someone was defending Wole Soyinka’s flawed stance that we should write in English for the world to read African Literature, in a debate about who between Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Soyinka is right about their stands

Reverse racism, that’s a laugh, and the reason I’m writing a response. There’s no reverse racism in writing using local languages. Racism, is writing in European, imposed languages to appeal to a group that cared so much for African cultures that they brutalised it out of people, and forced them to believe European languages were superior to any other. That is not the case.

Mandarin is the most spoken first language in the world. Spanish is the second, not even English comes close to covering half the world as a second language. If it’s about a wide audience, we should all be writing in Mandarin, and Spanish.

Thinking that the world is interested in African literature is a fallacy. Of all those who claim to be great readers, how many can say they’ve read anything published this decade from Africa that isn’t Chimanda Adichie? Who is only known worldwide because Oprah read her book, and put it on her book club list. If not for Oprah, not enough people would have even known to check for Chimanda, leave alone Half of a Yellow Sun to make it a success in Africa, the world aside. The world doesn’t care for African literature outside of Africa to warrant writing in a language that is used by oppressors to tilt the running of the world in their favour. If they want to read African literature, then they would translate the texts written in local languages to their language, not expect that Africans write in their language in the first place.

Ngugi is right in that African literature has a quality to it when relayed in local languages. The way Swahili stories are told would be deemed effusively illustrative in English; and always the text loses something when written in English when the story is thought of in a different language.

Furthermore, writers should be comfortable with the language they use. Forcing someone to write in a colonial language to suit colonialists and their descendants doesn’t promote African literature in its entirety. Soyinka can write in English all he wants if that’s what makes him comfortable, but he doesn’t see the disadvantage that is catering to people who don’t bother to learn your language, but expect you to learn theirs so they can hand you whatever award they accredit highly for stories you’ve written in their language, and that’s where his argument fails for me.

Lastly, there’s no such thing as reverse racism to imply racism from the opposite end to the other. It’s all racism. To write in African languages isn’t racism that oppresses non-Africans; it’s racism that benefits everyone.

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