Ryszard Kapuscinski: The Literary Vulture Circling African Suffering

I am not for disguising the violence and poverty that afflicts parts of Africa – in fact I am for it enough that I am writing a doctoral thesis on the place of genocide in political life by studying Rwanda. But I know that I am not the only one who is sick and tired of these European writers who come to Africa to wax on about bloodthirsty militias, corrupt and stupid officials, and, of course, good hearted prostitutes. Certainly all these observations are true, and to a large extent I agree with them. What I hate though, is how Africa for too many European writers and humanitarians is merely a mirror to confirm their superior humanity.

Africa’s importance to the world is not the minerals under its soil or its markets, as many neo-lefty types would contend. Its real resource is its misery and that is what writers like Ryszard Kapuscinski chase so feverishly. They are joined in this quest by the other ambulance chasers, the international NGOs and donor agencies, all united in their vulture-like need of the hungry and oppressed. See below as Binyavanga Wainaina, the founding editor of Kwani?, Kenya’s acclaimed literary journal, takes on the vultures. He starts with quotes from some of Kapuscinski’s more famous works. The next posting – ‘Binyavanga’s Rage in Manhattan’ will include his powerful rant which gave me goose pimples. Also see my previous posting (Misericonomics) on just this issue. Some Quotes by Ryszard Kapuscinski about Africa and Africans:

Extract from Granta 48 Africa Issue:

The European mind is willing to acknowledge its limitations, accept its limitations. It is a sceptical mind. The spirit of criticism does not exist in other cultures. They are proud, believing that what they have is perfect.

Extracts from Shadow of the Sun:

Let us remember that fear of revenge is deeply rooted in the African mentality.

The European and the African, have an entirely different concept of time.

In Africa, drivers avoid traveling at night darkness unnerves them they may flatly refuse to drive after sunset.

… in Africa a cousin on your mother’s side is more important than a husband.

The kind of history known in Europe as scholarly and objective can never arise here because the African past has no documents or records, and each generation, listening to the version being transmitted to it, changed it and continues to change it…


About bulletsandhoney
I read my first book when I was three, then my second one a few weeks later. It has carried on this way for decades with only temporary distractions of eating, fighting, loving, heartbreak and other such irrelevant biographical details.

3 Responses to Ryszard Kapuscinski: The Literary Vulture Circling African Suffering

  1. Anonymous says:

    Any kind of attempt by the European writer to try and embrace the African spirit and way of thinking has to be doomed.Writing about Africa has never been an easy task,especially for someone born outside of this continent.Kapuscinski,and for that matter many writers before him,has rightly pointed out how much different the Afrincans and the Europeans really are.The main problem though has always been the way in which those differences were acknowledged. Choosing more accurate vocabulary could help.Therefore,all so commonly used word ‘inferior’ should be replaced by ‘different’.As both culters stem from the same roots and serve the same purpose the differences are all the same quite superficial.Being predominatly a reporter,Kapuscinski displays slightly different type of sensitivity,which for some may even be ‘the literary vulturism’. Kapuscinski describes Africa as seen through the eyes of the European reporter and should be judged solely as such.

  2. jamie says:

    Just searching on google and found your site. It was ranked fairly high on google to. Anyway just looking around to see why.

  3. Jim says:

    Cows are cool. Continental waves man. Cheers for the read. Take care

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