Friday 22 May 2009

Writing about Africa

I was on a studio panel discussion on radio this week discussing western perceptions of Africa and one of my fellow panellists (via the phone) happened to be Binyavanga Wainaina, the Kenyan author, journalist and winner of the Caine Prize. This reminded me of his thought provoking satirical piece on the strereotypical western coverage of Africa. If you haven’t already come across How to Write about Africa, I would certainly recommend it, especially for its sarcastic wit.

Africa Day in Ireland

Having been on a two-year self-imposed hiatus from any sort of public engagements, I decided that this year I would foist myself on an unsuspecting public. The first opportunity that presented itself is the Irish Aid sponsored Africa Day celebrations in Ireland which kicked off in Limerick on May, 17 and moved on to Dublin on May, 24.

Thanks to the wise counsel of the good folks at DHR (who have superbly organized the celebrations for the second successive year) it was deemed that I was incongruously suitable for a return behind the microphone and also in a fit state to provoke and stimulate a bit of debate about the perceptions of Africa in the Ireland.

Despite the typical intermittent mid-western downpours, I enjoyed being back in Limerick (I once lived in the city and worked for the local newspaper) and had a great time in what was a great venue and great atmosphere and great craic was had by all. More of the same and better weather in Dublin would be swell.

Ah yes, is that quizzical eyebrow I see? Yes, you may wonder how it came about that Africa Day is celebrated in Ireland with such zest and effort.

Well, Irish Aid, which is the Irish government’s programme of assistance to developing countries, particularly in Africa (Ethiopia, Mozambique, Uganda, Lesotho, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and through bilateral aid for specific projects in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Liberia) decided last year to mark the official day of the African Union by celebrating African diversity and success (a rare thing in this hemisphere).

Most importantly and highly commendable, was Irish Aid’s quick realization that they could tap into the vibrant African community in Ireland and help highlight all that was good about the continent. Fair play to them, as the saying goes here!

So if you happen to be in these parts, make sure you make a beeline for the Iveagh Gardens on Sunday.