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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Hosting a book event at a Chinese building about a novel set in Zambia offends Zambian intellectual

General NewsHosting a book event at a Chinese building about a novel set...
Confuscious Institutute

Respected Zambian Lecturer Sishuwa Sishuwa has taken issue with US-based Zambian writer Namwali Serpell after she announced that she will be promoting her acclaimed novel, The Old Drift at a public lecture at the Chinese Confucius Institute in Lusaka.

In June, Ms. Serpell is due to travel to her home country Zambia on a brief promotional tour of her novel which is set in Zambia.
She is expected to give public lecture at the Chinese Confucius Institute, a building at the University of Zambia Great East Road campus and she will also give another talk to students at the American International School of Lusaka.

But Dr Sishuwa who teaches at the University of Zambia took to Twitter to call out Ms. Serpell and described her decision to host the book event a Chinese run institute as bizarre.

“How bizarre for someone of Namwali’s conscientiousness. Are there no suitable venues in Zambia owned and operated by Zambians that could host her public lecture? Was UNZA’s NELT or Vet Lecture Theatre fully booked? And how about first going to, say, Matero Girls Secondary School?” asked Dr Sishuwa.

He twitted, “The Confucius Institute is indeed located at UNZA, but there is an important difference between its physical location and its ownership and symbolism, one that l imagine is never lost on you. You are going to Zambia to launch a book, set in Zambia, in a Chinese-owned building?”

Dr Sishuwa stated that there are many venues that are central and within a stone throw of the Chinese venue that could have hosted the public lecture.

“Do you think a Chinese or American major literary event in those countries would be held at a Zambian school or venue?”

But Ms. Serpell immediately retorted defending her decision to pick her choice of venues.

“Yup, I live in America. But this particular notion–that an adult novel with sex and violence and political ideas way beyond the ken of young minds ought to be used for “stimulating” them–is universal. African literature, especially, must be “inspirational” rather than art. The Confucius Institute is at UNZA, and the event is being organized by the Lusaka Book Club. We tried to hold it at the Lusaka National Museum but they charged too much for the venue. I insisted the events be free. The timing is only because Thursday is the last day of school.”

She went ahead to challenge Dr Sishuwa and all those that had issues with the venues picked to go ahead and organize alternative venues.
“If you can sponsor/organize an event elsewhere on campus—or a venue that would suit your symbolism better—and that remains accessible, central, and free to the public, go right ahead,” she challenged.

“And what I’m saying to you is that symbolism costs money, effort, and organizational time. I’ve explained how we ended up here. It was not our first choice and it was not by virtue of making a political choice. Would you prefer I do no events at all or charge people to attend?”
She added, “I would also note that I myself did not make any specific choices. And the decision to call out the author of a book on Twitter based on your political hobbyhorse shows a breathtaking lack of awareness about how literary events actually get organized and who sponsors them.”

“And I’ll be completely honest here–the change from the museum to Confucius Center happened without my knowledge, but I said it was fine because I understood it to be part of UNZA. Doing an event on campus means a lot to me. If there are other UNZA venues, PLEASE ORGANIZE!”
She wrote, “Frankly, doing events at home at all is more important to me than venue. The “first” stop is by virtue of timing. I’m flying from a translation center in Canada, arriving on Weds and going directly to AISL to do an event. School closes Thurs. (I should have said no?).”

But Dr Sishuwa responded, “Namwali. Perhaps on a different issue, where you retain the critical distance, you would have seen the point: the breathtaking lack of critical thought in choosing the venue of your public lecture and your first major audience in Zambia. In any case, best wishes.”

“Namwali, if the selection of venue had mattered to you, you would have had the last word in the same manner that you insisted that it becomes a free event. You didn’t organise, but you were not indifferent to the Chinese venue, or to the American venue being your first main stop.”

But the Lusaka Book Club, the event organisers have weighed in the debate and defended the choice of venues.

“Firstly, having hosted a public discussion (not a lecture) for Namwali in 2015, after she won the Caine Prize, she reached out to us in January informing us that she would be coming to Zambia in June and asking if we would be willing to organise a similar event for The Old Drift. She mentioned that the AISL had written to her asking if she could speak to some of their senior students and that the school was open to parents and the general public also attending. We felt a more central location with ample parking and a bus stop would be easier,” says the Lusaka Book Club.

“Our proposed venue was the Lusaka National Museum. Namwali’s concern was that the event be free. The Club’s concern was to successfully host the event and hopefully raise some money for charity. Here on Twitter, we came across a great organisation to support: NaTubelenge.”
“Thus, members agreed to prioritise a cheaper venue in order to leave more money for fundraising. Several members had attended events at the Confucius Institute at the University of Zambia and suggested it as an alternative cheaper venue. This seemed fortuitous. We felt that symbolically, the University was accessible and not elitist. The Confucius Institute seemed ideal because we only had to call the centre manager and book. The chairs could also be arranged the way we wanted. Unfortunately, this was as deep as the symbolism went.”
“So the other lecture theatres were never a consideration because we didn’t want to have to start writing to Deans and looking up student timetables etc. Again, the deeper meaning never crossed anyone’s mind. It was just a book discussion at UNZA. That oversight is on US,” the Lusaka Book Club admitted.

“We considered an event for younger readers hosted at Kamwala High School, but anyone who has read Namwali’s writing knows that she writes for adults (The Old Drift is not for your pre-teen son or daughter). AISL event is for A-Level/Diploma students.”
The Lusaka Club has since apologized to those that may have been offended by the choice of venue.

“To all those offended by the enthusiasm of the literature department of a private International school for using their initiative in reaching out to a Zambian author, inviting her to visit their school and said author for accepting the invitation. Nevertheless, we’re sorry for taking the Confucius Institute at UNZA as just another Chinese constructed facility like New Government Complex, Levy Mwanawasa Hospital or NIPA Conference Centre. Also sorry for not wanting to disrupt classes by not picking a lecture theatre.”


  1. This Shushushu Shushushu is a UPND political cadre hiding behind academic freedom. Please stop, stop before we reign in on you!! What is so big about politicising everything???

    • This Sishuwa man is only a pretender. He is not an intellectual. I made the conclusion after reading one of his articles for the first time, and now he has just exposed himself. More people will exose him in future if he continues with his pretences

  2. Serpell should have ignored Sishuwa. He is an ignorant questionably educated self proclaimed intellectual.

    It’s a shame to us ZAMBIANS that we give space and recognition to such odious racist people; despite his Oxford education (of which he wants us to be in awe of), he writes so badly, that his arguments go back on themselves cancelling the purpose of his write up. Zambians are traditionally, friendly and welcoming to other cultures and it’s the one tourism feature that we score highly on. But redneck (blackneck, or even….. rubber neck), zambians are ruining our presentation to other cultures. The law should put a stop to racial hatered.

    • Patriot Abroad, you’re very naive, with that foo1ish “Zambians are traditionally, friendly and welcoming to other cultures,” statement of yours. Africans in general are way too “over-friendly, too welcoming,” for their own good. It was that same stup1d welcoming grin on the faces of Africans that caused foreigners to colonize us. Even today, foreigners are taking advantage of Africa, while Africans keeping grinning, and claiming they’re “friendly” to foreigners. And yet you Africans are not treated the same way when you go to visit these foreign countries, not to mention that there are hotels in China where black people are not allowed. Continue with your misguided over-friendliness and welcoming attitude…while China prepares to take over the whole African continent. Wake up…

  3. Sishuwa needs to balance is intellectual capital. He should not impose his values on everyone. He is welcome to share his thinking but not to insist that all should follow him. Namwali, like anyone else, who raises the Zambian flag deserves our support.

  4. Don’t stay in the diaspora for too long and try to comment on events at home, you may look mentally deranged. That hall hosts several events and I am sure the organisers may have been told that it was the only available space for the kind of event that they wanted to host. They could have held at it Leopard’s Hill cemetary

  5. Dr Sishuwa is a Rhodes scholar. He has not denounced the scholarships he received from the greatest colonialist, Cecil Rhodes, which scholarships enabled him to study at Oxford.

  6. What is a book for anyway these days, nothing new these days, copy and paste writers, 4 copies will take 17years to sell here in zambia, we download mills of books.we have read enough we need executors, you feel me!

    • Enda ukalembeko nawe kaili noti kucita criticize na ma mills bako. Awe mwe! (Go write your own as well instead of just ctiticizing with your mills [of books]). OK – I will not translate awe mwe – yeve ni zeee…

  7. Too much time being wasted on trivialities. No wonder KK ensured only him had the right to say anything. Next we will protest to see someone taking the same direction with a foreign. Or maybe the guy has more than 24 hours in a to waste on these long articles.

  8. Sishuwa has no peer reviewed journal articles to write home about. Just check his profile in Google Scholar. He only writes newspaper articles which does not make him an authority in his field. He should tone down.

  9. Comment: What kind of a doctor is this guy?is he half baked or just the kambwilinho style?he is very poor intellectually, should be offered a scholarship in China

  10. @ LIE – DETECTOR, I hear you on the non reciprocal nature of Westerners. 35 years abroad and I can count only on one hand good white friends I have made. It’s true they are not open to other cultures. Look at the far right movements in most European countries advocating hostility to bonafide citizens of foreign origin!

    However, we cannot fail to be more civilised than they are. We are better people although naive and unsophisticated. It’s ‘slightly better’ to be foolish than ignorant.

  11. Sishuwa raised a valid point that can be soberly debated without these ad hominem fallacies against him. I find the responses by both Serpell and the Book Club unfortunate. The excuses pretending to be justifications are hollow. Is it a coincidence that both venues chosen are foreign? I see a deliberate effort to associate with perceived apamwambas perhaps to open up more avenues for personal advancement or to show we have made it life. Values are very important (and may come at a slightly higher price than Chinese ‘freebies’) and not to be downplayed in the manner I see here. China is imperialistic. We may be heading into a second colonialism with our eyes wide open with so-called literary people seeing nothing wrong in choosing a venue (out of the entire town, e.g. Mulungushi) that…

    • @Welcome to Chambia, there is a dubious point rather than valid (only valid thing is that it can be confirmed to be his opinion).

      Come on this is an argument about a building…..which is built on Zambian soil adjoined to the first and oldest university in Zambia. Our property! Sishuwa is fighting about an inanimate building on our soil. The only thing China can do is take the bricks back! In its self the building cannot set up a seat of colonial rule by the Chinese. It’s symbolic of a working partnership which has rejuvenated our economy, effectively, restored our ownership of our country from past ‘investors.’

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