital reference of the African literature. I remembered some of them when I was learning in Secondary school about seventeen years ago. I couldn’t think I would ever meet him face to face the way teachers used to describe him and his books it was clear he is an intellectual man.

The expected Outcomes of the conference increased networking and alliances of educators and literacy professionals across Africa and beyond for sharing accepted practices and research in classrooms and elsewhere in the field of language and literacy. Enhanced capacity building among African educators as contributors to the design and implementation of effective national Education for All action plans. Increased international understanding of literacy problems in Africa through publication of conference proceeding which will be a tangible output. A profound professional pronouncement on the state of literacy in Africa and the best way forward for African Governments and other stakeholders based on the evidence presented. Improvement in the quality of literacy teaching and instruction in schools and communities