Ron Singer’s interest in Africa began when he was a PCV in Nigeria between 1964 and 1967. After obtaining a Ph.D. in English from the University of Chicago in 1976, he taught until 2008. He is the author of seven previous books, as well as hundreds of poems, stories and articles, many of them about Africa. Uhuru Revisited, that was published in February of this year, is the product of sojourns he made to six African countries during 2010 and 2011.
The following are excerpts from an interview with Ron, conducted by Laurel Johnson for the Midwest Book Review that was published in February 2014, and are re-printed by permission of the interviewer.
MBR: Your latest book is Uhuru Revisited: Interviews with African Pro-Democratic Leaders. What was the genesis of the book, and what process did you use to create this complex mix of background research, networking, travel, interviewing, and synthesis?
Singer: The process was an amazing mix, as you suggest. I spell it out in the Preface to the book, which I hope people will read.
As those who wrote the blurbs for the back cover said, the book should be read by anyone who loves good stories, who is interested in Africa, and who wonders what might become of the democratic revolutions sweeping the world today. After all, the shucking off of colonial masters in Africa and elsewhere during the 1950s and 1960s was the last wave of global revolution. My book is about the unfinished business of revolutions.
One example of the process by which Uhuru Revisited came into being took place in Nairobi, across the street from the Westgate Mall, where the recent massacre was perpetrated. At the suggestion of a Kenyan fiction writer, Yvonne Owuor, whom I had written about in an earlier essay/review, I was interviewing Sir Mohinder Dhillon. “Sir Mo” is a famous photojournalist and ecological activist. At the end, when he asked who else I was interviewing, I listed the people and added that I wished I could meet the famous Kenyan whistleblower, John Githongo. I had read a very good book about Githongo (Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat). But, as I told Sir Mo, I had assumed Githongo would be too busy to waste time with me. Sir Mo dialed a number on his mobile and handed me the phone.
“John Githongo speaking.”
I wound up going with him to an event hosted by his new Kenyan unity movement, then returning to his office for a long interview. An article with photos resulted, plus some major points for my book’s chapter on Kenyan journalism. I could not have written Uhuru Revisited without a degree of access unthinkable in the United States or Europe.
. . .
MBR [speaking about fiction]: Memorable people and places figure prominently in your work. Tell us why these people and places were important in your life and how they became an integral part of your creative process.
Singer: This is another rich question, but it may imply that I draw [my fiction] characters from life.
Of course, the people in my articles and in Uhuru Revisited are real. The dedicatee of Uhuru Revisited, the late Chief Anthony Enahoro, was a leading Nigerian pro-democratic politician whose life included many high offices and several years in jail or in exile. As a twenty-three year old Peace Corps Volunteer, I admired this man from afar, through newspaper accounts of independent Nigeria’s troubled early years leading up to the Biafra secession, or civil war. Thirty years later, I learned that Chief Enahoro was in exile in a suburb of Washington, DC. I took the train down, spent eight hours talking with him, and then wrote my first article about Africa. There’s more to this story, which I summarize in the Preface to Uhuru Revisited.
Uhuru Revisited: Interviews with African Pro-Democracy Leaders
by Ron Singer (Nigeria 1964–67)
Africa World Press/Red Sea Press