The inaugural Anthology of Short Stories on Sustainable Development Goals as interpreted by young writers from Africa has been published by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
This is the first of its kind collection of short stories written by African youth who are not only a reminder of both the hope that mobilizes Africa around the SDGs but also the frustrations that go with realizing them in the context of the immense challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the immediacy of the impact of the climate crisis.
Titled, Beans Without Korkor? And other stories, the Anthology aims to demonstrate the interlinkages between development, people and sustainability across various genres, including sci-fi and Afrofuturism.
The over 300-page publication features 40 stories selected from over 200 submissions from around Africa. It’s a collection of stories by writers aged 15 to 35 from across the African continent. Among the writers are entrepreneurs, students, artists, bloggers, and development practitioners from: Burundi, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In these stories, the writers address poverty, climate change, gender, food security, natural resources, health, urbanization, employment and related existential issues spanning a range of perspectives within their chosen genres and in a way that remains as true as possible to their voice.
“The perspectives of these stories remind us that the SDGs are not just a list of 17 Goals, which have been agreed by a group of diplomats in New York but are a reminder to everyone involved in implementing them that they can be realized,” said Jean-Paul Adam Technology, Climate Change and Natural Services Division, Director, Economic Commission for Africa. “The power and the importance of this storytelling initiative resides in giving voice to young people, giving power to their imagination, and translating the sustainable development goals into our daily lives in a way which is simple to understand.”
The short story initiative kicked off with a Call for the Decade of Action Short Stories, an initiative targeted at young African creatives in an effort to broaden the conversation, awareness and re-imagination of the SDGs. Writers who submitted their stories were invited to a creative writing webinar during the African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development in Brazzaville in February 2021. Additional webinars were held for the shortlisted writers, with feedback provided in the course of the process.
Of the 200 entries submitted, “Beans Without Korkor?”, a story by Ghana’s Ekow Manuar emerged winner. In his story Manuar assembles an interesting cast of Accra dwellers as they jostle for the last offering of “red-red,” a well-loved and famed traditional dish made of plantain and bean sauce. The confluence of plantain exportation by middlemen for profit, a drought precipitated by climate change and resistance to other locally available food varieties, nearly trigger a food riot in the eatery.
“The story was selected as the winning story because it talks about food security, an important element of SDGs in a creative and yet entertaining manner,” said Peter Kimani, leading African writer and novelist who led the creative writing webinars. “Manuar is a writer of great promise. Out of this house of hunger, he delivers plentiful of mirth and food for thought about the continent’s inability to feed her people, and gestures towards a recalibration that could secure a lasting solution.”
Five other authors were selected for special mention, and they include Edeyan Omoweh (Nigeria) whose story “A Thousand Deaths” focuses on gender-based violence; Foly Najoli (Kenya) whose story “Faceless Battles” explores traumatic events, including suicide, HIV and a new virus – COVID-19 through an exchange between two siblings, looking back on their lives. Outhmane Lamoumni (Morocco), his story “A New World” is about a philosophy teacher, who has lost passion and purpose and is struggling to do his job. It explores his journey of trying to regain that passion while tackling the spread of COVID-19 conspiracies; S. Su’eddie Vershima Agema (Nigeria) writes a moving metaphor for single parenting, courage and resilience among urban female poor in his compelling story, “A Pot of Beans.” Thakhani Rayofafrica (South Africa), “The Shebeen of Khayelitsha” is an Afrofuturist exploration on land, sea and air, while travelling back in time and into the future. The main protagonist flies on water using a bionic flying fish, combing the oceans for microplastics and harvesting seaweed that has been used to feed the minions in the famished lands of the Kalahari. It touches on the restoration of indigenous foods to the continent’s main menu to prop up Africa’s food security
Mercy Wambui, Senior Program Management Officer at the ECA says the Anthology of Short Stories project was born out of the idea that implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would benefit from engaging creative writers to mine the issues through fiction. “Produced in the African Union Year of Arts, Culture and Heritage, which also happens to be one marked by the specter of a global pandemic, the Anthology offered a unique space, rarely accorded in the UN system, for creative writers in Africa to explore the width and breadth of the issues that confront us and that they wished to respond to,” said Ms Wambui.
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