Chris Abani at the African Book Festival: Our longing for certainty

Chris Abani was a joy. The first thing he said as he arrived on stage? He must have stumbled on his way up because he muttered.

Chris if you fall here you will shame your people.

We laughed,  settling back in our seats with anticipation.

From the start of his keynote til the end Chris Abani managed a rare thing in public speaking. He shared deep, complex knowledge in simple, lyrical language.  He named power hierarchies, described painful experiences and always lifted the heavy material with gorgeous evocative earthy humour. Plus, he told me he comes from Afikpo, just a few kilometres from the Cameroon border, which makes us in my way of thinking, kin. Countrypeople. I tend to overlook borders, the imaginary lines on the ground that tell us we are one country only and not the other. thing and not the other instead of many things all at the same time.

I was reminded of the questions Africans from the many Africas inside and outside the content have to answer every day. Not just from people of white European mindset but from fellow Africans everywhere.

Woher kommst du den, aber diesmal, wirklich?

Where are you from, really?

Where’s home?

Whose side are you on?

Questions like these, and the accompanying puzzlement and anger reflect an inability to deal with fluidity, the inherent fear and dominance in rigid categories of identity.

Every time someone asks me one of the above questions I give them a different answer.


Home is the shell I carry on my back

Everywhere and nowhere

the horizon approaching

my side

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