A Glance at the Babishai International Poetry Festival

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Monrovia – I touched down at the Entebbe International Airport located about 41 kilometers from Kampala in the early morning hours and was set to attend the Babishai Niwe International Poetry Festival as a guest from Liberia. Babishai is a coined word from Hebrew (Abishai with a B infront, coined with Niwe, a Runyakirara from Western Uganda that translates as ‘Creating with you’ or ‘Creating together’).

Several poets from across the continent were expected to descend on Kampala for the same event. Also, there was Writivism Festival that also brought writers from across the continent and beyond to tell stories, hold performances, film display, panel discussions and light the candle of an arts theater right in the chest of Kampala at the Uganda Museum. I was in the right place! My first job that evening was to lead a panel discussion on the Babishai 2016 Poetry shortlist at the Femrite office in Kampala. Femrite is the organization of Uganda female journalists. Five poets made the shortlist and the discussion began with a steam that ended in a flame of ideas bursting out of the pot of vibrant African brains that the continent needs to tap and harness. There were five amazing pieces that made it challenging for the panel discussion to lift, feel, speak to and allow the judges to select a winner. The winning piece by the Kenyan poet Sanya Noel took a special place in my heart. On “What we would have called you if you had lived,” the writer tried to epitomize ‘Maggie’ as a kid with epilepsy and how other kids wished they also were like Maggie to avoid corporal punishment and other physical activities in school. I stunned my East African audience when I told them that Liberia was not colonized and out of desperation, some citizens wished we were, judging from infrastructural development in other parts of Africa that were colonized, perhaps as a good product of colonization, so to speak. Liberia, however, got her sort of colonization from the defunct
American Colonization Society (A private philanthropic body based in the US).

Looking across our circle of discussants, I could see the fire buried under a stool of African voices the world can’t afford to ignore. Peter Kagayi, Harriet Anena, Magunga Williama, Rosey Sembatya, a Ugandan academic, Isaac Kiiza Tibasiima, to name a few. Peter emphasized that writers should be allowed to write, just write; I could feel the nostalgia in his voice, finding a place to lay its
head. Later that evening at the Uganda Museum, Harriet Anena performed ‘I bow for my boobs,’ a display of one of her pieces from her bundle of flame debut ‘A nation in labor.’ I left the panel discussion with a reminder that I was in Kampala, ‘The pearl of Africa’; what a welcome!

The festival kicked off with several reflective discussions, including exploring the possibility of a poetry caravan across Africa. It’s a great possibility, but Africans must look inward and ask some hard questions. There is Anglophone and Francophone Africa, South Saharan Africa and Xenophobia. We have to bridge the divides and unite as a common force. A caravan is indeed possible.
When? It’s Africa’s guess, let’s hope. I have to mention the illustrious performance of the wonderful primary school of the Namagunga Primary boarding school, an all-girl school located in the Mukono District in Uganda and their ordeal and display of taking us on the true meaning of poetry through drama. They also led a panel discussion on Children’s Adventure performances in poetry and theater, discussion and the availability of African poetry for children. They were exceptional! Everything else from art business, the business side of the art, mad book dash and entertainment swirled the air at the Marina Gardens in Ntinda, Uganda. A ground rocking topic was ‘The place of sensuality in contemporary poetry’ and ‘Why people aren’t talking about sex?’ led by the Kenyan writer
Abigail Arunga. I was nominated as a judge for a Toastmasters challenge between the Kampala Toastmasters and Poets on how to deliver topics using speeches and poetry. The Love Poet, Winnie Apio Kavuma, emerged as the winner. The display was one of the finest.

I walked into my hotel restaurant and met a middle aged gentleman, with an Afro hairdo, conservative suit and tie with a briefcase, all fingers reminded me that he could be a scholar. I was right. I greeted him, we exchanged pleasantries and he was George Manana, a national treasure in Uganda who translated the entire Constitution of Uganda into the local Lumasaaba language. We held random discussions on language, academics, politics, everything. He is a man of immense humor. George is a gift! My day was done and I looked back to saying goodbye to the ‘Pearl of Africa.’

Thank you Kampala, see you soon.

About the Author
Lekpele M. Nyamalon is a Poet, Author, Pan Africanist and was a guest at the Babishai Niwe International Poetry Festival in Kampala, Uganda. He is the founder of Africa’s Life and can be reached at [email protected]

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