By Socrates Mbamalu
The Ake Arts and Book Festival has been rated as the best literary festival on the continent. Held in Lagos this year, guests came from as far as Greece. The festival has established itself as an ideal space for Africans to discuss issues they’d otherwise not be safe to discuss elsewhere.
For the first time in its five years existence, the Ake Arts and Book Festival took place outside its usual location, Abeokuta. It was a bold step to take the event to Lagos, a crowded city, already a preferred location for many events and festivals. Unlike the relaxed atmosphere of Abeokuta that has made Ake Festival an opportunity for many to take time off work and go on a sort of mini-vacation, the allure of Lagos kept a good number of people away. For the disappearance of a few old faces, new ones emerged.
Lola Shoneyin, the Director of the Ake Festival said: “We chose the theme Fantastical Futures because it’s important that we talk about the future we imagine for our continent, with boldness, honesty, and clarity.” The Ake Festival has created a reputation as a safe space where various literary, social, political, and cultural topics are discussed without fear. Panel discussions such as “This Issue of Blood,” which had Egyptian feminist Mona Eltahawy on it, “explored the need to change the way people think of menstruation, while exploring innovative ways to create access to sanitary pads for young girls and women.” The discussions around sanitary products and menstruation have been topical on social media. Recently, South Africa removed tax on sanitary pads and also implemented a policy offering free sanitary pads for school girls.
Ake Festival was headlined by Somali writer Nuruddin Farah, and had 112 guests; authors, poets, filmmakers, artists, dancers, musicians and thinkers from different parts of Africa and the world. Considered the best book festival on the continent, like many other art and cultural festivals on the continent, the support from local industries was lacking.
Nigerian writer Tolu Daniel hosted a book chat with 2016 Man Booker Prize winner Paul Beatty and Lambda Literary Award winner Nicole Dennis-Benn. Asides books, Ake Festival showed films such as Rafiki, and documentaries including Beyond Tolerance and Awani. Awani, a documentary film that uses archival footage and expert commentary to explore how colonialism has shaped political, and social attitudes towards women, was written, directed and produced by Aderonke Adeola. The film examines the evolution of the role of Nigerian women, and celebrates women from the past to the present day.
This year’s edition though different from previous years, maintained its consistency in quality conversations and introducing new voices.