Monday, May 14, 2018


Lessons From a Veteran Scholar
By Alexander Nderitu

Alexander Nderitu (left) with Prof Austin Bukenya
I wasn’t going to talk to Prof. Austin Bukenya. He had just delivered a riveting talk to aspiring writers at the AMKA literary forum which holds monthly meetings at the Goethe Institut Library in uptown Nairobi. With so many young people, mostly women, clamouring to talk to and be photographed with the distinguished Ugandan-born scholar, I lost hope of a one-on-one conversation with him and resigned myself to catching up with ‘the usual suspects’ – people I knew purely by virtue of attending various literary events around the country. As I was tying up a conversation with Ugandan lawyer/writer Alexander Twinokwesiga, however, I noticed Prof. Bukenya walking slowly from one glass-walled room to another and in the process, a white envelope dropped from his brown jacket to the floor. I dutifully picked it up and caught up with the professor, calling out his name. As he thanked me, I took advantage of the encounter to introduce myself.

I had been very impressed by his earlier assertion that, ‘The future of reading is on the Internet’, and I told him so. Conventional wisdom is that senior citizens are techno-phobes, but Prof. Bukenya is not a man to be easily pigeonholed. He has remained dynamic, travelling widely and mastering several languages including Kiswahili.  I told him that I authored Kenya’s first digital novel in 2001 and was a believer in digital literature. As we exchanged contacts, more disciples invaded our space and our dialogue deteriorated into a photo session with the ‘retiring scholar’ as the centre-piece. 

L-R: Alexander Nderitu, Alexander Twinokwesiga, Prof. Bukenya and Eddah Mbaya
Prof. Austin Bukenya, best known to Kenyans for his Saturday Nation column and the poem I Met a Thief, was born in Masaka, Southern Uganda, in 1944. He attended high schools around Kampala and Entebbe before joining the University of East Africa (Tanzania) in 1968.  He later advanced his education via higher degrees at the hallowed Makerere University (Uganda) as well as Kenyatta University (Kenya). The wearer of many hats – academic, novelist, actor, dramatist, poet, literary critic, inter alia – Prof. Bukenya has taught languages, literature and drama at Makerere and universities in the UK, Tanzania and Kenya. In addition to that, he has also had residences at universities in Rwanda and Germany. A significant potion of his life has been spent in Kenya (which rubs shoulders with his native Uganda) and, amongst other things, has been Director of the Creative and Performing Arts Centre at Kenyatta University in Nairobi. 

Now a distinguished scholar with a strong record of supporting women’s writing (especially with Uganda’s FEMRITE), it was a no-brainer for him to be invited to the AMKA literary forum which chiefly promotes writing skills amongst womenfolk. And he seemed happy to be there, although for some reason he was ‘rocking’ a deep-purple shirt with a brown jacket and tie. I am not Tom Ford or Louis Vuitton’s Virgil Abloh, but I’m pretty sure those colours don’t run together! As usual with AMKA, the audience was primarily composed of young aspiring writers, of both sexes. Also in attendance was AMKA Executive Director Lydia Gaitirira – a champion of women’s writing – who formerly at Kenyatta University. The moderator was Prof. Tom Odhiambo from Nairobi University (UoN).  At some point in his talk, Prof declared, ‘The writer is dead, long live the reader!’ This could have been a reference to ‘The New Criticism’, a popular form of critiquing developed in the US the 1940’s that analyzes a text based purely on its own merits (as opposed to speculating about the author’s background, influences, mental state, age, gender etc). Shakespeare once wrote that, (in drama) ‘the play is the thing’. Under ‘The New Criticism’, the writer may as well be non-existent: the text is the thing.

Prof. Tom Odhiambo talks about AMKA

Much of the discussion, however, revolved around the Swahili language, East Africa’s de facto lingua franca and one of the official ‘working languages’ of the African Union (AU). Some snippets:

‘You write in the language in which inspiration comes to you. And you write in the language that you think your audience will understand...You can write in all languages. I write in English and Kiswahili.’

‘We are self-conscious in Kiswahili in Kenya but I think we need not be...Tusiogope (Let’s not be afraid)...Writing is something in which you can reach perfection…Kitovu cha Kiswahili kiko hapa Kenya, na naona tukienzi...Nawahimiza (wandishi ibuka) mwandike kwa Kiswahili (The centre of Kiswahili is here in Kenya, and we should cherish that..I urge you upcoming scribes to write in Kiswahili).’

‘The best thing that happened in the 8-4-4 (Kenyan) educational system was making Kiswahili a mandatory subject.’

‘What keeps many people off Kiswahili (literature) is the showy language. We should aim for communication, not impressing (others)...We want a show, not a showoff.’

Circa 2003, he said, the Ugandan constitution recognized Swahili as the 2nd official language after English. However, there is a push to make Luganda and official language as well. (Luganda is widely spoken in the capital, Kampala, and its environs):

‘Kiswahili has been the official language of the (Ugandan) military ever since the British Protectorate was set up. The police and army used it...None of the Ugandan languages (eg. Luganda) can compete with Kiswahili as a national language because of local factors (eg. resistance by other language speakers to play second fiddle to another local tongue).’

Poetry was also discussed at length. (Kenya has a high density of poets and numerous poetry-based events are held across the country.)

‘Verse strikes us because of the symmetry...That shape has got to be heard as well as seen...It’s not just what we see but also what we hear...And if you don’t have that (component), you don’t have effect.’

‘Verse requires compactness, economy of words...Poetry has to be palpable.’

‘Tukisema hili ni shairi huru, hatusemi halina umbo, halina ubunifu, na kadhalika...Halijakosa muundo.’ (‘Free verse does not mean “formless verse”. Free Verse is poetry that finds its own form.’)

‘You can’t say that people like Said Ahmed Mohammed and Alamin Mazrui when they write mashairi huru (free verse) – which they have done – that they don’t know what they’re doing.’

And there were tips on writing and literature in general, something the Makererean has often done with his newspaper articles. More words of advice:

‘If you write in your own language, you are giving it an image. Experiment. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to be ground-breakers...Write in your mother tongue – or father tongue.’

‘The learning of a language, if you are a writer, never ceases.’

‘Every language is storehouse of knowledge. With every language that dies, a culture dies.’

Prof. Bukenya and his teacher, Pio Zirimu, fused the words ‘oral literature’ into the more elegant ‘orature’, a term that is now widely accepted in local literary circles. He expounded on this subject:

‘ “Orature” is a term we coined in the 1970’s to describe and legitimize “oral literature.” “Oracy” is a skill, a counterpart of literacy. People have to be taught to speak. People who can’t talk to each other have problems…We should combine oracy and literacy. They are pillars of the same thing.’

With reference to such words as ‘oracy’ and ‘orature’, PEN-Kenya President, Khainga O’Okwemba, asked about the professor’s knack for coining new words. ‘What informs your decision to create a new word?’ Khainga, a poet and journalist, wanted to know. Bukenya said that – while orthography must be adhered to - the key ingredient was a need for the word. For example, he said, a good salutation for a military dictator (the kind of strongman who comes to power via a coup de etat) would be, ‘Your Gunjesty!’

But, seriously speaking, should terms like ‘oracy’ and ‘orature’ be added to the English dictionary? My take is that if pop singer Beyoncé Knowles could add the adjective ‘bootylicious’ to the Oxford dictionary and American novelist Joseph Heller could give us ‘Catch-22’, then there’s no reason why East African intellectuals cannot also contribute words to the English language!

Photoshoot session, in the Goethe Institut Library, after the talk
After the professor’s talk, a young audience member and ‘performing poet’ called Larry Liza asked to perform I Met a Thief from memory and his request was granted. The professor watched, bemused. When the performance was over and the poet had bowed and shaken the lecturer’s hand, the latter smilingly said, ‘I can’t remember all the words (to the poem) but I don’t think you left anything out. You see – the writer is dead, long live the reader!’

The author of this article can be reached at

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


'See, how can you murder another brother because he's weak?
Your ancestors could have been cousins, so take a seat
And try and reason with your brother, fam, before you beef
I'm just a spectator looking in from my view
I'm not different or special, I'm just like you
Bleed blood and shed tears when my heart's hurting
I get energy from everything in life, I'm learning
How to say my thoughts, release my stress through my words'
- From 'Spectator', a song by Logic (UK rapper)
A female student is rescued from the contact zone by a KDF soldier (Photo:
 The ‘One Million Project’ (OMP) Thriller Anthology is A gripping short story collection by 40 authors from around the world who have come together to raise money in the fight against cancer and homelessness. All OMP proceeds after production costs will go to cancer research and to homeless charities. One of the tales in the e-book is a fictionalized account of the 2nd April 2015 Garissa College terrorist attack. On that day, heavily armed Al-Shabaab militants (an Al-Qaeda offshoot) stormed the Garissa University College in north-eastern Kenya, killing 148 people and injuring 79 others. The attackers were themselves killed by security agents in the ensuing rescue mission. The commemorative short story, authored by Alexander Nderitu, is titled Live From Garissa.

Alexander Nderitu, a Business Daily ‘Top 40 Under 40’ personality, is a Kenyan novelist, poet and playwright. His other works of fiction include include When the Whirlwind Passes (Kenya’s first e-novel), Kiss Commander Promise (short stories)  and The Moon is made of Green Cheese (poetry). 

The One Million Project is a global network of writers working together to raise £1,000,000 for charity (Cancer Research UK and the homeless charity EMMAUS). This year, they released three themed anthologies (Thriller, Fantasy and Fiction), each featuring forty short stories.
Key people in the book project included:
Jason Greenfield (UK) - Editor / Project Coordinator. He compiled the entire anthology.
Sue Baron (USA) – Thriller Anthology Editor
Soleil Daniels (USA) – Editor / Project Manager 

The OMP: Thriller Anthology was launched in the UK on 20th February 2018 and is available worldwide via ( 079KHF6ZH)

Title: One Million Project: Thriller Anthology
Format: Amazon Kindle Edition
Print Length: 486 pages
ISBN: 1985031272
Author: Various
Publisher: OMP Publishing (20 Feb. 2018)
Language: English


Short Stories for Charity from Around the Globe — One Million Project 


Monday, April 23, 2018


Date: 22nd March 2018
Venue: Simba Corp Aspire Centre, Westlands
Photos: Alex Nderitu

#Top40Under40 #BMWKenya

Alexander Nderitu, author of When The Whirlwind Passes 


A section of Kenya's Top 40 Under 40 Men 

Right this way, gentlemen...

'The best fame is a writer's fame. It's enough to get you a table at a good restuarant, but not enough to get you interrupted when you eat.' - Fran Lebowitz

With motivational speaker/writer Bonnie Kim

Thursday, April 19, 2018


Japanese is the fifth most-spoken language in the world. It is spoken by an estimated 130 million people, mostly inside Japan itself. (Only about 5 million speakers abroad.) A few Japanese words - such as 'karaoke', 'koi', 'sushi' and 'Zen' - have made it into the global lexicon. According to, 'The origin of Japanese is in considerable dispute amongst linguists. Evidence has been offered for a number of sources: Ural-Altaic, Polynesian, and Chinese among others. Of these, Japanese is most widely believed to be connected to the Ural-Altaic family, which includes Turkish, Mongolian, Manchu, and Korean within its domain.'

Despite its rather modest land mass, Japan (aka 'The Land of The Rising Sun') has a population of about 126,700 million and has the world's 3rd-largest economy by GPD (According to World Bank, Japan's GDP stood at USD$ 4,383.6 trillion in 2015!). Japan is located west of the Pacific Ocean, in the Northern Hemisphere. Its immediate neighbours include the Republic of Korea, China and Russia. It covers a total of 145,936 square kilometers and is governed by a Prime Minister, his Cabinet, a Cabinet Secretariat, 13 ministries and various 'agencies'.  

The Japanese national flag, ‘Nisshoki’

Edited by writer/translator Kazue Daikoku, Happa-no-Kofu, is a non-profit initiative that shares 'world literature' online. Since 2000, the project has translated numerous short stories, essays, poems and haiku from all over the world and published them on the on the World Wide Web. In addition to English to Japanese translations, they have also published Japanese-to-English, French and Spanish works. Below is a list of some of the African scribes they have translated over the years, and the links to the translations.

 A. Igoni Barrett (Photo: Victor Ehikhamenor)

A. Igoni Barrett (Nigeria) is best known for his debut novel, Blackass, which critics have compared to Kafka's Metamorphosis. He is also the recipient of a Chinua Achebe Center Fellowship, a Norman Mailer Center Fellowship, a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Residency, and winner of the 2005 BBC World Service short story competition. The story below is titled The Shape of a Full Circle:


Glaydah Namukasa (Photo: Hay Festival)

Glaydah Namukasa (Uganda) is a Ugandan writer and midwife (yes, midwife). She has two novels under her belt, Voice of a Dream (winner of the 2005 / 2006 Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa-Senior Prize) and Deadly Ambition, and is a member of the Ugandan Women Writer's Association (FEMRITE). She is a Michael and Marilee Fairbanks International Fellow, and a writer in residence at The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center (Italy) and Ledig House International (USA). In 2008 she was awarded the title of Honorary Fellow by the International Writers Program (IWP), University of Iowa, USA. Her short stories have been published in anthologies in Uganda, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and Sweden. The story below is titled Dreams, Dreams and Dreams!:

Alexander Nderitu (Photo:

Alexander Nderitu (Kenya) is a novelist, poet and playwright. His debut novel, When the Whirlwind Passes, was the Africa’s first purely digital novel. In 2014, his poem ‘Someone in Africa Loves You’ appeared on BBC Commonwealth Postcards. Some of his works have been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Swedish and Kiswahili. In 2017, Business Daily ranked him among Kenya’s ‘Top 40 Under 40 Men’. The essay below is titled A Game for Heroes...If You Believe the Hype:

Unoma Azuah (Photo: Courtesy)

Unoma Nguemo Azuah (Nigeria) is a educator, writer and activist. The holder of an MFA graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University (USA), she teaches Composition and Creative Writing at Lane College in Tennessee. She also has an MA in English from Cleveland State University and undergraduate degree in English is from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (where she edited the English department literary journal, The Muse). She is also a recipient of a Hellman/Hammett award, Urban Spectrum award, the Leonard Trawick award and the Association of Nigerian Authors/NDDC Flora Nwapa award for her debut novel Sky-high Flames. The following short story is titled Sirens:

Nii Ayikwei Parkes (Photo: ACCRA dot ALT)
Nii Ayikwei Parkes (Ghana) is a well-known writer, editor, socio-cultural commentator and performance poet. His début novel, Tail of the Blue Bird, was shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Prize and he was one of 39 writers aged under 40 from sub-Saharan Africa who in April 2014 were named as part of the Hay Festival's prestigious Africa39 project. The recipient of Ghana's national ACRAG award (for poetry and literary advocacy), Nii’s work has been translated into Italian, French, Chinese, Dutch, German and Arabic. The following story is titled kwasida – nkyi kwasi:

Chika Unigwe (Photo: Sunday Times Books LIVE)

Chika Unigwe (Nigeria) is best known for the ‘immigrant novel’, On Black Sisters' Street. Born in Enugu, Nigeria, Chika holds a Ph.D in Literature from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. Her debut novel, De Feniks, was published in 2005 and was shortlisted for the Vrouw en Kultuur debuutprijs for the best first novel by a female writer. She won the 2003 BBC Short Story Competition and a Commonwealth Short Story Competition award. In 2004, she was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing. In the same year, her short story made the top 10 of the Million Writers Award for best online fiction. In 2005, she won third prize in the Equiano Fiction Contest. Like Nii Ayikwei Parkes, she was one of 39 writers aged under 40 from sub-Saharan Africa who were listed as literary movers and shakers in the Hay Festival's Africa39 project. The following short story by Chika is titled The Curse:

Monica Arac de Nyeko (Photo: Courtesy)

Monica Arac de Nyeko (Uganda) writer of short fiction, poetry, and essays. She was the first Ugandan to win the Caine Prize for African Writing (for Jambula Tree, 2007). She had previously been shortlisted for the same prize in 2004 for Strange Fruit. She is a member of Uganda Women Writers Association (FEMRITE) and the chief editor of T:AP Voices. Her personal essay In the Stars won first prize in the Women's World, Women in War Zones essay writing competition. Her work has appeared is such publications as Memories of Sun, The Nation, IS magazine, Poetry International, inter alia. Like the two others above, she was an Africa39 writer. The following story by Monica is titled, The Banana Eater:

Mubanga Mulapa (Photo: Courtesy)

Mubanga Mulapa (Zambia) was born in the copper-mining town of Mufulira. He studied at the University of Zambia, before pursuing post graduate studies in Germany. A practicing engineer currently living in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, his literary works include The Ballad of Rwanda and Other Poems.The following piece by Mubanga is titled Another Life:

Amos Tutuolas (Photo: bakhall_com)

Amos Tutuola (Nigeria) was best known for his fantastic tales inspired by the folklore of his ancestral Yoruba people. He was born on June 20, 1920 and died in June 1997. His works included My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1954), Simbi and the Satyr of the Dark Jungle (1956), The Brave African Huntress (1958), The Feather Woman of the Jungle (1962), The Witch Herbalist of the Remote Town (1980), The Wild Hunter in the Bush of the Ghosts (1982) and Pauper, Brawler, Slanderer (1987). His Yoruba-mythology-based tales were not only popular in Africa but in the US and UK as well. Theatrical and operatic adaptations his story, The Palm-Wine Drinkard, also met with success. The following short story by Amos is titled Ajantala, the Noxious Guest, is Born: