As Bishop Paget would have put it, the job of writers and the literati in a knowledge society is to pursue “the liberty by which a man is ennobled and realises himself and serves his generation.” But for one to serve his generation, it is important for those who love the written word to also stand for truth, freedom and an inclusive society.

In his 1996 essay, ‘Political inclusion and the dynamics of democratisation,’ Dryzek, then of the University of Melbourne, argued that “democratisation is largely, though not exclusively, a matter of the progressive recognition and inclusion of different groups in the political life of society”. The question then arises, what role can literature and the arts play in turning this ideal into a reality in a modern African State?

First, it is the job of the creative arts to celebrate diversity and make this the centrepiece of all democratic enterprises. This was the point that Ngugi was trying to make in his 1993 book, Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms. Chinua Achebe amplified it when he said, while quoting an Igbo proverb, that where something stands, another thing can stand by it. He also said that where the eagle perches, the kite can perch, too. In short, these writers were preaching tolerance and inclusion. Their call remains as relevant to African societies today as it was when they first wrote those words decades ago. What does this mean for African nations? Does it not mean that freedom of thought ought to have a place of honour in our priorities?

The nature of truth and knowledge, like a garden with many flowers, is that it creates room for different shades of opinion to flourish and for the most compelling to emerge from this multiplicity and become the guiding principle. This, however, does not, at any one point, condone or compel a monopoly of ideas or uniformity of thought.

The arts, just like the laws that nations have made for themselves, anticipate that citizens will be free to exercise their freedoms as enshrined in their hearts and the books of law. That is where the safety and security of every citizen lies. In an address during a freedom festival at Brigham Young University in the US, James Faust argued that “that which is governed by law is also preserved by law”.

If all laws were to be congealed into one line, it probably would boil down to this: That all are called upon to build a just, progressive, inclusive and democratic society free of fear. These are the ideals that writers are called upon to fight for in their life and work. The question is: Are they living up to this noble calling?

 

Mr Mbugua is the editor of the Saturday Nation. jmbugua@ke.nationmedia.com

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