Finally, the first interview of the Visionnaire Series with Deborah Ahenkorah of the Golden Baobab Prize is all set! Stay tuned for the full showcase right here on Circumspect! In the meantime, here’s a small teaser/preview, what I call the “Visionnaire Development Minute”, on Debbie’s thoughts on, well, development in Africa. Agree, disagree, have something to add? Please do share! Enjoy!
Circumspecte: How do you think the advent of e-reading will influence Africa’s literary landscape?
Deborah Ahenkorah: I think the discourse around e-reading everywhere in the world is so fascinating, because without a doubt, e-reading is the future. No matter how you spin it, it is the future. But what’s interesting about it is how is it going to become the future? What is the process and what path is it going to take for it to get to the future? The western world is far, far ahead of us in that discourse, or in that journey of e-reading from a concept to the reality, like the reading reality, and Africa is still at the beginning. What’s interesting to me is that this discourse is happening more and more frequently in Africa because of mobile technology and a lot of people exploring the potential of mobile technology being the path for e-reading in Africa.
But all the people talking about these mobile technologies and e-reading in Africa, who’s going to be writing? Currently we don’t have a lot of books because a lot of people are not writing. Suddenly we’re excited about e-readers? When those e-readers come, who will be writing for the e-readers? What’s going to change? Suddenly we’re going to become a literate community because e-readers are here? No. Unless we also talk about where our writers are, what the support they have is, and how we can make them better, nothing is going to change. E-readers can come and we won’t cash in on it. E-readers will come and all we’ll still be reading is Sidney Sheldon and Nora Roberts because we’re not being serious about the arts and we’re not paying attention to something that is important for every society’s scope, but something that’s also a money maker. It has a lot of economic implications and we’re not paying attention to it. For me its almost comical, I’m just like, guys, let’s get it straight and have realer conversations about it.
Circumspecte: Do you think access to literature by young African writers is important for moulding Africa’s future? Why and how do you see the availability of such literature written by Africans affecting Africa’s total development?
D.A.: So many ways, goodness. The first one is, I think one of Africa’s main problems, is how much we underutilize our human resource. We have all of this brain and we’re not developing it the best that we can. Our educational systems, at least in Ghana, go through reform after reform, but what are the reforms for? You know, we’ve reformed the system several times but its still Rhodes learning. We’ve reformed the system several times but still it only favors 10% of the population and too many people still fall through the cracks. So I think we’re really not developing our biggest asset which is our human resource, and if we don’t develop that we’ll continue not to do well. Now if the government will not develop for us perhaps we can develop ourselves. How do people develop themselves and their thinking and educate themselves? They educate themselves through books. Now,a lot of research shows that if you have access to books that reflect your experiences and interests, you will read. So if young people on this continent get up and say that we’re going to write the stories that we want to hear, the stories that we want to read, when the stories are out they will be read. Heinnemann proved this in the 1960s when they started this series that to date is still being read, 50 years, half a century later, these stories are still being read. These stories are still the canonical works of literature that we have. So clearly, if you produce books people will read and if people read, you know, we’re developing our human resource if people read.
Circumspecte: What is your vision for how Africa should develop?
D.A.: Again, human resource, because I feel a lot of the development conversation, at least in Ghana, centres a lot around politics. And that’s all well and good but since the beginning of time politics has failed us. Political systems have failed us. Politics has not brought change, its people who have brought change. So if the African continent- I wish there’d be a shift in thinking and we would realize that look, government and politics are there to steer us, but we’re the change makers, and people would dare to make the change that they can make, then we’d be in a much better place. Because really, we just need to get up and fix the things that need fixing. If the government isn’t going to do it, we need to do it ourselves. If only we could gear the thinking of our human resource towards this and more people would dare to get up and not wait for the government, and do things for themselves, I think we’d be in a much better place. I think that’s what could drive development on this continent.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.