PEN International Kenya Chapter:Thomas Sankara Commemorative Reading Event

Written by Faith Oneya

PEN (Poets, Essayists and Novelists) International Kenya Chapter held a reading event to mark the 24th Anniversary of Thomas Sankara’s Death (See details of event here : https://literarychronicles.wordpress.com/2011/12/21/pen-international-kenya-chapterthomas-sankara-reading-event/). Captain Thomas Sankara was the leader of the Burkinabe Revolution. In the former Upper Volta known today as Burkina Faso, a group of men decided to launch a revolution that would enable the country “to accept the responsibility of its reality and its destiny with human dignity”. Thomas Sankara belongs to the group of African leaders who wanted to give the continent in general and their countries in particular a new socio-political dimension. He was the hope of the African youth before being coldly murdered by his best friend Blaise Compaore.

The event was attended by the Literatti of the Nairobi Literary scene. From the prolific poet Khainga O’okwemba (who is also a syndicated writer of all that is literary for the local Star Newspaper), the ever passionate and dedicated poet, writer and upcoming politician Kingwa Kamenchu, and the Literary Gangster himself Tony Mochama aka Smitta, the accomplished performing poet Jacob Oketch, the seasoned thespian and writer Oluoch Madiang (See more about him here) and a myriad of upcoming poets, novelists lovers of the written and spoken word.

Smitta, in his trademark controversial, driven yet oddly entertaining style, tabled Michela Wrong’s “It’s Our Turn to Eat” as a parallel discussion to Thomas Sankara’s “Burkina Faso Speaks”. An intriguing chapter on the first lady Lucy Kibaki’s tantrum on the day that a party was thrown in her hood was read from “It’s Our Turn to Eat “where the first lady gives a whole new meaning to the words: “This is not Korogocho” at Diop’s party .

“Diop’s then the World Bank’s outgoing country director in Kenya, threw a farewell bash at his rented villa in Nairobi’s leafy suburb of Muthaiga. Diop had ordered a stage and hired some of Kenya’s best-known singers. But he had reckoned without Lucy Kibaki, the famously short-fused wife of President Mwai Kibaki who occasionally stays next door. She stormed round, shouting at Diop to stop the noise and yelling at his guests to leave.”(Source : http://www.newstatesman.com/200505230003)

Above: Tony Mochama(middle) and some participants reading from It’s Our Turn to Eat

.Smitta questioned the veer of viciousness that is the political class with Khainga explaining that is the alienation of that political class that brings about such an attitude. At what point, he asked, does literature become Zombified? (Call Khainga to ask about this).At this point, Jacob Oketch pointed out that the democratic space is expanding albeit slowly.

Above: Performing poet Jacob Oketch(middle) making a point as participants listen

The attendees agreed that there was need for a revolution to occur in Kenya with one attendee clarifying that there needed to be a critical mass for this to come to bear.

The discussion then drifted back to the man of the moment, Thomas Sankara, one of the most progressive African leaders of our time. The reading was  done from the book Thomas Sankara Speaks: The Burkina Faso Revolution,in a speech he made in an official reception for Francois Mitterrand , a visiting Frenchman where he forthrightly speaks of the many ills of the different African economies.The book can be purchased here http://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Sankara-Burkina-Revolution-150%C3%82%C2%9687/dp/0873489861

This  brought to question whether any such leaders existed to date and whether there were any leaders to look up to as much as Sankara was looked up to in his time.Oluoch Madiang pointed out that there were indeed leaders to look up to, only that they were being looked up to for the wrong reasons.

The directness of Thomas Sankara’s speech was also discussed with the question being whether there was a place in literature for such directness.Oluoch Madiang’ thought it admirable that the speech was devoid of the sugar-coating that is diplomacy where Sankara speaks candidly to the Frenchman about those who exploit and oppress Burkina Faso and other African states. Literature in Kenya, he concluded, could do with being much more direct.

Kipchumba, an young, aspiring politician , expressed his frustration in trying to get his peers to believe in and participate in a political revolution in his county, with Kingwa Kamenchu, a fellow aspiring political expressing her concern at the pace of change in Kenya.To this, Madiang’ responded that major revolutionists should not care about the impact the revolution would have on others as it distracts one from being a revolutionary.

The conclusion was that there is a place for literature in politics, and that writers must keep writing to agitate for what they want to see.

The discussion was capped off by a performance from Jacob Oketch(See a snippet of his performance here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Z2tQdn-Jis&feature=youtu.be)and a skit from the Survival Girls (See a write-up here:https://literarychronicles.wordpress.com/2011/12/23/theatre-review-gender-based-discrimination-the-skit/ )

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Author: Faith Oneya

Lover of the written and spoken word.

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