Prof. Wole Soyinka, was keynote speaker at an African Literatures Conference in London, reflecting on the legacy of the June 1962, Makerere University First African Writers Conference.
One of the young African writers that attended the historic conference, Soyinka was at SOAS University of London’s African Literatures Conference (28th October 2017) to reflect on negritude as it was discussed at the Makerere Conference.
The Makerere conference marked the final climax on attacking the Negritude School of Leopold Senghor (first African President of Senegal) who is credited as one of the founders of the cultural philosophy.
Negritude described by Soyinka as a cultural philosophy by the Black race in response to negative external/impulses forces, was at time of the Makerere Conference, adopted as a literary weapon, by noted African writers as opposition and denouncement to colonialism and the adoption of Western ideas.
Other noted African writers present at the 1962 Makerere Conference, were Chinua Achebe (Nigerian Novelist), Okot p’Bitek (Ugandan poet), Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chris Okigbo (Nigerian poet and playwright), David Rubadiri (Malawian poet) and others.
All young men then, and the conference happening at the cusp of Independence for most African countries, it was the defining moment for them as it was from then on, that they became the established African writers we know them to be today.
One of the noted challenges that arose at the Makerere Conference (being historic, for being the first gathering of African writers, from different countries) was the language dilemma.
Colonialism it was noted, had created a language challenge for African writers as determining the African language of choice for writing, became a contentious and dividing issue. At Makerere, the writers questioned and debated on
- What constitutes African Literature
- Is Literature written by Africans, the one that depicts the African experience
- Does African Literature have to be written in an African Language.
So contentious was the issue of language, at the Makerere Conference that the famed Kenyan Playwright Ngugi wa Thiong’o-then known as James Ngugi- is said to have rejected Christianity not long after, changing his name to what we know him to be called today, and his writing to Gikuyu, from English.