Congolese author couldn’t get a visa, but he’ll still take part in tonight’s ALOUD program — via Skype


On Monday night, the L.A. Library Foundation’s ALOUD program will host a conversation featuring two esteemed African writers — except that one of them, Richard Ali a Mutu, won’t be in the room.

Ali a Mutu, who at the last minute was denied a visa to visit the U.S. from his home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, will appear instead via Skype, in discussion with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, a Kenyan writer who now lives in Irvine.

Moderating the discussion will be David Schook, head of the independent press Phoneme Media, which published Ali a Mutu’s novel “Mr. Fix-It” in English. Ali a Mutu wrote the book in the Bantu language of Lingala.


Why Ali a Mutu’s visa application was denied is something of a mystery.

His application was denied by the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa in the DRC under Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which states that all applicants are presumed to be intending immigrants. In other words, applicants must demonstrate that they have a compelling reason to return to their home country — and leave the United States — at the end of their temporary stay.

The denial letter issued by the Embassy stated that Ali a Mutu’s application did not demonstrate “strong social, economic and/or familial ties outside the United States” or did not demonstrate that his “intended activities in the U.S. would be consistent with the visa status,” as deemed by the interviewing officer.

The decision came as a surprise to Ali a Mutu, whose ties in his home country include being a practicing attorney, hosting a weekly television program about Congolese literature and making his home in Kinshasa with his wife.

“Mr. Fix-It,” which is set in Kinshasa, follows the story of a young Congolese man navigating the tensions between tradition and modernity in an evolving DRC. “Kinshasa full of joy, Kinshasa home to life and its troubles,” Ali a Mutu writes in “Mr. Fix-It.” “Kinshasa, the land of bursting joy in all its forms… It’s true, you may live to be one hundred years old, but if you have never seen Kinshasa, you cannot say that you have truly lived.”

In a letter to U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) requesting intervention with the U.S. Department of State, Schook described Ali a Mutu as “unusually committed to the literature of his home nation, and he believes his role is to promote it from within the Congo.”

In January, President Trump signed a travel ban directly affecting several majority-Muslim countries (the DRC is not one of them). In the intervening months, as the ban has been challenged in the courts and revised, many immigration policies have been in flux. Members of an Afghan girls’ robotics team that had earned a spot in a global competition held in Washington, D.C., were first denied, then granted, visas to visit the U.S.

State Department officials do not comment on individual visa cases, so there is no official word on why Ali a Mutu’s application was denied.

Ali a Mutu published his first novel, “Tabu’s Nightmares,” in 2011 and was the sole writer working in indigenous languages to be included in the “Africa39 Anthology,” a collection of promising and prominent African writers working today.

The ALOUD event was organized to promote a discussion surrounding the politics of writing in African languages, and in others, to celebrate the publication of “Mr. Fix-It” in English; the book officially hits shelves Aug 1.