African Writers Day at a time of drought

Authors gathered in the Horn of Africa for the literary fiesta

In Summary

• Speakers should have used chance to articulate Africa’s position on climate change

Osenya Olemeeli, who has lost his 11 cattle to the drought, walks past carcasses of cows near a cattle market in Bisil, Kajiado, on October 31
Osenya Olemeeli, who has lost his 11 cattle to the drought, walks past carcasses of cows near a cattle market in Bisil, Kajiado, on October 31

Each year, the world sets aside a day or two to recognise writers. For example, the United Nations set aside the 3rd of May each year to mark the World Press Freedom Day. The day was constructed as a temporal platform for supporting press freedom and remembering journalists who lost their lives in the course of duty.

There is no place on earth today that perhaps can compete with Somalia on the dangers of being a journalist. UN reports observe that close to 1,000 journalists have undergone a harrowing experience for being part of the fourth estate in Somalia. Beatings, threats, targeted elimination are some of the common vagaries assailing journalists over the past decade in the horn of Africa nation.

Last week in an opinion piece published by Al Jazeera, Omar Faruk Osman called for a stop of the murder of Somalia’s brave journalists. He termed the land, “Africa’s most dangerous country for journalists.” Osman is the secretary general of the National Union of Somali Journalists.

The radical militants of al Shabaab have carried out deadly attacks on Mogadishu over the past decade, with journalists bearing the brunt of it in the line of duty. They remain the biggest danger to the scribes of Somalia.

It is against this backdrop that the Pan African Writers Association (PAWA) met last weekend in another Horn of Africa nation, Djibouti, Somalia’s northern neighbour, which has a local Somali population, too.

With a population of just below a million, it is the smallest mainland nation in Africa, yet the Republic of Djibouti has emerged as one of the strategic nations of the global village in this century.

It hosts military bases of some of the G8 nations of the world. Both China and Japan have their largest overseas military bases here. Italy and the former coloniser France have their bases here, too.

However, it is the Americans who run the largest military base in Djibouti at Camp Lemmonier. This is the home of the United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM). It is here that the Combined Joint Task Force for Horn of Africa is run on America’s permanent military base on the continent.

The base has renewed sustained and precision attacks on al Shabaab since President Joe Biden was elected. The campaign against the militants remains one of the major objectives of the Americans at the Horn of Africa. The October airstrike that killed Abdullahi Nadir is a good example. He was the chief prosecutor of al Shabaab.


PAWA met in Djibouti from November 5 to 7 at the invitation of the long-serving Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh. The theme of this year’s African Writers Celebration was “African Literature in the New Normal: Technology and Creative Writing.” The event was held at the famous Escale International Hotel in Djibouti City.

Those who attended included the host, the Djiboutian veteran president, and PAWA secretary-general, Dr Wale Okediran of Nigeria. Prof Bill Ndi from Cameroon was among the key guest speakers. He is a professor of communications and arts at the famous Tuskegee University in the United States.

Kenya’s Professor Egara Kabaji of Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology attended also. He is the current vice chairman of PAWA, covering the Eastern African region. The summit was held in his domain as Djibouti falls under his region.

Prof Kabaji called on African writers to exploit the richness of vernacular languages even as they work in English, French, Portuguese and Arabic lingua francas. He said the PAWA conference held in Nigeria at the famous University of Ibadan in June had culminated in a book of the conference papers.

The book collects refreshing readings and perspectives on contemporary African writing by old and emergent African authors and literary critics. This event placed the Horn of Africa in the limelight of continental literary discourse afresh.

One would have wished for the writers gathered at this event to use their position and location to articulate Africa’s position in relation to climate change and terrorism. No two issues affect our people of the Horn of Africa today than this toxic duo.

The region is currently assailed by the ongoing famine and drought affecting millions of its inhabitants. No wonder it formed one of the focal areas of interest at the meeting of heads of states and governments in Egypt at the Sharm El-Sheikh Climate Implementation Summit (SCIS) on Monday and Tuesday.

Today, the pastoralist-nomadic cultures of the Horn of Africa are some of those most affected by ensuing global climate changes. The war in Ethiopia and the sustained terror attacks in Somalia further exacerbate the season of anomie for the locals of the Horn.

It is hoped that events such as PAWA African Writers Day, gathering the finest of our pens and tongues, will not just be hosted in this region but also draw the attention of the world to some of the salient and latent issues affecting the Horn of Africa today.

Two of these stand out for our attention, fellow Kenyans: The perennial dangers of being an author in places like Mogadishu and the mortal danger of being a pastoralist in a world of diminishing pastures, vanishing herds and acutely unpredictable weather patterns.

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