The 27th Annual International Swahili Colloquium of the University of Bayreuth in Bayreuth, Germany, was historic and unique in many ways.
First, Kenyan scholar Dr Tom Odhiambo was appointed the ‘town chronicler’ of Bayreuth city, a revered title in the German tradition and urban cultural dynamics.
Second, the Swahili Colloquium broke its quarter century tradition of sticking to the university’s African Studies Centre of Iwalewa Haus as a venue, moving it to the university’s main campus for the first time in 26 years.
The reason for the change of venue was the renovation and relocation of Iwalewa Haus as part of the expansion of the African studies programme of the university.
Third, it was the first time that the Swahili Colloquium was held together with two other major conferences — the New Dynamics in Swahili Studies (Afrikanistentag- Biannual conference on African Languages, Literatures and History) and the Future Afrika-Visions in Time Conference.
Dr Odhiambo is a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s Literature department and the editor of the Journal of Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies published by Taylor and Francis.
He also sits in the editorial board of the African Studies Journal of the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.
“My appointment as the Bayreuth town Chronicler, or the official writer of this city, is a great honour to me,” Dr Odhiambo said as he stood next to the towering statue of the famous German writer Jean Paul Fredrich Richter, who leaved in Bayreuth in the 18th Century.
Odhiambo is expected to write on anything he can see around the city through an African eye.
Many cities in Germany have the cherished tradition of having an official writer for a month, six months or a year. The post involves writing on one’s encounters on people’s behaviour, news, lifestyle, history and city structures. His predecessor was a famous German poet. There has been no African before Odhiambo.
He has been given a house in the city centre, from where he will be operating for the whole month of June. His writings will appear in a local daily The Courier.