Ghettoization or Globalization Of African Literature
By Raïs Neza Boneza
© Rais Neza Boneza 2006
When considering Africa or analyzing world history from the fourteenth century, one could assert that the world’s history is dominated by warfare, conquests, wars, slavery and dominations. Consequently that led to the establishment of the Global system. Since then, globalization has became more sophisticated and has changed its techniques of enslavement through imposing industrialization and an abusive marketization which has resulted to a massive subjugation and de-humanization world-wide.
Today, in this mess, Africa is totally deprived of its sovereignty, strangled economically and culturally by globalization. This continent has been sacrificed upon the Altar of the IMF and World Bank Policies; sick from poverty, diseases, and corrupt leadership. As Ngugi wa Thiongo pointed out in his lecture at Girvetz Theater in 2004:
"Globalization has weakened the post-colonial state to the point where the states are too weak to interfere with the operations of international finance, so those finances can come and go at will". "Outside, non-governmental organizations begin operating as modern-day missionaries, secular missionaries that become parallel states not beholden to the state itself."
With a seemingly narrow point of view, the west shows prejudice at all times toward the African continent. For example Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness can almost be described as prejudiced, racist and anti-African. All this is the norm. Even in our time some critics consider the African writer as an aspiring westerner, an unfinished artifact that in time and with adequate guidance will be westernized.
Many African writers want to be recognized as just "writers" being part of a world literature. But the only African authors to receive recognition are those who manage to make it to the main western production networks and are promoted or confirmed by the media. For them, England, France or the US, with their large chains of publishing houses and distribution networks, appear to be the only places that can offer them international recognition. It is a difficult challenge to decide to become a writer in Africa; generally the African writer evolved from a space devoid of advantages.
In this Global context how can the African writer try to go beyond his singularity and integrate what we call the global or world literature?
As the west has managed to ghettoize Africa through its imperial domination and polarization of wealth and knowledge, the arena of world literature seems not to include Africa. Africa is under exogenous domination and has never been able to impose its own criteria of appreciation. This makes its literature vulnerable to marginalization.
African literature cannot benefit the continent as long as it remains under total Global influences from the west. It owes its richness today from its oral traditions, to the diversity of its culture and languages which have had a strong influence on the apostles of negritude such as Aimee Cesaire or Nobel price winner Wole Soyinka.
Marketization and caricatured identity of the African writer
Since a book is a product that must be sold, African marketing of books is negligible since Africa’s priorities are more concentrated on its wars, political instabilities and diseases. In Africa, books are still an unaffordable luxury. The average price of a book in Europe can be the equivalent of a monthly wage of many workers in Africa, and may feed a family for several days. But on the other side, when we talk about global market controlled by the west; if the European publisher would like to sell his product, he will probably prefer the author of the book to be marketable. Therefore the African writer finds himself between in a continuing war. When trying to maintain their Africanity, on the other hand the African writer has to sell their soul to the devil of globalization. For example, an African writer writing in the western country becomes detached from their homeland and maintains mostly a vague memory of their far-belonging-land. They are de-rooted and have to cure this handicap through "a cultural imagery," trying to overcome their fear of not belonging anywhere and nowhere. The writer adopts a caricatured identity, presenting himself as "Citoyen du Monde". In his new clothed identity as "World’s Citizen," the African writer lives in a constant exile since he lives in a society of fantasy, a virtual Ghetto.
Africa is not imagery, or a world of fantasy with its Safari, elephants, and lions. But it is as real as reality itself. Africa is a continent with nations and millions of people; not a remote part of the globe far out of the reach of civilized nations. Today, we speak of the African Union, and all the different initiatives to improve economical and social conditions in Africa. The African writer’s role is more than ever crucial in the fight to liberate Africa from local and foreign oppressors. This role cannot be the same as that of writers in other less tormented and less afflicted continents. And yet the need for engagement remains. As Ngugi said, "values, cultures, politics and economics are all tied up together" and woe unto the writer who fails to realize this. In the same sense, African writers who claim the right to be recognized and have a place in the global literature may not be able to achieve this if they do not play their role as African writer to re-construct, their homeland and plant in their society a sense of purpose. They should first and fully assume their Africanity.