Africa

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Amna Agib (bit Nafisa)

About Amna Agib (bit Nafisa)

The author is an ordinary woman who has not necessarily suffered in the same way her characters have. However, she tasted a not dissimilar pain. She lived squeezed by the nasty sensation of feeling an outsider. She’s travelled across cities and places and occupied many professions to find herself, yet she didn’t feel she quite belonged to somewhere and in some way.
Writing about people’s suffering may be her destiny and her remedy.

An interview with Amna in November 2018.

Books by Amna

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Egyptian writers

Egypt conjures up images of pyramids and mummies, wide ranging desert and the Nile River. Little does one think of its literary heritage despite the first library being opened in Alexandria, Egypt> In more recent years, a few writers have broken into the English-reading world.

Most English readers are familiar with books set in Egypt by authors such as Wilbur Smith (Warlock and River God) and Agatha Christie (Death on the Nile), Lawrence Durrell (The Alexandria Quartet), Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient) and of course Shakespeare (Anthony and Cleopatra).

Bridging this gap is an article in the Spectator in 1961, Northcliffe of the Nile by William Harcourt which provides some insight into the management of politics and religion. (Harcourt had been in the Special Operations Executive in Cairo). Later writers have taken a more subtle approach to comment on life in Egypt providing a rich and thought-provoking literature.

A decade after Harcourt’s article, Nawal El Saadawi published God dies by the Nile in 1971. Another decade later brought Mekkawi Said to the fore. He published his first book, a collection of short stories, in 1981 – Running after Light. Alas this does not seem to be available but his more famous book is, Cairo Swan Song published in 2008 and shortlisted for the Arabic Booker Prize.

Naguib Mahfouz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988 having published 34 novels and over 350 short stories. Wikipedia has a list of Egyptian authors.

In similar style, TSL has published Sudan-born author Amna Agib (Bit Nafisa)’s The Roots that Gave Birth to Magical Blossoms – a collection of short stories. This is Amna’s first book published in English.

The political nature of writing (and reading) has recently been brought to light by an article noting that in Egypt books have been banned and libraries closed.

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The Huza Press Anthology 2015 Versus and other stories

How refreshing, stories from Rwanda not mentioning, or set in the time of, the genocide of 1994. Twenty-one years later, the country has come of age; at least its authors have. The genocide had a huge impact on the country and remains an important defining characteristic of the country in 2017. Finding pre-genocide information can be a real challenge as I discovered when trying to write an account of the territory’s involvement in World War 1. And most literature and art produced post-1994 is grounded in the genocide. Huza Press, a new publishing house in Rwanda started by Louise Umutoni, found eight new authors who had stories to tell of Rwanda as they experience it.

Although there’s no mention of the genocide, the theme of violence is strong throughout the stories. My experience of Rwanda has been a place where equality of all kinds is most noticeable, not just an exercise of lip-service. At least three stories, The fear of exit and guilt (Darla Rudakubana) I leave you today (Jean-Claude Muhire) and Girl (Charity Agasaro), deal with rape, the last crossing religious boundaries too. Of the three, I preferred Girl although had to remind myself of the story as the title and opening paragraph did not trigger a reminder. The difference between Girl and the other two is the level of violence; all three stories reflecting different kinds of abuse involving violation of women. A little red car at the Gusaba (Eva Gara) explores how tradition and modern values clash, but with open-minded wise elders change for the better can happen. A story I struggled with, because of it being an alternative reality (magical realism) which doesn’t sit well with an historian, is Impanga (Akaliza Keza Gara). Here, tradition and learning from the past are the theme – one with a twist. Strong women, for good or other, feature strongly in this anthology, the title story, Versus (Daniel Rafiki) being the most explicit example. Another challenging read, too abstract for this historian/realist was Nubwo Nisamye NasandayeI (Corneille Mbarubukeye). It’s a tale of a man, Austin, having a conversation with himself as he goes into decline. Departing from the obvious themes of violence and suppression, but remaining within the realm of exploratory fiction, is Nomansland (Dayo Ntwari). These are tales of violence against the individual and suppression of the self through drugs. These last two mentioned stories are monologues, Nomansland set as a diary or journal entries. They are also the only stories with men as the central figure.

Words I’d use to describe this anthology include: creative, diverse, challenging – of tradition, modern values and assumptions – and, insightful. I often describe Rwanda as being ‘too good to be true’ – not surprising as people continue to reconstruct the country post-1994 – but this anthology took me on a journey to another Rwanda, one a little harder, more real and human; less clinical. What it also did was show how similar people are, irrespective of background. Many of these stories could be set anywhere in Africa, Europe or America. All credit to these authors and Huza Press for breaking through the boundaries of how stories are supposed to be told. This is a bold, innovative and creative publication.

Have you seen?

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Fate of the Prisoners – trans Timothy Hoffelder

The Fate of the Prisoners during the East Africa Campaign: The treatment of the Allied Prisoners by the Germans; The Treatment of the German Prisoners by the Belgians, was initially published in French in 1919 by the Belgian Ministry of Colonies. Nearly 100 years later, Timothy Hoffelder translated the text into English as part of a Masters course he was undertaking.

In undertaking the translation, the format of the text has been maintained as far as possible as it was in the original to allow researchers a ‘feel’ for the document.

As with all documents of this nature, there is an element of propaganda involved – Belgium was needing to make a point at the end of the First World War. It’s being had been violated when Germany invaded in 1914 and although Belgium took the military initiative in Africa without officially declaring war on Germany, there was a need and desire to prove Belgium held the moral upper hand. Taking this into account, the reports provide a very useful insight into the experiences of prisoners (both civilian and military) in Africa. There are a few memoirs by British doctors and others who were captured during the campaign but little from the Belgian side.

The camp at Tabora provides an additional flavour to life during the war as it had initially been the local German headquarters until captured by the Belgians in September 1916. The German women resident in the town, including the Governor’s wife – Ada Schnee, New Zealand born – purposefully allowed themselves to be taken prisoner to drain Belgian/Allied resources. The capture of Tabora therefore sees the liberation of prisoners from German control and the incarceration of those who had been involved in holding the prisoners as prisoners themselves. The reports contain mention of this with potential revenge and retaliation being dealt with.

How prisoners were dealt with at the end of the war is further covered in the Fate of the Prisoners, the most insightful account being that of Ada Schnee. Despite being English, Ada wrote her memoirs of the war in German, and although her memoir was later translated as Bibi Mkubwa, copies are incredibly scarce. So, the account in Fate of the Prisoners is the most accessible English version of her experiences (at least for the present).

Fate of the Prisoners will be of interest to those who are interested in subsidiary aspects of the Great War both in Africa and Europe. It contains a wealth of information disproportionate to a publication of its size.

See a preview


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Lake Tanganyika in World War 1

If anyone knows anything about World War 1 in Africa, there is a good chance they’ll tell you about the two boats which were taken overland from Cape Town to Lake Tanganyika by the eccentric commander who wore a skirt. If they haven’t heard of the war taking place in Africa mention The African Queen by CS Forester and you’ll get some sort of recognition. I generally inform people that the big boat which features in the film is still ploughing the waters of Lake Tanganyika today known as MV Liemba and that she was a German boat during World War 1. In fact they only finishing reconstructing her just as war broke out … And I’ve sailed on her.

Of the various novels written of the war in Africa, most of the 45 identified to date concern East Africa, 5 are versions of this naval expedition across the wilds of Africa: The African Queen, The Alpha Raid by Alan Scholfield, Lord of the Loincloth by Christopher Dow, Utmost Fish by Hugh Wray McCann and A moment of Time by Alex Capus.The book by Alex Capus telling the story from the German perspective whereas the others are British oriented.

Two other books feature the Lake Tanganyika Expedition, namely The Phantom Flotilla by Peter Shankland – the first account of the expedition and Giles Foden’s Mimi and Toutou go forth. The latter two fall more into the realms of history texts rather than novels although the boundary is blurred with no referencing and the style of writing.

All, apart from Capus’ A matter of time, tell the same story and it was unsurprising to see a review on the main-online book seller website complain that there was nothing new in Lord of the Loincloth. As an historian of the war in East Africa, I could sympathise. Why were authors rehashing the same content when there is so much rich material for adventure and other stories to be written. The images conjured up in the 7 texts did not accord with what photos were portraying or what other historical documents were suggesting.

So, when a group of budding enthusiasts decided to retrace the steps of the expedition, it led to an indepth reading of what was available both fictional and other. The outcome has been the publication in 2016 of The Lake Tanganyika Expedition 1914-1917: A primary source chronology. Volume 2 is expected to be released in 2017 with volume 3 containing translations of the French, short biographies on the individuals and the index in 2017/2018.

This is a book with a difference. It contains transcriptions of all the known English correspondence and accounts of the expedition from the time and by those involved. This includes relevant official English translations of captured German documents, but there are also some in French as a result of Belgian correspondence with Britain. The Belgians were far more involved than the current publications make out and that in itself provides fresh material for chewing on.

The information has been split into information originating in Europe and that in Africa which provides a sense of the time lag influencing decision-making. Different accounts of the same event shows how information is processed over time and through one’s experience. But, what is most intriguing is the material left out of the printed accounts. Why did this expedition take place? What possessed the British Admiralty to want to take control of Lake Tanganyika when there were greater pressures in Europe and Gallipoli? The answers are all there in the correspondence.

Lake Tanganyika

In short, The Lake Tanganyika Expedition 1914-1917: A primary source chronology edited by the Great War in Africa Association is a one-stop publication for people interested in the real story of the Lake Tanganyika Expedition and who do not have the financial resources to spend months in London visiting The National Archives, let alone the other material consulted and incorporated. In recognition of the importance of making documents available to wider audiences, The National Archives has allowed its logo to be used on the publication.

The book is available through limited channels only:
The National Archives bookshop
The Great War in Africa Association
TSL Publications
And for South Africans, BookDealers in Johannesburg (email if you cannot find it on the website).

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Out of Africa

At TSL we are very proud of our African links. The books below are either written by South African authors or are set in Africa