Notable Fiction and Nonfiction by African Writers in the First Quarter of 2024

Allah Have Mercy by Mohammed Naseehu Ali (The New Yorker) 

With a father who is constantly away, a twelve-year-old boy and his cousin find themselves at the mercy of their uncle, Usama, a headmaster who doubles as the official disciplinarian of Zongo Street. He is relentless in his dispatching of this duty, descending on both children at every slightest provocation until the constant cruelty pushes the boy’s mother to start going out of character. 

I was angry, and, on one level, I truly wished to die at Uncle’s hands that evening, to leave him with the mental and spiritual torment of having killed a human being. Death would treat me better than he did, I thought, as another blow caught me on the chest, tearing my cotton shirt and slicing open my skin. “Laa ilaha illa llah”—I recited the Kalma-shahada. I had visions of myself in the Abrahamic lyceum situated in the special section of Heaven reserved for Muslims who died before puberty. I imagined all the fun I would have there with Munsulu, a cousin who had been crushed to death after a football match at the Kumasi Sports Stadium.

Matrimony by Adams Adeosun (Isele Magazine)

It is said that a bar is a place where a story begins and another ends. For Aisha, a soon-to-be bride, and Romola, a daughter estranged from her father, their story begins with the former bribing the manager of Riverside Bar, in a forceful move to get the latter to sit with her. But as for which story ends—Aisha’s with her soon-to-be husband or Romola’s time as a waitress—the writer takes us far enough for us to fill in the blanks.

Aisha’s candour surprised Romola and opened a backdoor in her heart. This was a quandary she understood. She took the woman’s hand and rubbed it gently, kneading the knuckles, the joints soft and fragile unlike hers which were becoming stiff from overuse. She worried that if she pressed too hard, Aisha’s fingers would come apart on the table. Aisha noticed someone staring at them at the next table, whispering and nudging his companions, all of them turning to look at the two women with derision pasted all over their faces. She withdrew her hand from Romola. The music continued around them, Yemi Alade looking for her philandering Johnny on the speakers.

How to Move in the Dark by Theresa Sylvester (Ubwali)

When Penzi’s sister Beenzu gets killed at the end of their street, where the road curves into a Y, their mother refuses to move out of their house in the hopes that, one day, her daughter’s killer comes to confess. But the truth may not be as straightforward as she imagined. 

“When Beenzu learned a new word, she’d memorise its synonyms. She never shied away from complicated formulas and equations, but I failed to teach her how to move in the dark.”

Mum’s body softens. “Tell me, what happened that night?” Her tone is butter.

My heart thuds against my ribcage. It should be easier to confess in the dark, when you can’t see the suspicion that clouds your mother’s eyes each time she looks at you. I had spent all day going through the details so that when I present them to Mum, they aren’t as tangled as they are in my head. I even wrote them down on Beenzu’s index cards, but that made things worse. The sequencing was all wrong.

There’s only one way to fix it. I roll over, facing away from Mum. I tell her a story.

City Wise, or Area Boy Chronicles by Jumoke Verissimo (Olongo Africa)

A self-described drop-out and an Area Boy awakens to the people eating parts of his city through Pamela, a woman he, at first, mistakes for one of those older ladies looking for a younger man to service her in incognito mode anytime she needs it. With Pamela’s help, he longs to fulfil his dream of playing football for a club abroad.

She slips a roll of naira into my palm, and I pocket it. “Pay attention and take note of what’s happening around you. Just know that if they are eating the city, they will eat you too. Soon.” She lingers and I was thinking she wants to add something to all she’s said, but she leaves. I watch as she leaves. She’s not a beautiful woman if you look from behind. She could be any other woman.

I sink into the chair and open the paper bag that the waiter gave me to make me feel like I am like the rest of the people in the lounge. He says, “Sir” as he hands me the bag. I sit straight, square my shoulders, and stiffen my neck the way I see the men in the lounge do when they are coming in, with their noses up like they are trying to sniff out people like me. I am here. I am not smelling today, but I think they know people like me. We smell because we have nothing.

How to Make Sticky Finger Soup by Emmanuella Dekonor (Writer’s Project Ghana)

On washing day, Blessing and her friends proceed to the courtyard to wash on the playing fields at the bottom of the driveway. There, they encounter a soldier, shirtless and jobless after a failed revolution. They are defiant until he folds the back of his trouser waistband to reveal a gun. He mocks Blessing’s parents and Blessing herself, who has resolved to stop letting people push her around. 

The soldier laughed. ‘of course. That will be your name. Blessing, this is what the white man calls irony. Three private school girls are standing in front of me. You are the one whose skin is black from bending in the sun to wash clothes, the one walking with a heavy aluminum bucket when her friends are using plastic.’ He smiled as though he could also appreciate the irony. ‘And yet you are the one who is too big to help a soldier wash some things.’

‘I am sorry.’

Ama stepped forward. ‘We’re out of bounds. Our caretaker Small Ankoma will be looking for us.’

‘Out of bounds! So, we’re no longer on private property?’ Ama’s face fell.

He scratched his head. ‘But you’re still talking of this watchman.’

Rose said, ‘Everyone is afraid of Small Ankoma. . .’

‘Finish with this nonsense lying!’ He pulled the gun from his waistband.

Pee Goes Quick by Lutivini Majanja (Transition Magazine)

In a group of four girls who seemed to have something going for each of them, a differentiator of sorts, Beni sees herself as the odd one out, only better than 7-year-old Linda, who “wasn’t good at anything really.” Driven by her obsession for a differentiator, Beni plots to take Nina, who had more going for her out of the bunch, including well-off parents who visited often, down a peg or two. 

Nina cartwheeled again, ignoring Rehema. Seeing Nina just as flexible as Rehema, dispirited Beni. Beni cartwheeled and crab- walked well enough but didn’t have something of her own to boast about. She was only better off than Linda, but Linda wasn’t good at anything really.

Linda—seven years old and the youngest in this group—was newest at boarding school. New at minding her own soap, minding her own toothpaste, and minding her own toilet paper. “You’re not supposed to leave them in the bathroom!” they’d tell her, every time she cried about things being lost or stolen. Linda was not new to people commenting on her big, soft, curly-curly hair. So slippery it couldn’t stay plaited in neat lines or tied and knotted with thread or held in a ponytail or pussycat hairstyle. 

Reverie by Nana T. Baffour-Awuah (Africa Writer)

When Ry and Jess meet on a train and fall in love, every day is like a honeymoon for six whole months until Jess feels him pulling away. Ry, a content creator, cites work-related stress as the reason, but Jess doesn’t think he has anything to be stressed about as someone thriving on his own terms. Ty comes over for them to try and mend things.

I don’t remember the details of how we got to it—or perhaps I don’t want to remember—but it turns out Ryan had been feeling abandoned. He’d gotten a big brand deal and I’d never asked him about the project or how it was going. In my defense, I didn’t realize how much this project had meant to him, and in his typical too-cool-for-school way, he’d never shown much excitement beyond that one and only, “This is huge! We’ll see how it goes.” Apparently, when he’d started pulling away, he’d hit a big snag with the project. He really was stressed. He’d hoped I’d ask more questions when he told me that work was stressful. That I’d show care. To him, I’d simply brushed it off. But how was I supposed to know?


From Zanzibar to Marbach by Abdulrazak Gurnah (Granta)

If, like me, you’re the kind of reader who often finds themself curious about how authors came to make certain decisions in their books—the choice to set a story in a particular place and at a particular time, for instance—this essay will interest you. In this piece, Abdulrazak Gurnah expands on the impulse that drove him to write Afterlives, the poem that “enabled him to write to advance matters in a practical way in the machinery of the narrative,” and why he imagined the German officer in the book the way he did. 

I wanted the German officer in Afterlives to be this figure of silent, inarticulate separation, for whom even the mildest repudiation of the national duty was not possible, but he could not resist recognising the humanity of the young Askari he took under his protection. As a way of signalling this, I made him a lover of the poetry of Friedrich Schiller, and as a way of signalling this further, I made him boast that he would teach the young Askari German, so he too could read Schiller. To connect him more firmly with Schiller, I gave him the same home town as the poet: Marbach.

Stillwater by Magogodi oaMphela Makhene (Guernica)

In this essay, Magogodi oaMphela Makhene journeys to Stilbaai, a sleepy village situated on the coast of the Western Cape province of South Africa. 

Magogodi’s writing is delicious, with sentences that expand and snap back against each other in perfect cadence, giving her paragraphs a harmonically compact texture, like a piece of cake, artfully cut, each flavour distinctively perceptible, an utter delight on the tongue combined. But the mood in the essay is anything but delightful. It is a story of slavery and white supremacy, of displacement, dehumanization, erasure, and, above all, reclamation. 

At school, there were rules. We were not allowed to speak our mother tongue. That was a rule. We were not allowed to learn our history. That was an unspoken rule. Me, Motshabi, Miss Fake-South-Africa, smelly A. and the rest of us had to sit like dumb horses through tribal parades of the Anglo-Boer Wars. “Fine, the Boers won,” our Anglo-Saxon teachers conceded, but: “The Sun Never Sets on the British Empire.” Through World War II never-agains and declarations that “The British Empire definitely won!” Oh, it did? I’d now like to ask my teacher. And what about the Native Military Corps? Or the African Rifles who helped defeat Mossolini’s Italians? Did they win, also? And of course, year after year, we were forced to sit through fresh renditions of the Voortrekkers’ “victory” over our land.

How Flavour Reinvented Highlife by Emmanuel Esomnofu (The Republic)

In this essay, Esomnofu traces Flavour’s musical genealogy from his first body of work to his most current one. Masterfully extensive in range, there’s something to come away with for those who didn’t witness Flavour’s arrival on the scene, those who haven’t paid attention to his evolution, and those who bristle at the seeming underappreciation of his cultural significance. 

Released in 2018, Divine was a collaborative album with Semah Weifur, the young Liberian musician whom he adopted the year before that. Their first song ‘Most High’ was a continental hit, one of those rare gospel songs—like Sinach’s ‘I Know Who I Am’ and ‘Way Maker’—which enjoyed crossover appeal. This was in line with Flavour’s perspective in an interview with BBC Igbo, where the journalist had asked if he didn’t consider a song like ‘Ashawo’ too vulgar, considering he had young fans. He responded that as a performer he should be able to deliver on all fronts. He’s able to raise soulful praise to God with the vivacity he thrills a dancefloor with and it is this consistent utilization of roundness in his perspective and presentation that has kept Flavour here, 18 years after that initial bow.  

Francophone, Anglophone… Cameroonian? By Musih Tedji Xaviere (LitHub)

Musih Tedji, author of These Letters End in Tears, chronicles some of the struggles of her country, Cameroon, the enduring legacy of colonialism, and the suffocating grip of fear. She describes how it took COVID-19—“people dying left and right”—for her to realize that she didn’t care anymore about her fears or what the head of state and his oppressive regime thought, rekindling some of the rebellious spirit of her childhood. 

One thought that comes to my mind often is that Cameroon would be better off without French and English. It’s sad to think that, decades after he got on his ship and sailed off, we are still living by the colonial master’s rules. We’ve been brainwashed into identifying ourselves as Francophones/Anglophones instead of just Cameroonians.

There are over 250 native languages spoken in Cameroon—including my favorite, Duala—one of which could easily become our official language. I know if we washed the colonial master’s vernacular off our tongues we would still find things to fight about, it’s the human way, but at least this time our battles would be of our own choosing.

Dissecting TB Joshua: Spellbinding Preacher or Con man? by Mustafa Jamal (The Lagos Review)

When pastors are taken to be unquestionable arbiters of God’s will on earth, sole dispensers of His miracles and blessings, some will—humans being humans—hide under that cloak to take advantage of other people, just as TB Joshua did in his lifetime. Following an investigative documentary by the BBC on January 7, 2024, Mustafa Jamal retraces TB Joshua’s life in this essay, from his birth and meteoric rise to his death and subsequent exposure. 

When Rae, a Briton, from Brighton left England in 2002 for Lagos, she was a bright-eyed girl of 22. She was in university but abandoned her studies. Obviously, she was captivated by the charismatic Nigerian preacher who could perform wonders. After all, she’d seen the man himself doing things on Emmanuel Television, a channel devoted mainly to the Sunday sermons, miracles and wonders TB performed live. According to Rae, she was gay. She wanted to be straight. Whether she tried therapy sessions with psychiatrists in Brighton or not is hard to say. Maybe she didn’t care a hoot about them. What she cared about was the man of God in Nigeria. And so, along with a friend, Carla, Rae flew to Lagos to SCOAN for deliverance from Pastor TB Joshua, a man she idolised and hoped for so much from. He turned her into a sex slave instead and held her captive in the church premises for 13 years, ostensibly as one of the “disciples” under his care.