In Brussels, Belgium the first edition of the Asmara-Addis Literary Festival (in Exile) took place on the 8th of February, 2019. Considering Belgium’s chequered with Africa, Brussels is probably not the best location for this festival. However, a conversation between Eritrea and Ethiopia, countries which fought for over two decades and just recently reconciled, Brussels served a noble purpose, bringing together some of the most brilliant minds from the continent.
The festival’s founder, Eritrean-Ethiopian author Sulaiman Addonia spoke with This Is Africa. Addonia is a novelist who fled Eritrea as a refugee in childhood. He spent his early life in a refugee camp in Sudan following the Om Hajar massacre in 1976, and in his early teens he lived and studied in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
When asked why the planning of the festival took 10 years he said, “I think everything in life takes time that’s what I learnt throughout my experience. My novel took me 10 years for example. I have learnt to be patient and I was just waiting for the right moment. I think there is a right time for everything. Sometimes if you force things to happen, they never happen.”
The festival took place in BOZAR and was opened by Nigerian author Chike Frankie Edozien, a gay writer who read from his memoir Lives of Great Men. In attendance was prominent Ethiopian author Maaza Mengiste whose book Beneath the Lion’s Gaze was selected by The Guardian as one of the 10 best contemporary African books. Maaza told This Is Africa, “My conversations with writers from Eritrea living abroad has been a shared concern for continued openness, continued freedom. We all feel a responsibility towards people who live in our countries. . . Hopefully the freedom in Ethiopia continues to grow. Our concern is what happens to those people that don’t have the freedom to say everything. One of the gifts of being at this festival has been to continue a conversation with Chike Frankie Edozien who is forcing a conversation on how Africans interact, celebrate, live with and give freedom to people who are gay, lesbian, transgender, queer.”
A panel celebrating five African feminists was the highlight of the second event, I CREATE #IAMNOTAMUSE. The panel had Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, Maaza Mengiste, Minna Salami, Rachida Lamrabet and Amina Jama. Ellah Wakatama, the founding Publishing Director of The Indigo Press spoke to This Is Africa on her journey so far with setting up The Indigo Press. “Setting up of something from the scratch is really difficult. What’s really exciting is knowing that all of that hard work is going towards making the kind of books we want to read and that makes it all really worthwhile,” Wakatama said.