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Top promoter of African literature speaks of `boosting soft power’

This year, from Aug.22 to 28, a week-long literary festival will be held at the Uganda Museum in Kampala. It will involve book launches, literary workshops, and conversations with world renowned literary and cultural scholars like Grace Ahingula Musila; a Professor of Literature at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, Nigerian writer Chuma Nwokolo, and Yawende Omotoso; a writer and architect.

The brain behind this event is Ateenyi Kyomuhendo, a lawyer who, together with two colleagues, started a project called ‘Writivism’. It is organized under their Center for African Cultural Excellence (CACE), which they set up in 2001 with a mission to change the way Africa is portrayed in the global cultural discussions.

Kyomuhendo says about the festival: “These scholars will hold conversations with emerging writers on how to tell a compelling story, basics of fiction, non-fiction writing and helping in refining pitches. The highlight of the events is the dinner where the best writers of the year will be awarded”.

Ateenyi says his interest for improving the image of Africa dates back the history classes in his secondary school when he was taught about the struggles of the African people. He says he picked interest in topics of slavery and colonialism. Later he started thinking of the ways of improving the plight of Africans.

What came to his mind was what he refers to as ‘boosting the soft power’ – through reading and writing.
Though ACACE focuses on several fields including education, research, and cultural entrepreneurship, Kyomuhendo believes reading and writing are essential for the intellectual, cultural, economic, and political, emancipation of people living on the African continent. He believes well-written articles and poems can present Africa better.

He started out by writing and publishing his essays and poems on notice boards in Makerere University while still a student at the then Faculty of law. He says at the time he decided to execute his idea of developing and promoting consumption of African arts, there was no viable initiative on ground to promote the African agenda. He started encouraging colleagues and other enthusiasts to write through writivism – which sees writing as a form of activism.

He is happy that some people that Writivism has mentored have published books and that the Writivism Festival, which is held annually in Kampala, attracts a number of both fiction and nonfiction writers from across the continent.

Ateenyi’s lite side
Any three things we don’t know about you?
I am an SC Villa fan and I’ve supported the team for three quarters of my existence on earth.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Perfect happiness is doing what one loves most.

What is your greatest fear?
I am very concerned about the legacy I will leave behind. I want to be remembered as a person who did as much as was within my means to improve the lot of society and this takes a lot of hard work.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Many times I am inpatient.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
People who judge others without enough information; it’s unfair

Which living person do you most admire?
Ngugi wa Thiong’o because I believe he is a warrior. Though not engaged in physical battle, through his works he has fought to totally decolonise the African people.

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