The 3rd John La Rose Memorial Lecture

Ngugi wa Thiong'o's lecture at the AfroEuropes conference (1 – 4 October, 2013)  was a powerful reminder of the conviction of his ideas and his voice. During four days of papers which explored political and cultural dimensions of what might be meant by “AfroEuropean identity”, questions of language came up again and again. We asked what role did translation play in that space? How were political and cultural institutions across Europe shaped by the global dominance of English in particular? How did French, Italian, Swedish, Spanish or Finnish accommodate the experience and expression of AfroEuropeans? How might our shared ideas resist or reshape the official grammar and vocabulary of those languages?

Ngugi crystallised – and to an extent challenged – these questions by returning to the need to carve out a clear political and cultural role for African languages. This is the idea, the “obsession” as he put it, which he has developed in his long career of writing and activism (for example in Decolonizing the Mind, 1986). On this occasion, he expanded the discussion via an analysis of James Joyce’s 1907 essay, “Ireland at the bar” (first published in Italian), which set out the injustice faced by Irish speakers in the English-language legal system. From this example, he moved on to emphasise the role of global finance capitalism in “pampering” European languages while “pauperising” those of Africa. He suggested that all young Africans should commit to learning an African language, while acknowledging the larger contexts (for example, education systems or global business structures) that make this step such a significant challenge. The lecture brought out the complexity of these issues and also demonstrated the individual and collective commitment necessary to bring about such changes in the twenty-first century.

Some photos are below. See also the photo albumn on our Facebook page-


The lecture audience. Photo taken by Luke Daniels

Sarah White at the New Beacon Book Stall. Photo taken by Lelieth Dunkley.

Ngugi's memoir In the House of the Interpreter at the New Beacon Book Stall. Photo taken by Lelieth Dunkley.

Ngugi signing books after the lecture. Photo taken by Lelieth Dunkley.

Lawrence Scott and Aggrey Burke. Photo taken by Lelieth Dunkley.

Margaret Busby and Ngugi wa Thiongo. Photo taken by Luke Daniels