Nobel Prizes 2016 as a Cultural Lesson for Africa


Bob Dylan won the 2016 literature Nobel Prize on the basis of the songs he wrote five decades ago

Somaliland sun- Announcement for those who had won different Nobel Prizes was concluded on Thursday 14th October. Personally I congratulate all those who have won. I wish all of them Good luck and peaceful times. The six Nobel prizes have been given in recognition of intellectual, cultural and social efforts. The winners are persons dedicated to their call; they came from across the world. From Europe, Asia, and Americas. No African has been recognized this time round. I mean no black African or white African has been recognized by the Swedish academy in this year as well as in the recent past apart from an Algerian civil rights organization that won the Nobel peace prize in 2015.
The medicine or physiology Nobel Prize has been given to Yoshinori Ohsumi a Japanese scientist for his explanation of autophagy or the biological process through which the well-formed body cells of a mammal follow to destroy damaged, organelles, and dead or ill-formed cells. Autophagy is also known as self-cannibalization. It is not a complex idea as such; it has earned Ohsumi a prestigious prize.
The prize in physics has gone to a group of scientists; David J. Thouless, F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz. They have been jointly awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in physics for their theory of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter. The theory is all about the physical behavior of matter, which keeps on changing in shape as matter changes from one state to another. This theory is based on advanced mathematics. Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The recognition of the efforts of these scientists is based on their discovery or invention of Molecular engines or smallest machines.
Economics, Peace and Literature prizes haven been won by Bengt Holmström, Juan Manuel Santos and Robert Zimmerman respectively. Bengt was recognized for his theoretical work on executive pay, Juan for his struggled to achieve peace with a Marxist rebel group on behalf of the Colombian society. Robert Zimmerman commonly known as Bob Dylan won the literature Nobel Prize on the basis of the songs he wrote five decades ago.
In regard to the Literature Nobel prize Ladbrokes, a British betting firm strongly predicted Ngugi wa thiong’o to be the winner of literature Nobel prize 2016.This came after Ngugi’s winning of Kenya shillings nine million Pak Kyong-Ni award, the South Korean literature and Cultural prize that recognizes literary writtings in support of human rights, freedom and democracy.
The question of Ngugi and the literature Nobel Prize has been provoking public debates in Kenya, making literary scholars in the likes of Evan Mwangi and Godwin Siundu do accuse the Swedish Academy of ideological bias for persistently thinning out Ngugi when dishing out the prizes, given Ngugi’s Socialist stand. Contrastingly brief literary history quickly shows that socialism is not the reason. Communism and socialism has never been and will never be barriers to any person, towards winning of the literature Nobel Prize. Nor is it a hurdle to the winning of any other Nobel Prize. But instead artful usage of socialism in the work of literature paves way for author’s journey towards the prize. Out of six African writers that won literature Nobel Prize, it is only Wole Soyinka who is not ideologically a socialist, but the rest have been overtly active socialists. For instance, Mahfouz Naquib denotes love for socialism in his Children of Gebalawi. Nadine Gordimer was a friend to Mandela and known for her socialist tactics against the apartheid led regime of South Africa. Her books Soldiers Embrace and July’s People are an open testimony to her socialist intellectualism. J M Coetze, a literary friend of Alex La Guma was both a Marxist theoretician and a socialist activist. In fact he was a security issue to the apartheid governments as he was ever mobilizing mass actions against the white dictatorships in South Africa. Coetze’s ideological fiber can be deduced from his thrilling book, Life of Mr. K. This book is written in the style of Anton Chekov and Fydor Dostoevsky. Meaning what? Meaning; Coetze writes in the spirit of socialist literary adventure.
Kenyan author Ngugi wa ThiongÕo Distinguished Professor of English and comparative literature at UC IrvineLooking for evidence from other quarters of the world quickly lead us to truth about harmlessness of communism to Nobel Prize ambitions. I know of Boris Pasternak, a gifted Russian Jew, and the author of one wonderful book known as Doctor Zhivago. Pasternak as a novelist is nothing else other than a grand master of novelization of communism. Lenin also rewarded him a state prize for literature some times after he had won the Literature Nobel Prize in 1916. Jean Paul Sartre, an ideological role model to Frantz Fanon, Aime cesaire, Walter Rodney as well as Isa Shivji won a literature Nobel Prize in 1944, but his communist consciousness about property was so strong that he went for the ceremony in Norway only to deliver the December speech and then finally he declined to pick the prize as well as the Nobel diploma.
There is also rich evidence from Latin America, where we have Octavio Paz of Mexico, Pablo Neruda of Chile and Gabriel Marquez Garcia of Colombia as the winners of literature Nobel Prize. Pablo Neruda was a diehard communist. One can easily get this evidence after reading his poems, especially Ode to simple things and Burying a Dog. Marquez strongly socialized as a pro-Marxist to an extent that even it was Fidel Castro who wrote a preface to his book You Can’t Write to the Colonel, can Fidel Castro write a preface to a literary work devoid of socialist intentions?
It is wrong for one to think that she can easily win literature Nobel Prize by writing with a soft spot towards capitalism. It is capitalism as culture and a system of thought that has made the western writers to feature little in competition for Nobel Prize. I am afraid to claim that capitalism as a civilization is an enemy of literary creativity. And those who ventured in this line, in the likes of Vladimir Nabokov, Ayn Rand and Leo Tolstoy never at all in their writing career came close to literature Nobel Prize. Surprisingly, John Steinbeck and Thomas Mann, as average as they were , but with a soft spot for communism both ended up winning the Literature Nobel Prize. Gunter Grass in the Tin Drum was openly passionate about communism, and yet this is the book that made Gunter Grass win the 1996 Nobel Prize for literature.
 Boris Pasternak a gifted Russian Jew and the author of one wonderful book known as Doctor Zhivago never won the nobel for nothing else other than he was a grand master of novelization of communismThen what is the reason that guides the Swedish academy to avoid Ngugi and the likes of Chinua Achebe and Phillip Roth when giving out Literature Nobel Prize? The answer to this question is not easy to come by given that the processes of awarding a prize at the Swedish academy are usually kept as a top secret before and even after announcement of the prize. However, the balance of probability has it that Ngugi, Achebe, Tolstoy, Achebe and Roth are great writers with a strong concern for a certain ethnic nationalism. Ngugi has at most used the Gikuyu nation as a point of his literary focus, Achebe in all of his books had a strong Concern for the Igbo nation but not Nigeria, Tolstoy denigrated Germans but preferred the French, and Roth in his collection of short stories, Goodbye Columbus openly struggles to put the Jewish nation above Christian, Arabic and European civilizations. Thus a simple statistic of correlation or trendy analysis in respect and regard to the above writers can make us to formulate a hypothesis that may be the Swedish academy does not consider literatures with exclusive intentions. Unfortunately, ethnic nationalism and exclusive gender movements are the two intellectual or literary directions that Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche has also taken. Logically, no socialist literary scholar worth her salt can agitate for ethnic or vernacular literature in a multi-ethnic society the way Ngugi has done. If at all there is concern for language of literature in east Africa, the basic and minimum language is Kiswahili. Why Ngugi has been a diehard for writing in Gikuyu remains a matter for the Swedish Academy to digest.
Back to the center-piece, this year’s Nobel prize must provoke some questions to be discussed both as positive and negative lessons for Africa. Questions are many but those that are key to my heart are these; why is it that out of a billion Africans none have been recognized for the Nobel Prize? Africa has over a hundred thousand universities how comes none of them have facilitated a research work or nurtured an intellectual worker for recognition by the Swedish academy? Why is it that out of six Nobel prizes five have gone to the white people and out of the five Jews are the majority winners? And why are Africans only thinking about literature Nobel Prize yet there are six prizes to be won?
Let us put racism aside by ruling it out as a non-factor in this juncture. But I as a Kenyan, I can only debate about the above questions by using Kenya as my source of examples. Firstly, a Kenyan cannot win a peace Nobel Prize for now because all Kenyan public leaders from all social perspectives are perpetrators of ethnicity and negative nationalism. A person full of thought about his or her tribe cannot be agent of peace.Wangare Mathai won the peace price ten years ago only because she had sacrificed her ethnic consciousness in guest for save environment for all.
Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos won the 2016 Nobel peace prizeIt is not wrong to argue that our intellectual fate at a global stage is the buck that only stops at the table of learning institutions. Especially in regard to other prizes apart from that one for peace. My experience with education process in Kenya gives me several negative lessons; there is absence of originality in the academic thought, there is strong focus on learning European languages in and learning in European languages, sycophancy has replaced research and intellectual socialization among the members of university societies, love for money is more strong than passion for knowledge among the learners and the instructors , exam cheating has been justified, all sources of knowledge are not decolonized, there is strong appetite to be a rich politician than to be a respected scholar among the university academic staffs and also ethnicity has blurred recognition of talent.
The above social vices aggregate as salient features of the academic situation in Kenya but by extension a replica of African conditions in the higher learning institutions. With all these as our social substructure for cultural and scientific competition we are all ill positioned to compete.
By: Alexander Opicho
Lodwar Kenya