Kiswahili literature in crisis

  • Rémi Armand Tchokothe


The substantial number of Kiswahili prose works published since the 1990s and the growing interest in their analysis play down some drawbacks that make Kiswahili literature vulnerable. Contrary to the usual celebrations of these texts, this article presents the other side of the coin, which suggests a potential crisis in Kiswahili literature. The article begins with Obi Wali’s plea for African literatures to be written in African languages, before narrowing it down to Kiswahili literature. The article shows that although writers in Kiswahili have between the 1970s and the 1990s qualitatively as well as quantitatively responded to Wali’s call, one needs to critically assess works published since the end of the 1990s and especially since the early 2000s. One needs to reconsider the question posed by Matundura: ‘what ails Kiswahili literature?’ This article explores the following challenges facing Kiswahili literature: authorial (im)posture and the ‘death of the critic’; ‘felicitous borrowings’; the demise of editing and the school book race and writers in Kiswahili; and Western midwives and disconnected readers.