Commonwealth Writers Conversation – The Untold Story: Engaging the Silence
As part of its global partnership with Hay Festival, Commonwealth Writers attended the 2013 Storymoja Festival in Nairobi from 19 – 22 September for a four day celebration of stories and contemporary culture.
Chaired by the journalist Tom Maliti, the panel was made up of the writer Keguro Macharia; Alice Nderitu, Commissioner in the National Cohesion and Integration Commission; Zarina Patel, Managing Editor of Awaaz Magazine and comic book artist Chief Nyamweya.
‘We need to sit and listen to the silence about what can’t be said.” Keguro Macharia
An engaged audience joined the discussion which covers topics which aren’t talked about enough, from zenophobia, history, views which can’t be expressed and the notion of what it is to be African. Amongst other subjects, they spoke about ‘unimaginable’ topics as slavery, how to communicate the stories under the statistics and how to illustrate history through words, and other issues relevant to the Untold Story in the African context.
The panel begun probing the untold story. They spoke about how to engage with the silence that can’t be broken, and how this is a problem for artists. Chief spoke about the importance of what’s implied, and how he uses the spaces between the panels of his comic strip. Zarina disagreed about the use of silence, and felt that women need to make a noise, Alice spoke about how women’s football is breaking down barriers between peoples.
Tom Maliti began his media career in 1991 as a contributor to The Frontier Post in Lahore, Pakistan, writing short stories and feature articles. Later, he was part of a team of journalists that started Pakistan’s first weekend newspaper, The News on Sunday. He has served as editor of EXECUTIVE, a business magazine in Kenya; Expression Today, a media and human rights journal; and the African Woman and Child Feature Service. He later spent 10 years as a Nairobi-based correspondent in the service of the Associated Press. Tom presently writes for the ICC Kenya Monitor website with support from the Open Society Justice Initiative. He has been the chairman of the board of Kwani Trust since 2003.
Chief Nyamweya is an artist, writer and entrepreneur best known for the crime-fiction comics “Roba” (syndicated daily in The Star newspaper) and “Emergency” both of which popularized the “Kenya Noir” style of art characterized by abundant use of black ink and high contrasts.
In 2013, he co-founded the Vfx, animation and music studio known as ‘The Tsunami Studio’ which won the won the Best Film and Content Developer Award for Aitec Africa’s BFMA2013.
In addition to being a self-taught artist, Chief Nyamweya is a trained lawyer and accountant.
Zarina Patel is an author and historian as well as a human rights activist and environmentalist with a long term interest in Kenyan South Asian affairs. She is the granddaughter of Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee known as the father of South Asian politics in Kenya.
She is also known for her almost single handed effort in saving Jeevanjee Gardens in Nairobi from land grabbers in 1991. She was one of the founding members of the Asian African Heritage Trust and a member of the Ufungamano initiative for Constitutional Change in Kenya.
In April 2003 the NARC Government appointed her to serve on the task force for the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. She is the author of three books and a multitude of writings in main stream media on politics, culture and gender mainstreaming. She is the managing Editor of AwaaZ.
Alice Nderitu is both a peace builder and a human rights educator. Previously, she headed the human rights education department of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.
Alice has been a Commissioner of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC). She was named the 2012 Woman Peace Maker of the year by the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice of the University of San Diego, California, USA. She is a member of the women waging peace network and Co-Chair Of Uwiano Platform for Peace, a conflict prevention agency. Alice is also a convener of the concerned citizens for peace, a group of Elders mediating between Kenya’s political leaders at the highest levels.
Alice has authored several policy papers and opinion pieces and co–authored, with Jacqueline O’Neill, Getting to the point of Inclusion: Seven myths standing in the way of women waging peace, 2013, an official Background Paper for the 2013 Oslo Forum, a gathering of the world’s top mediators, high-level decision makers, and key peace process actors.
Keguro Macharia was Assistant Professor of English and comparative literature, University of Maryland. His scholarship has appeared in Modern Fiction Studies, Callaloo, and Wasafiri. He is working on a manuscript titled Frottage: Black, Queer, Diaspora. He belongs to the Concerned Kenyan Writers collective (CKW) and blogs at gukira.wordpress.com.