Often a writer is expected to play a major role in society, not only as a cultural agent through writing but also as an activist and well, change agent, giving timely views and opinions on whatever is going on or whatever needs to change.
Soon after the January 2010 Haiti earthquake, I remember listening to Edwidge Danticat being asked to comment on the event, implications etc, and most recently she was interviewed again during the anniversary of the earthquake to talk about the resilience of the Haitians through it all.
From the times of civilized Ancient Africa to date, this expectation of the writer being more than a writer has remained. One can argue, agree, disagree, be ambivalent, or indifferent when tasked to fulfil the expectation. It doesn’t go away. It manifests in many forms but the most common ones revolve around identity, culture, society, individual behavior, family and nation. Tension, conflict, and declaration of war sometimes follow when the voice of a writer merges with a cultural group or civil society to demand and cause reform or a revolution. At other times harmony, peace and development happen.
Recently this voice of writers with like-minded thinkers rose up in arms when news spread that the government plans to demolish the one and only Uganda’s museum, a historical and nonetheless national representation, in favor of a 60-storied Trade Centre to be erected on the grounds where the Uganda Museum stands. The demolition of the Museum would end 102-year old history, and obviously one of the oldest cultural institutions in Uganda that began in 1908.
Outrage doesn’t begin to describe how I feel. Many of us have demanded termination of demolition plans. There are mixed narratives but the good news: The evil plans have been put to halt. It’s not yet very clear whether the voice of the people and writers has won or the government will go ahead and destroy the symbol and heritage of what generations have known and claimed as Ugandan. Below is the avalanche. Couldn’t stop myself from adding several links. Readers can choose what narrative to take.