The debate about what makes of qualifies one as an African writer has been ongoing for a long time. Suffice it to say that the debate is not about to end any time soon. Ken Opande's article (SS 2 Sept. 2007) made for interesting reading.
From the outset I think this whole debate is pertinent as it tries to shed light on what exactly make one an African writer. Or is there a one-size-its-all description of an African writer.
My opinion is that there isn't. Every person, every writer, has their definition of what Africa is. Each experience is different, so if we try to all write in one confine storyline that is a recipe for failure. Writers living in rural Africa will most certainly have a different story to tell from a writer living in an urban area. Both will have their takes on each situation because of the geographic difference and how they've lived their lives. Is it the writer who lives in the village where the air is fresh, hill undulate and birds chirrup every morning who is an African writer or is it the writer who chokes in industrial smog and smoke, whose eardrums are almost bursting from the intrusive car horns.
Africaness, in writers if I may call it that, is a state of mind where you sensibilities are towards Africa in its true state, the geographical conditions of you area notwithstanding.
These sensibilities allows one to write about both the ills and the good things about Africa without glossing over the bad thing for that idyll that is the rolling hills, clear streams, chirruping birds every morning, and very pleasant village in general.
If we take a look at the growth of the African novel post independence, we can se that almost all the writers then we focused on one thing. That is telling the story of a growing country, a country trying to find its footing in the world. It helped that these countries got their independence at more or lees the same time. This brought about some sort of uniformity to their stories.
As time went by these storylines diverged, as writers faced new challenges their writing also became new. Some took the emerging dictatorship head on, others wrote about the growing squalor in the cities and most recently the AIDS scourge that is laying waste to the continent. It is important to note that Monica Arac de Nyeko won the Caine Prize for African Literature for her story which is about the forbidden love between two girls. This is a taboo subject in Africa, many people think that this kind of story is a preserve of the west but the fact the she is a woman from Northern Uganda tell us that this is a true African story.
This goes to state my position that it is foolhardy to expect a writer whose thoughts and experiences do not include village fires, bullfrogs and village criers to base his works on that just to please a critic with a romanticized view of Africa. The same applies to a writer whose base is rural Africa. As writers we try to tell the world our stories and experiences. The moment you start writing from an uninformed point of view just so as to fit into a conventional mould of an Africa writer then you are setting yourself up for failure, to be liked only by the some chaps resident in some literature departments.
So the moment my novel tells you about a concrete jungle where people dodge cars and flying toilets and not a spear and they leap over sewers and not rivers, read and give if it a chance and if you don't like it, look for another which you like.