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KENYA: TWENDAPI?: RE-READING ABDILATIF ABDALLA'S PAMPHLET FIFTY YEARS AFTER INDEPENDENCE

Abstract
ABSTRACT

The pamphlet Kenya: Twendapi? (Kenya: Where are we heading?) is a text often referred to but rarely read or analysed. Abdilatif Abdalla wrote it as a twenty-two-year-old political activist of the KPU opposition as a critique of the dictatorial tendencies of Jomo Kenyatta and his KANU government in 1968, and consequently suffered three years of isolation in prison. Many (at least on the East African political and literary scene) know about Kenya: Twendapi? but few seem to have read it – indeed, it seems almost unavailable to read. This contribution to Africa's Local Intellectuals series provides a summary reconstruction of its main points and arguments, and a contextual discussion of the text. This is combined with the first published English translation (overseen by Abdalla himself) and a reprint of the original Swahili text, an important but almost inaccessible document. The article proceeds with a perspective first on the political context in Kenya at the time – an early turning point in postcolonial politics – and second on the work and life of its author, Abdilatif Abdalla who had been trained as a Swahili poet by elder family members who were poets. As most students of Swahili literature know, Abdalla's collection of poetry Sauti ya Dhiki (1973) originated in the prison cell but they know little about the pamphlet Kenya: Twendapi?, nor the circumstances of its authorship. Part of my wider point for discussion is that Abdalla, as an engaged poet and political activist, can be usefully understood as a local intellectual who transcended the local from early on – topically and through global references and comparisons, but also through his experience in prison and exile. Concerns about Kenyan politics and Swahili literature have remained central to his life. This reflects Abdalla's continued and overarching connectedness to the Swahili-speaking region. Abdalla wrote in Swahili and was deeply familar with local Swahili genres and discursive conventions, language and verbal specifications (of critique, of emotions, of reflections) that use the whole range and depth of Kimvita, the Mombasan dialect of Kiswahili, as a reservoir of expression.

RÉSUMÉ

Le pamphlet intitulé Kenya: Twendapi? (Kenya : Où vas-tu?) est un texte souvent cité en référence, mais que peu de personnes ont lu ou analysé. Abdilatif Abdalla l'a rédigé à l’âge de vingt-deux ans alors qu'il militait politiquement au sein du parti d'opposition KPU contre les tendances dictatoriales de Jomo Kenyatta et de son gouvernement KANU en 1968, avant de passer trois années d'isolement en prison. Nombreux sont ceux (du moins dans les milieux politiques et littéraires d'Afrique de l'Est) qui ont connaissance de Kenya: Twendapi? mais rares sont ceux qui l'ont lu; il semble en effet qu'il soit presque impossible de le consulter. Cet article contribue à la série des lettrés locaux d'Africa. Il reconstruit sommairement ses principaux points et arguments, et offre une discussion contextuelle du texte. Outre une discussion sur le texte et son auteur, cet article contient la première traduction anglaise publiée (sous la supervision d’Abdalla lui-même) et une réimpression du texte original en swahili, un document important mais presque inaccessible. Il présente d'abord une perspective sur le contexte politique du Kenya de cette époque (un des premiers tournants décisifs dans la politique postcoloniale), puis sur la vie et l’œuvre de son auteur, Abdilatif Abdalla qui a été enseigné en poésie par ses ainées qui étaient des poètes. La plupart des étudiants en littérature swahili savent qu'Abdalla a rédigé son recueil de poésie Sauti ya Dhiki (1973) dans la cellule où il était emprisonné mais ils ne savent peu du pamphlet Kenya: Twendapi?, ni des circonstances de sa paternité. Dans son principal point de discussion, l'auteur affirme qu'il peut être utile de comprendre Abdalla, en tant que poète engagé et militant politique, comme un intellectuel local qui a très tôt transcendé le local, localement et par des références et comparaisons mondiales, mais aussi par son expérience en prison et en exil. Son double intérêt pour la politique kenyane et la littérature swahili est resté au cœur de son existence. Il reflète l'attachement persistant et dominant d'Abdalla à la région de langue swahili. Abdalla a écrit en swahili et était bien connaissant des genres swahilis locaux et des conventions discursives à travers des spécifications linguistiques et verbales (de la critique, des émotions, des réflexions) qui utilisent pleinement la richesse et la profondeur du kimvita, le dialecte du kiswahili parlé à Mombasa, comme réservoir d'expression.

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References
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