East Africa at 50: A Celebration of Histories and Futures


East Africa at 50: A Celebration of Histories and Futures


10-12 September 2013, University of Nairobi, Kenya

Call for papers

East Africa at 50 is an initiative that brings together scholars, writers, journalists, filmmakers and other knowledge producers for a reflection and celebration of the Eastern African region from the vantage point of the 50th anniversary of flag independence.

By 1963, all of East Africa – Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanganyika, Zanzibar, Uganda and finally Kenya – had attained independence. Taking advantage of Kenya’s upcoming jubilee anniversary, this is a unique opportunity to celebrate and reflect on the region’s histories, achievements, failures and possibilities.

While acknowledging the contested nature of independence itself, the conference convenes a platform from which to reflect on Eastern Africa’s literary, cultural and socio-political life: how has the region variously imagined itself in the five decades of flag independence? What are some of the indexical moments, experiences and ideas across the region’s histories? How have these been shaped, affirmed, critiqued or resuscitated at different moments in the region’s multiple temporal histories? What are some of the key cultural and intellectual debates that have animated the region’s public life, as articulated through the writing, cultural productions and scholarship from the region? How do these debates comment on, contribute to or interact with ideas and trends from continental and global debates? What are the distinctive cartographies of the region’s literary and politico-cultural landscapes that begin to take shape when we reflect back across the past 50 years? What kinds of futures can be envisioned through the lenses of the region’s multi-faceted literary, cultural and political life? Where are the points of connectivity, overlaps and dislocations across the region’s often fragmented social imaginaries; and how do these inflect the kinds of epistemic relationships imaginable in the region? Similarly, in examining the development of distinct national literatures – especially as elite commitments to community were replaced by civil war, economic decline and autocracy – the question of how unique national experiences shaped literary and cultural movements and development becomes key to deepening the sense of diversity and multiple connected futures within the region.

East African literature was in part inaugurated at the Makerere Writers Conference in 1962. While Makerere was a defining moment in the evolution of African literature in English, other forms of cultural production – music, film, art, satire – many of which pre-dated independence, have shaped and in turn been shaped by the dominant issues of the post-independence period. This conference offers an opportunity to reflect on some of these issues, including:

  • Reflections on the nationalists: Heroes, villains and the forgotten
  • The politics of literary and cultural pedagogy;
  • Writing the nation: Tensions between home and exile;
  • Shifts, reversals and consolidations of the nation-state project
  • Cross-generational conversations and tensions among cultural producers;
  • Codification of evolving artistic traditions;
  • The evolution of film in East Africa;
  • From Benga to bongo: 50 years of the East African guitar;
  • Narratives of the Indian Ocean: From Kilwa to Hargeisa;
  • East Africa’s popular culture and evolving media traditions;
  • Relationships between the region’s knowledge producers and global players in the arts and culture;
  • Surviving East Africa: memoirs from the age of censorship to the era of liberalization;
  • Funding arts and culture;
  • Tracking the language debate in the 21st century;
  • The state of research on the oral traditions;
  • The fate and fortunes of the arts in the age of jua kali.

This list is not exhaustive. We invite abstracts for papers and panels that engage with these questions and related concerns. Send your abstract/panel proposal to by 30th June, 2013.

The conference will be hosted by the Department of Literature, University of Nairobi; English Department, Stellenbosch University; and the Kenya Oral Literature Association.

Conference convenors:

  • Tom Odhiambo, University of Nairobi/The Native Intelligence Trust;
  • Grace Musila, Stellenbosch University;
  • Parselelo Kantai, The Native Intelligence Trust;
  • Mukoma wa Ngugi, Cornell University;
  • Billy Kahora, Kwani Trust.
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