BY THE BOOK: Dieudonné Gakire

Wednesday December 6 2017

Dieudonné Gakire is an author, public speaker, peace-building activist, leader and a member of an NGO—Women of Will Africa—that helps women and children.

Dieudonné Gakire is an author, public speaker, peace-building activist, leader and a member of an NGO—Women of Will Africa—that helps women and children. PHOTO| COURTESY 

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Dieudonné Gakire is an author, public speaker, peace-building activist, leader and a member of an NGO—Women of Will Africa—that helps women and children. The Rwandan national is a survivor of the country’s genocide and has written inspiring books such as A Dreaming Child and A Gift to the World. A Dreaming Child reflects on how the genocide that happened in Rwanda in 1994 affected children.

Gakire has presented and spoken at various international literary events including FILBo, an International Book Fair in Bogota, Colombia, and the Uganda Writivism Festival in Kampala.

The young writer is committed to deconstructing the genocide ideology. At the 20th Commemorations of the Genocide against the Tutsi, Gakire shared his testimony of survival, resilience, and renewal with a delegation of thousands. In feeding back into the community, he has also contributed to the “Book-Learning Club” campaign as a young motivational speaker.

He spoke to about his literary fantasies and favourites;

Which two books do you hold so dear that they can’t possibly be lent out?

I don’t like lending out my books in general, but I live in a society where people prefer to borrow books instead of buying their own. But two books I just can’t lend out to anyone are François Soudan’s L’homme de fer and Camara Laye’s The African Child, which was originally published in French as L’enfant Noir.

How would you describe the Rwandan market for literature?

Due to Rwanda’s peculiar history and culture, the market for literature is underdeveloped, but today there is increasing interest in our literary space. The government, various private organisations and some individuals have put in place a number of initiatives to encourage citizens to read and write. For instance, public libraries and book-reading clubs have been established to make literature more accessible. This political will and the contributions being made by the young generation are evidence enough of a literary revolution in Rwanda. Don’t be surprised to see Rwandans taking the podium on the international literary scene in the near future.

However, much remains to be done with regards to the publishing system because most of our publishers produce only school books and thus it is a big challenge for authors to publish their work. We need to sit down with decision-makers to find solutions to problems like these.

Do you think eBooks are replacing paper books?

As technology becomes more developed and widespread, I see e-books replacing paper books because e-books are so accessible and are very popular with the younger generation. E-books are cheaper and easier to acquire, making them a great alternative to physical books. On the other hand, I can’t imagine a world without paper books, libraries and book shops. Personally, I like the smell of the paper when I am reading a book, and I find joy in the experience of reading something physical. Moreover, technology can distract you from the content of what you’re reading.

Which Rwandese books would you term as classics and who are your favourite authors from your home country?

In my eyes, Inganji Kalinga (The Victorious Drums) by Alexis Kagame and Imihango n’imigenzo n’imiziririzo mu Rwanda by Aloys Bigirumwami are Rwandan classics.

My favourite authors are Alexis Kagame, who introduced the art of writing to Rwanda, and Bernardin Muzungu. They were both Catholic priests who conducted detailed research into the oral history, traditions and literature of Rwanda.

What are you currently reading?

Actually, my specialty is more narrative, nonfiction storytelling, as with my work A Dreaming Child, but nowadays I am trying to find my way toward joining the world of published poetry. My current reading is focusing on the art of poetry and it is interesting how one can say in 20 words what an article might say in 1,000. Prose gives the reader a lot of details about the topic rather than simply describing it and letting the reader paint a picture in his mind using your words as the colours.

Your favourite childhood books?

This question made me cry. I grew up in the context of an extremely complicated and traumatised life and society. Growing up in a small village in post-genocide Rwanda, I didn’t have the chance to read books when I was a little childexcept for school books whose names I can’t even remember now.

I can say that I started writing before I read any books and my interest in writing started while I was in high school in S4. That’s when my relationship with literature started and now I enjoy reading most of the books I come across, especially those telling African stories.

If you were to dine with three writers, dead or alive, who would they be and why?

I would like to dine with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chinua Achebe and Muzungu Bernardin. As a young African writer, they inspire me so much to write unforgettable stories, to keep on writing African literature. I often seek guidance from them in my writing career.

If you were sent off to Robben Island for a year, which three books would you take with you and why?

Well, I would love to bring Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life (because it is an inspiring book not only for Christians but for everyone), The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X with Alex Haley (because I want to learn more from Malcolm X’s philosophy of black pride, black nationalism and pan-Africanism) and Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art (becauseit teaches howtoovercome the obstacles I personally faced on my journey and then effectively shows how to keep your ambitions and reach the highest level of creative discipline).

Do you think literary prizes are important?

Writing is a passion and a gift you can’t buy anywhere. We all write for different reasons with different inspirations. For literary prizes, you have to meet the requirements set by a handful of people. Writing, on the other hand, is freedom and self-expression with no boundaries. My question is, are those who don’t win prizes not good writers? But in another way, writing requires a lot, including motivation, so giving writers recognition for their work contributes a lot in their success. I support literary prizes when there is no other motivation behind them, such as commercial or political ones. Let’s do it to motivate writers and to promote their work.

Do you consider yourself an African writer?

I write creative non-fiction stories based on my life experience as an African. Since I am an African who was born and raised here, I can confidently say that I am a proudly African writer.

It means a lot for me to keep writing about Africa. There are so many Africans out there who have always struggled to learn about African experiences from Western texts.

The reality and challenge here is that our narratives have been told by others for yearsbut not from in our perspectives. Africans have contributed very little to the existing knowledge on our experiences. We have so much to offer on own our narratives.


BY THE BOOK is a literary series that covers authors, bloggers, actors, academics and poets of note in the African continent. For comments or inquiries, e-mail: [email protected]