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The 10 Best African Poems of All Time

These are the lines that have woken imaginations and stirred souls across the continent and beyond.

Poetry has long held a special place among African people. From the umusizi w’Umwami court poets of Rwanda, to the Kwadwumfo poets of the Akan tribe in Ghana, to oriki poetry among the Yoruba, to Izibongo among the Zulu and Xhosa people, to the Nzakara poets of Sudan, poetry has been used for functional, occasional, and political reasons. Largely oral and passed down from one generation to another through word of mouth, traditional African poetry has survived centuries.

Modern African poetry, on the other hand, is written and succeeds the European colonialization of African nations. Although most of the themes in these poems are often political, communal, and postcolonial in approach, some are informed by the individual and the introspective. If Frank Chipasula’s “A Love Poem for My Country” is a biting elegy from an exiled poet and Dennis Brutus’s “Letter to Martha 4” is an outright prison poem, Kwesi Brew’s “The Mesh” is a tender love song and Kwame Dawes’s “Eshu or Ambition” is a testament of crossroads and self-indulgence. Read more

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