In the late 1990s I lived in Zimbabwe for a while. Following the recent death of Robert Mugabe, I’ve been re-reading the diary I kept while I was there. I just came across this report of a conversation I had, with a former solider in the Rhodesian army. Continue reading “Did Margaret Thatcher Foil An Assassination Attempt on Robert Mugabe in 1980?”
There’s an interesting passage in Peter Kimani’s Dance of the Jakaranda about the conspiracy of silence between those who are abused, and their abusers:
One unspoken rule about warfare—some Indian traders instantly recognized this as warfare—is that neither the victim nor the villain is willing to tell what truly happened afterward; the motivation for the former being to minimize the degree of hurt and loss, which intensiﬁes at every bout of recollection; the explanation for the latter being to disguise the full extent to which one’s humanity is diminished by brutalizing others. So the trail of blood left on shop ﬂoors was wiped away silently by the women who had lain there spread-eagle—the stream of tears sufﬁcient to wash the drops of blood away—while traders who had lost entire life savings kept under the mattress denied losing more than the day’s collection. Either way, the books were balanced: in one strike, lifetime gains were wiped out, while the inﬂicted pain left scars that would last a lifetime.
When I interviewed Peter earlier this year I asked him about this. That part of our discussion never made it into the final edit of the interview, so I thought I would publish an edited transcript here. Continue reading “Peter Kimani on The ‘Complicity’ Between Abuser and Abused”
PEN Transmissions is English PEN’s new online magazine dedicated to international writing. The latest issue is on the theme ‘Writing the Past’ and features my interview with the Kenyan novelist Peter Kimani, whose most recent book Dance of the Jakaranda was published by Telegram in March 2018.
Peter was a fascinating interviewee. We discussed the idiosyncratic structure of his novel, the challenges of ‘writing the other’, the need for Kenya to invest more in developing Swahili and Gikuyu literature, and the perilous state of freedom of expression in Kenya.
Earlier this year I recorded a podcast with the award-winning journalist Anjan Sundaram. We discussed his wonderful book Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship, an account of the extinction of press freedom in Rwanda.
This week the podcast and an edited transcript of part of the discussion was posted in the PEN Atlas section of the English PEN website. You can listen to it on SoundCloud or via the player below. Continue reading “Podcast: Anjan Sundaram – Bad News”
In the local church hall, the Girl Guides have put up a display of strange symbols. A short tour of Google reveals them to be Adinkra Symbols from West Africa – specifically Ghana.
I’ve pasted some images below, but there are more on www.adinkra.org. My favourite is WO NSA DA MU A “If your hands are in the dish”, a symbol of participatory government, democracy and pluralism. Continue reading “Adinkra Symbols”
I’m pleased to be quoted in an article by Ellie Broughton on the For Books’ Sake website, When Gay Characters Attract Death Threats. Continue reading “For Books’ Sake: Supporting Nigerian LGBTQ writers”
You’re all aware of the controversy surrounding the Cecil Rhodes statue at Oxford University, right?
To recap: Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) was the colonialist, businessman and white supremacist whose career in Southern Africa had huge impact on the continent. The celebrated Rhodes Scholarship programme at Oxford University was established by his estate. As such, there is a statue of him at Oriel College at Oxford. Some current students are campaigning to have the statue removed on the grounds that Rhodes was a racist and not someone who should be glorified in stone.
This campaign is happening in a milieu of renewed debates about freedom of expression and decency at universities. I am against ‘no platform’ policies, and against the abuse of useful innovations such as Safe Spaces and Trigger Warnings as a way to shut down offensive speech. Continue reading “Rhodes, Political Correctness and the Censorship of History”
Before I mire myself in questions of when and whether to publish shocking images, I should—must—begin by writing about the fact of Aylan Kurdi’s drowning and the refugee crisis in general. If the central argument for publishing an image of a dead boy is that it ‘gets people discussing the issues’ then I think I have an obligation to do so, even if these thoughts have been stated earlier and more eloquently, elsewhere. Continue reading “On the ethics of publishing the photo of Aylan Kurdi”
— Kamila Shamsie (@kamilashamsie) April 15, 2013
So yesterday, Granta announced their once-a-decade list of the Best British novelists under 40. I’m pleased for English PEN deputy president Kamila Shamsie, who was featured on the list.
But I’m also delighted to the inclusion of Taiye Selasi, whose novel Ghana Must Go has recently been published. Taiye is the author of my favourite piece of prose published in the LIP magazine, a magazine project I worked on from 2003-07.
I was struck by a passage in the book, discussing ‘African Talking Drums’:
Before long, there were people for whom the path of communication technology had lept directly from the talking drum to the mobile phone, skipping over the intermediate stages.
This rang a few bells. First, this nugget from Alain de Botton:
If technology is developing well, what was normal when you were a child should by now seem ridiculous.
Which seems to me to be a variation on Arthur C. Clarke’s famous suggestion that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. What’s interesting with regard to the African Talking Drums is that they are seen as a kind of primitive technology, even thought (as The Information explains) the language is so complex it appeared to be a form of magic to the white slavers, colonialists and anthropologists who heard them.
These technological leaps are interesting, I think, because so much of our culture is tied up in technological advancement. It dictates what kind of jobs are necessary and profitable, of course, but also influences design.
I am reminded of Jason Kottke’s posts on Timeline Twins (for example, watching Back to the Future today is like watching Bridge on the River Kwai in 1985, because the gap is 27 years in both cases), and also Human Wormholes and The Great Span (for example, this old man who witnessed the Lincoln Assassination).
It also makes me think of my great-grandfather, who (along with everyone else of his particular generation, I suppose) was alive to hear the news of the Wright Brothers achieving powered flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903, and also to watch the Apollo landings on the moon from 1969-72.