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Culture

African Authors in Spotlight at Berlin Literary Festival

A flurry of readings, literary debates and music events focused on African literature have brought dozens of African authors, poets and musicians here for the Berlin International Literary Festival.

A stack of books

Both young and established writers from all over the world came together in Berlin

Big African names like veteran Somali-born author Nuruddin Farah, Fatou Diome of Senegal, Lebogang Mashile of South Africa and Helon Habila of Nigeria are just some of the literary heavy hitters who have come to the festival, which completes its 11-day run on Sunday, Oct. 5.

Farah's novels and plays for theater and radio have been translated into over 20 languages down the years. He frequently focuses on the condition of women in post-colonial Somalia, especially in the context of loss of national identity.

"We're delighted he could be with us," says Ulrich Schreiber, the festival organizer, clearly upbeat at the rich extent of African writer participation. Nowadays Farah lives in Cape Town.

Dedicated to education

Kenyan parliamentarian and author Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton, whose 2003 autobiographical literary debut book Facing The Lion won acclaim in Africa, has used the event to tell Berlin audiences about his childhood experiences growing up in northern Kenya and belonging to the Maasai ethic group.

A Maasai leads a herd of cattle to a waterhole

Lekuton grew up in northern Kenya as part of the Maasai ethnic group

Lekuton, who has three brothers and a sister, said the dearth of educational facilities in the region meant he was the only member of his family to attend school. In 1989, when he gained a scholarship to study in the United States, his village sold "a number of cattle" to help finance his trip, he said.

A member of the Kenyan parliament since 2006, Lekuton said he now dedicates himself to improving the nation's education system and the infrastructure in the countryside.

Although he paints a generally dismal picture of conditions in Kenya, Lekuton agrees that some progress had been made in the last half century.

"More youngsters go to school and more universities get built," he said.

But Kenya still needed to overcome tribal conflicts and jealousies, and work for a fairer distribution of land if further outbreaks of violence are to be avoided, insisted Lekuton.

Unrealistic expectations in Europe

Ghanaian-born writer Amma Darko has also enjoyed a high profile at the festival. She began to write her first novel, Beyond The Horizon, after moving to Germany in 1981 to escape political instability back home. By the time it was published a decade later in Germany she was no longer around to see it, having returned to Ghana.

The novel, about the fate of a young Ghanaian woman who follows her husband to Germany and is then forced into prostitution, tackles the unrealistic perceptions many Africans have of Europe, and the fears they have of disappointing people they have left behind.

Mahmoud Darwish

Darwish will be honored at the festival's closing event

Since then Darko, who is married with three children, has turned out a string of novels. Her latest, Smile of Nemesis, tackles greed, infidelity and polygamy in Ghana, where she also works as a tax inspector in Accra.

The festival is to close Sunday with an event in honor of the late, much loved Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwish, who died in the US last month following heart surgery.

Some 20 writers, actors, translators and friends of Darwish plan to meet in Berlin to recite some of his best-known poems.

Similar-style tributes will be simultaneously paid to Darwish in a number of other countries, including China, Senegal, Russia, South Africa, France, Norway, Italy and Palestine.

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