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African writers today: A conversation with Roland Bankole-Marke

By  | 17 October 2010 at 06:53 | 837 views

Roland Bankole-Marke is one of Sierra Leone’s up and coming writers, full of promise with an increasingly significant output. He has written a couple of books and has appeared in several anthologies of poetry. He is also a prolific journalist with a byline in numerous magazines and newspapers including this one, the Patriotic Vanguard. I recently did a snap interview with Roland just to see the direction African writing is currently heading. Here is Roland:

Patriotic Vanguard: What do you think about African writing today?

Roland Bankole-Marke: Africans need to be writing in their own style, their own style of poetry for instance, crafted according to our cultural milieu, and possibly in our own languages. But our initial educational system has been so flawed and westernized. We need to remove the veil and start building the foundation blocks ourselves. It is sad to note that most Sierra Leoneans cannot communicate effectively in Krio nor are they actually literate in indigenous languages. This is where the Nigerians have taken the lead. The relevance of our so called Western customized education, is it relevant to us as visionary Pan-Africanists?

PV: What are some of the problems African writers face today and how can
they overcome them?

RB: African writers face a multitude of problems that mostly emanate from within ourselves as a people with a confused identity. We need to first know who we are as a people, and then come to grips with our problems. Firstly, we neither appreciate nor support our own writers who are trying to remove the yoke acquired from colonialism that suggests that ideas or things African are less appreciated, or not comparable to Western ideas or systems. As a people we need to set up our own publishing houses and stop using western values as our standards. We spend so much money supporting western artists, authors and business moguls, how about spending a fraction on our own people? It is time we take control of our own destiny by investing in African writers, African presses and encouraging our kids and youth to know that they are not outsiders when it comes to Africa. It looks like the youth are ready to make that transition, while the not so young want to talk about their prestigious degrees, acquired in western institutions, and how superior they are to the less fortunate. But those living on past glory, what have they done to change the mindset and destiny of a forward looking Africa that has a place and bright future for every one including the seemingly dull and ignorant?

PV: Africans mostly use European languages to write. Do you support
Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s suggestion that Africans should write in their local
languages? Are you willing to write in Krio for example?

RB: Of course Ngugi is quite right to say that. We as a people have been miseducated and we need to reverse that trend. We are at our best when we write and communicate in both verbal and written forms. But for this to take off education and instruction should begin at school level and continue up to tertiary level. I love to write in Krio for sure. To be frank I think better and can be more productive when using our Lingua Franca of SL. The use of a standard dictionary would help to standardize the use of words and jargons. Dr. Kamarrah of VA University ( Lunsar Creole) compiled an anthology of Krio poems a few years ago and we are awaiting its publication in Sweden. My poem was among the lot. Prof. Eldred Jones helped with the selection in Freetown. I think this is a step in the right direction. Mensa Press will be working with me to call for submissions, for poems from writers of the various ethnic groups in SL. I’m very excited about this project.

PV: What’s the future of African writing, in your opinion?

RB: African writing has a future that I think is based on certain conditions. Firstly, we have to create the awareness, and help in stimulating the reading habit. The indictment that Africans don’t read outside the realm of their studies bears truth in it.

I don’t know whether it is poverty that makes us to become obsessed with acquiring wealth and material things that we forget that reading is a necessary tool in educating oneself outside of the classroom environment. Once this hurdle is removed the future for African writing and writers could be bright and promising. Finally, self image and finding our identity play a major role in the development and destiny of the African writer. Investing in what we believe in should be the rule of thumb.

Thanks for the opportunity to air these burning thoughts that were already in my mind.

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