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Africa seen from Akersgata

The newspaper reveals Norwegian myopia. Without even knowing it.


[literature] It is often easier to maintain familiar and familiar notions than to work on new ones. The idea of ​​"Africa" ​​is one such notion, which despite the fact that we live in both the age of information and political correctness, has proved unusually viable. "Africa" ​​is an exotic, inferior and alien place. This is evident not only in Norwegian politicians when they are about to save the world with a thick wallet, but also in the Norwegian media talk.

Most recently a few weeks ago, Dagbladet proclaimed on the cover: "We spotlight on Africa" ​​(April 24). There were "African" books the editorial had in mind: "One, a new Norwegian novel about the relationship between the West and developing countries is sensationally well written," we could read. And in the column Five favorites Fredrik Wandrup claimed: “In recent years, the continent's own literature has become more and more visible. But there have always been strong novels written about the encounter between local culture and the invading imperialists. ”(My highlights.)

It doesn't have to be that way.

The contrast is great with the British literature magazine Granta's publication The View from Africa. Granta will also show us Africa through literature. However, the back of the magazine is adorned with a manifesto which points out that although Africa has 54 countries, seven climates and over 800 million inhabitants and is therefore too large and varied for generalizations, we are constantly tending towards simplifications and forgetting that South Africa and Burkina Faso have as much in common as Spain and Uzbekistan.

A comparison between the two releases is helpful. Then the problematic nature of the widespread Africa images appears.

Norwegian reporters, aid workers, politicians and representatives from the royal house put their faces in serious folds and say hunger, war, AIDS and disaster while another child dies of malnutrition in the background. How often have we not seen it? How does this not shape our view of the continent?

John Ryle, one of the editors of Granta, points out how easy it is for the West, and also for some Africans, to let one reality apply to the whole continent, as if in our notion of Africa there is only room for a single story at a time . In reality, of course, there are as many stories about Africa as there are writers and writers there, and each story contains a seed for a complex and expanded conception of the continent. In The View from Africa we get fifteen very different texts that present different views on an Africa the writers themselves have experienced.

So what was the problem with Dagbladet's book Monday here a few weeks ago? Like Granta's headline, Dagbladet's was about perspective, but this time it was our own view: what we can see when the spotlight is turned on something that has hitherto been in the dark.

The wording in the two quotes above is clearly characterized by a we / them perspective. One looks at the "relationship between the West and the developing countries", implicitly: between us and those who are below and behind us in development. "Strong novels have been written about the meeting between local culture and penetrating imperialism," Wandrup claims, as if one local African culture is anything but a cheap illusion to resort to when reality becomes too messy.

In both of these formulations, it is implied that stories about Africa only come to life through the eyes of the West. The other stories, those that are not activated by the West's attention, are erased. Africa's voice is silent as the West turns its back.

Not representative.

This can be found in Dagbladet's selection of books. Of the nine mentioned, only three are written by Africans. Two of the authors are Nadine Gordimer and JM Coetzee – both South Africans, both Nobel Prize winners and both whites. Gordimer and Coetzee are, of course, "real" Africans, but as white writers, their literature is hardly particularly representative. In addition, it is strange to mention two Nobel Prize winners when so many other African authors are unknown to Norwegian readers. It seems superfluous to direct the spotlight on those who are already in the floodlights. Nadine Gordimer is also the only one who has added the plot to an African country. One of the best written by Kim Iseki, a supposed synonym for an unknown Norwegian author, takes place in the fictional Amaria, Coetzee's book has been added to Australia and Adam Hochschild's book Bury the links is about a few Britons' fight against slavery.

Wandrup's five favorites are even worse. He could have picked freely, without taking into account the timeliness of the reviews, but chose Robert Wilson, Graham Greene, Paul Bowles (two Britons and one American) VSNaipaul (from Trinidad) and Nuruddin Farah, who is from Somalia but who has spent most of life in exile.

Dagbladet's spotlight on Africa thus boils down to the fact that two-thirds of the authors mentioned do not come from there. Africa's stories, one must believe Dagbladet, are best conveyed by someone other than Africans.

Enough to take off.

So who could the newspapers have written about? Few African books are published in Norwegian, but if you look up, the selection is large. Award-winning Nigerian poet, playwright and essayist Niyi Osundare has recently released Two Plays. Wonder Guchu from Zimbabwe just won the debut award from Zimbabwe Publishers' Association for Sketches of High Density Life. Judah Seomeng and Annabel Dunn's Botswana Dimo ​​and the Little Bush Doctor have been selected for the White Ravens 2006 Catalog, a catalog of outstanding children's and youth literature to be launched at the Bologna Book Fair.

In March, the Norwegian Writers' Association awarded its Freedom of Expression Award to Ethiopian Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin, an award that has so far passed unnoticed in the Norwegian public. In Stavanger, the Zimbabwean author Chenjeraj Hove is writing a play for theater

the festival The Young Stage. Hove has lived as a free city author in Stavanger since 2005 and is considered one of the most important African authors today. He has never before been interviewed in the Norwegian media.

My favorites had also included Chinua Achebes Things Fall Apart and Ngugi wa Thiong'os Grain of Wheat. Both books have become classics in modern African literature, and are outstanding examples of novels that change the way we read colonial times.

With its article, Dagbladet reveals its perception of African literature. It testifies that the Norwegian media have little willingness to change their point of view, to break with perceptions about us and them or to give us insight into an Africa we rarely see.

In June, a book fair is held in Cape Town. It will be about new African literature. Several established and new authors have been invited. Norwegian newspapers should treat themselves to a trip there.

By Ellinor Dalbye

master's student in literature

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