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African writers on pilgrimage across the continent

By Catriona Davies for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • African writers are visiting cities across their continent to produce book series
  • The Pilgrimages project aims to promote African travel writing by Africans
  • Many of the writers have blogged about their experiences

(CNN) -- In an ambitious drive to promote African writing, 14 African writers have visited different cities across the continent to produce a series of travel books.

The Pilgrimages project claims it will produce the biggest-ever collection of African travel writing by African writers.

It began during this summer's World Cup in South Africa, and it is hoped the books will be published to coincide with the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations football tournament.

The idea was conceived by Binyavanga Wainaina, a Kenyan author and director of the Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Artists at Bard College, New York.

He said: "The idea is to introduce our cities to ourselves, because Africans are always seeing each other through someone else's eyes.

"For example, people travel backwards and forwards between London and Lagos, or New York and Nairobi, but not between African countries.

This will create a whole new genre in one swoop.
--Binyavanga Wainaina, Kenyan author
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"There have been very few African travel books by African writers, so this will create a whole new genre in one swoop."

Pilgrimages project manager Tom Burke said: "The kind of writing by these young exciting writers is different from the traditional travel writing coming out of Africa, which is often by non-Africans. It's a push to inspire more travel and writing about Africa by African writers."

Each of the writers spent a few weeks following a guided itinerary in their allotted city, mostly during the World Cup. Some wrote blogs about their experiences. They visited 13 African cities, plus one in Brazil -- Salvador, in Bahia state -- chosen because it has a large West African population.

Nimco Mahamud-Hassan was born in Somalia, and has since lived in Egypt, London and Boston. She traveled to Khartoum, Sudan and blogged:

"Khartoum is dusty and very, very hot. Every time I complain about the heat, I am told that I should have been here in May when it was hot; this is not the hottest season.

"The city looks as if it is at the end of a war rather than in the middle of one. For every building standing, there are at least five others being constructed. It gives the impression that Khartoum was thought of a few weeks ago."

Wainaina was meant to visit the city of Touba in Senegal, but stopped in Accra, Ghana, on his way to Touba and decided to stay.

"Ghana was the only African country still in contention (in the World Cup) and I just couldn't get on a plane to leave, so we changed the itinerary and decided to include Accra," he said.

"All the matches were on big screens in the streets, so I watched them with 300,000 or 400,000 other people and there was an incredible chemistry.

"It would never have been like that in Kenya, where I come from. There would have been riot police."

The Pilgrimages books will be published first in Lagos, Cape Town and Nairobi, and then internationally.