A medical doctor, former ANA President and award winning, prolific author whose book is on the reading lists of several African African countries, Dr. Wale Okediran is the Secretary General, PAWA (Pan African Writers Association), the continent’s apex writers’ guild. Also the founder of Ebedi Writers Residency, Oyo State, Okediran was a former member of the Federal House of Reps. In this interview with Henry Akubuiro, he responds to questions on the workings of PAWA, how he has been advancing the cause of literature on the continent and the high stakes for African writers.
What’s PAWA’s mandate and how has it been executed over the years?
PAWA was founded in November 1989, as a cultural institution born in the larger crucible of Pan Africanism, that is, an umbrella body of writers’ associations on the African continent and the Diaspora. The mission of PAWA, unanimously accepted at its inaugural congress in November 1989, in Accra, Ghana, is “to strengthen the cultural and economic bonds between the people on the African continent against the background of the continent’s acknowledged diverse but rich cultural, political and economic heritage.”
In 1992, the Secretariat of PAWA, which is located in Accra’s Roman Ridge neighbourhood, was granted full diplomatic status by the government of Ghana to coordinate the activities of all the national writers associations in Africa by linking them with each other and using literature to promote the spirit of pan Africanism on the continent. One of the ways to improve literature in the continent is the urgent need to encourage our young writers through writers workshops, residencies and the provision of literary journals. It is also important for writers to belong to groups and associations through which they can interact with each other, exchange ideas and stimulate each other.
PAWA is currently organising some of the aforementioned activities despite the challenges of inadequate funding and the scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through virtual literary activities, PAWA has been able to organise some literary events, such as workshops, seminars and book fairs. We have also commenced an empowerment project for female writers through which the writers are supported with some grants from their entrepreneurship business.
What are the challenges facing PAWA at the moment?
Funding remains PAWA’S main challenge. Though the African Union mandated every African country to pay an annual subscription to PAWA, very few countries have been doing this. Even when this is done, the subscriptions are rarely regularly paid. The result is that PAWA is currently unable to execute many of its activities.
In addition to poor funding, the inactivity of some national writers associations has affected the activities of PAWA in the affected countries. This is because, even where active writers exist, as long as these writers are not under any active national writers association, PAWA cannot work in those countries. Although PAWA’S Constitution empowers the association to encourage every African country to have an active national writers associations, it is often difficult for PAWA to do this in order not to be seen to be interfering in the affairs of sovereign African countries. It is my hope that the new PAWA Council, which has representations from the five geopolitical regions of the continent, will find a lasting solution to this. Finally, the current COVID-19 pandemic has been a big constraint on the activities of the association.
As the new PAWA Secretary General, what are your immediate goals?
My immediate goals are to make PAWA more relevant to the needs and aspirations of African writers; increase the number of national writers’ associations that are currently PAWA’s members; improve PAWA’S funding in order to make it meet the needs and aspirations of African Writers; and sustain PAWA’s activities, despite the challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
So far, what has the experience been like administering PAWA? Are there some little beginnings to be proud of?
We thank God. The experience has been very good, despite a brief, bumpy beginning. Since my coming into office, PAWA has had very good support from the government of Ghana, as well as the Ghana Writers Association (GAW). With this support, my staff and I have been able to bring PAWA back to the international stage, away from the previous perception of a local organisation. We have been able to revitalise the association through the execution of several projects, such as the Empowerment Project for female African Writers, virtual conferences in the areas of Francophone, Arabic and Swahili literature, among other important topics.
Within a few months of coming into office, I was also able to physically visit the governments and writers of Togo, Nigeria and Congo, while holding virtual conferences with writers in Ivory Coast and South Africa. Through these engagements, I was able to secure for PAWA promises of cooperation, collaborations and adequate funding from these countries.
In addition, through visits to various diplomatic missions in Ghana, PAWA has attracted a lot of support from the international community. The publication of PAWA’s quarterly newsletter has also gone a long way in publicising the activities of the association all over the African continent.
PAWA’s recent admission as a member of the International Authors Forum (IAF) is another big booster for the association’s international image. PAWA is in the final process of publishing two very important journals. The first is an anthology of short stories, Voices that Sing Behind the Veil, edited by Ivor Agyeman-Duah. The second is a Book of Tributes to Jerry Rawlings, edited by Professor Bill Ndi. Both publications should be released in a few months’ time.
What other ways do you think PAWA should be funded?
PAWA’s Constitution allows the association to generate funds through some internal activities. To this end, we have been able to generate some funds from advertisements in our quarterly newsletter. We also have plans to establish some virtual and online literary workshops and editing facilities, through which we hope to also generate some additional funding. We are in discussions with an established publishing house for a PAWA imprint, which will enable us to assist our members in the publication of their works at a moderate cost.
Are there plans to have a writers’ residency programme run by PAWA?
Yes, we have plans to establish two writers residencies under PAWA’S auspices. The plan is to site the residences in the northern and southern parts of the continent. We are already speaking to potential collaborators on this project.
Do you think Ebedi Residency has hit the standard you set for it?
After 11 years of operation and hosting 120 writers, the Ebedi Residency is yet to hit the standard the Board of Directors and I set for the project. Apart from the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused a prolonged shut down in the activities of the residency, our plans to extend the activities of the residency to include a Creative Writing Academy has not yet materialised. It is our hope that the proposed Ebedi Creative Writing Academy (ECWA), when fully operational, will assist writers willing to improve their writing skills.
Any new work in the offing?
My new novel, Madagali, which is a fictional account of the Boko Haram insurgency, will soon be released by Evans Publishers Plc, while the second volume of my travel stories, More Tales of a Troubadour, has also been submitted to a publisher.
With these two manuscripts out of the way, I can now concentrate on the biographies of two notable Nigerians, which I am currently working on.