Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wainaina Has No Right To Speak For All Africans

Betty Caplan asks an interesting question that seems to touch the core of Binyavanga Wainaina's ideology. "What, I want to ask, gives Wainana permission to speak on behalf of all Africans? Where does the royal “we” come from?"

To establish her argument she quotes Wainaina:

"With that wonderful Kenyan burr and distinctive accentuation, he rhetorically pronounced: “We are not interested in Oxfam, we are not interested in Tony Blair, we are not interested in what Oxfam is doing for America (Africa?), we are not interested in what aid donors are doing....we never have been. We don’t talk about it, we don’t discuss it.”

Like authors all around the world, African writers were interested in the lives of people around them. “If you ask me what are the greatest issues in Africa I would say that it is that people love, people, fuck, people kiss, people speak.”

Is Betty Caplan correct in her analysis? Is her analysis fundamentally flawed? Is she being patronizing because of her skin color? I am happy that some discussions about the African intellectual state of affairs are taking place.



  1. A writer, I think, has the "right" to speak for whomever or whatever he or she likes. Whether or not we choose to take that opinion seriously is up to us. It would be easier to take Ms. Caplan seriously if she could spell Chimamanda and Arundhati.

  2. 1. I chuckled at the misspellings.

    2. I totally agree with the above comment, I would understand her point of view if there was no one at all addressing the issues she claims to be important but the best thing we can do for Africa and the best thing that can be done for Africa by African writers is humanizing the characters. Every piece of literature doesn't have to deal with stereotypical serious issues--if they do then aren't we just as socially immobile in some sense of the phrase ?

    3. The author can write from which ever perspective he chooses <--I certainly agree. If I write from the point of view of a child, is it fair to demand that I say something profound (overtly) about other people's opinions or the goings on of the world and history as it exists stereotypically ?