Wednesday, September 19, 2012 | 2:14 PM
Where can you watch intelligent discussion about the Internet mixed with performance poetry and the best in book writing alongside snakes and crocodiles? This year’s Nairobi Hay-Storymoja festival, of which Google was one of the main sponsors, took place in the National Museum of Kenya.
Many of Africa’s most thought-provoking writers and an array of international guests participated. One panel brought together Ory Okolloh, Google’s head of policy for Africa, with Christian Turner and the British Ambassador to Kenya.
Their wide-ranging discussion about the online world encompassed everything from the economic benefits, to the challenges of cultural and religious sensitivity, to whether the Internet lessens or enhances inequalities. Asked by a local school pupil what her message was for anyone seeking to fulfil their ambitions, Okolloh declared: “at some point you just have to go out and do it.”
African writers, both local and from the diaspora, were at the forefront, performing live, giving workshops to young people and taking part in Google + hang outs. Lemn Sissay and Patience Williams, both Africans brought up by adoptive parents in the UK, spoke movingly about the challenges of “difference”. One of the most passionate defences of free speech and activism came from Kenyan poet Sitawa Namwalie. Her spectacular show, “Cut off My Tongue”, which has been performed in several countries, managed the tough feat of injecting humour into the treatment of difficult issues, such as ethnic violence and corruption.
Arguably the star of the show was Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans, the extraordinary story of Mao’s brutality told through the lives of three generations of her family. She was giving the first Wangari Maathai Memorial Lecture, in honour of the Kenyan environmental activist and Nobel Laureate who died a year ago.
Storymoja-Hay is a joint venture between a Kenyan publishing house and British literature festival. It has grown into one of the most prominent artistic events in the region. Google funds and participates in six Hay festivals around the world, including Beirut, Spain and Kenya. Google is proud to support this exciting international expansion.