When I went to University and chose to study English Literature (to the dismay of my family and friends) I was a lost soul.
I was side-stepping more lucrative prospects in law, business and science.
Yet English literature was the Eureka of my awakening. I had unconsciously begun a journey to discover the contradictions of my being.
The literature department, curiously called English Department, at Midlands State University where I did my undergraduate degree teaches mostly English authors from Chaucer to Dickens.
It bothered me that our educational system still connived with the past.
Questions crawled in my mind. They still do. What is the reason in this day and age that we should be brought up on an impoverished reading diet in a so-called English Department? Why is this pattern so in our time? Why does it still persist? Has this all been an accident of content, time, place and history?
A Russian child grows under the influence of his native imagination: a Chinese, a French-man, a Spaniard, a German or an Englishman first imbibes his national literature before attempting to take in other worlds.
This ABC of education is followed in most societies because it is demanded by the practice and the experience of living and growing.
Not so in Africa, despite the crucial role the twin fields of literature and culture play in making a child aware of, and rediscovering his environment.
The great difficulty posed by colonial history is that it brought us into a world with no real centre and no easily defined point of view. In fact the cultural onion was peeled to a point were our tears refuse to dry.
One of Africa’s eminent writers, Chinua Achebe, highlighted the problem with the world knowledge system when he rightly pointed out that it is dominated by Europe and it excludes the “African testimony.”
Let me hasten to add that I am fully aware of the simplifications I am indulging in so that my basic points can stand out. I realize , for instance there is some sort of effort to try to study African writing and I also realise that there is effort by some European universities to “post –colonise” the African knowledge system and psyche, but despite these academically elegant labels and nonsensical pedagogical qualifications that can be made from the high chair of academia, there is some patronising attitude in all this. The knowledge system teaches little about Africa, or worse ignores it.
Africa is the place to be for anyone who wants to live in the vortex of life. I write, and imagine, from there. I migrate in there and from there.
My desire is to interfere and interrupt the flows of thought, to engage with and fight the present as a response to my own being.
When I was 20years old, I became an editorial apprentice at a small but vibrant publishing house in Harare. This experience deepened my desire to want to be involved in the production of knowledge relevant to our needs.
My involvement with the publishing industry, as well as the writing fraternity and academia in Zimbabwe, made me realise that we had a capacity to produce and package our own stories and ideas but sometimes that is not enough when we have to rely on Western donors for capital to fund our projects who often come in with their own agendas.
When I was at university I had one big ambition: to critically engage with the dominant patterns of intellectual production. What irked me most was that I had seen foreign and well funded scholars come to Zimbabwe and in six months or less, they left with a book manuscript of our culture, politics, economics, music etc.
It was as if the locals were intellectually impotent or incurious, so they needed someone to tell them something about themselves. I still wonder why it requires intervention from a foreign academic for us as Zimbabweans to appreciate ourselves. In other words, as Ngugi argues, imperialism continues to control the economy, politics and cultures of Africa.
Indeed, Ngugi’s seminal monograph, remains an important book for me. It’s a revolutionary text that questions and challenges our perceptions of self and being. It’s a book I constantly go back to again and again to challenge me to seek answers of who I am and who I ought to be.