Speech by Kamau Goro

Distinguished guests, Kendeka Advisory Board, judges, authors, editors, lovers of books I’m delighted to be here this afternoon to celebrate the launch of the Kendeka Prize for African Literature anthology of Short Stories I am Listening.

The Kendeka Prize for African Literature is a company guarantee by shares and registered in Kenya. I’m therefore delighted because what we are celebrating today is not just a prize and a book but also a worthwhile local initiative the result of which is the first truly Pan-African literary prize to be based right here in Kenya.

Consider this: When the call for entries to the first Kendeka Prize for African Literature went out last year, entries were received from 24 African countries. The judges led by Lucas Wafula (Kenya), Edwige Dro from (Cote De Vore) and Remmy Ngaminje (Namibia) selected a long list of 13 stories from which 5 made it to the short-list . Jenny Robson from Botswana ultimately emerged as the winner.

The anthology we are launching today is made up of 12 of the long listed stories as compiled by Andrew Maina and Muthoni wa Gichuru and edited by Regina Aside. As we appreciate the authors, judges, the compilers, and the editors for giving us this wonderful and richly diverse anthology, Iet appreciate in a special way Mr Maina the brain behind the prize without whom we would not be here today. I think it takes a high level of commitment and a man who truly believes in the validity of his dream to pull off a feat such as this.

But his dream is also an African dream – the dream of many writers who have long yearned to express the true essence of Africa and the African experience. They say that he who pays the Piper calls the tune. African writers have jostle for Prizes but often find themselves compelled to project a certain image of Africa if they were to make the cut – an image of woe, backwardness, savagery… An undifferentiated one dimensional story that has been normalized in certain quarters as the African story that once so outraged the late Bivanyanga Wainaina and spurred him to write one of the most famous essays in African letters, “How to Write About Africa.”

It is similar concerns about how Africa was projected in some of the most powerful literary establishments that led Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to warn about the dangers of the “single story”. Africa is a multitude of peoples, cultures, languages. Like everywhere else, there is the good and the bad. The Kendeka Prize for African Literature does not seek to encourage writers to turn a blind eye to what is unpalatable but it acknowledges – and rightfully so – that there is more than just woe to the African story.

There is beauty, there is achievement and, sometimes against great odds, there also the resilience of the African people. This too is the African story and you’ll find facets of it in the anthology we are launching today. Africa is not a country. It’s an epic of rich and diverse cultures, stunning geographical features ranging from tropical forests and mountains to rivers and lakes to some of the most soul-sucking deserts in the world. It is against this vast canvas that these stories are inscribed and aspects of it will be found within the pages of the anthology.

Reading a book is both a physical and spiritual journey. Let’s read and listen as our freshly minted anthology guides us on a voyage through time and space and across the vast expanse of this our motherland. I hope we will all enjoy the ride.

Thank you

Goro Kamau

Laikipia University
Fourteen Falls Leisure Lodge