Architecture, literature and the African identity

Architecture, just like any other form of art, is a manifestation of human emotion, culture and traditions. As Somaliland is fast transitioning from the rubbles of war and civil strife, architects have a great opportunity to participate in the reconstruction. Joe Addo, a renowned Ghanaian architect, presented the work of ArchiAfrika Foundation at the fair. He encouraged young architects to utilise local resources and work with local communities in order to integrate ideas that will best define Somaliland.

Addo also recognises the importance of the diaspora in the development of a nation and the role they play in its transformation. He encouraged Africa to connect with her diaspora in order to broaden development prospects. “It is the attachment to a place, sense of being and identity that will transform Africa”, he said.

The discussions that ensued from Addo’s insightful presentation raised concerns over the question of modernity verses tradition. In the wake of globalisation and the Internet era, Africa’s traditional socio-cultural values are feared to be eroding and her architecture largely influenced by the West. Nonetheless, Addo believes that Africans have the ability and power to describe the African context, challenging architects to lead by example. “You have to cherish what is yours,” he insisted. According to Addo, it is also this pride that will help the youth of today be motivated to stay home and not lose their lives and dreams in illegal migration.

In a different panel moderated by Yusuf Serunkuma, Professor Niyi Osundare, Dr Mpalive Msiska, Chuma Nwokolo and Okey Ndibe explored Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Issues of leadership, imperialism, modernity and the role of literature in shaping the African context were extensively discussed.

The panellists see Achebe’s novel as a portal for African writers to tell their stories and most importantly, as a seminal influence on global literature. Ndibe finds it an important series of narratives that resisted Europe’s construction of Africa in the colonial era.

In response to some of the audience’s concerns over the negative portrayal of Africa by Western media, Professor Osundare categorically stated that vices in the African community, such as corruption and dictatorship, need to be brought to light for positive changes to occur. Dr Msiska urged writers to learn from Achebe, who worked to correct some of the European misconceptions of Africa, and to be politically committed in their work. He said that, “a great writer does not separate aesthetics from politics”. Nwokolo, reiterated the power of family and traditions and the values that can be gleaned from the rural African community, a favouring setting of Achebe in most of his works. The panellists had a lively discussion with Serunkuma on their favourite characters from the novel with Obierika and Okwonko taking the day.

The festival continued to celebrate writers and books through presentations from the Somaliland Writers Association and display of new books. The fair dedicated the evening to classical poetry and music and a live performance of Sitaad – ancient Sufi women’s religious songs – which were thoroughly enjoyed by all attendees. The night ended on a patriotic note with Somalilanders lifting their flag high in unified pride of their identity.

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