Idrissa Haji AbdallaDevelopment East Africa 

Winners of Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature announced

The 2016 winners of the Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature have been announced by Abdilatif Abdalla, chair of the prize’s board of trustees. Fiction category winners are Idrissa Haji Abdalla for Kilio cha Mwanamke and Hussein Wamaywa for Moyo Wangu Unaungua; both are from Tanzania. Ahmed Hussein Ahmed, from Kenya, received the poetry prize for Haile Ngoma ya Wana.

Abdalla and Ahmed each will receive $5,000 in award money, while Wamaywa will receive $3,000. The prizes will be awarded in Tanzania at the Hyatt Regency Dar es Salaam on Jan. 16, 2017.

The Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize was founded in 2014 by Lizzy Attree, Caine Prize Director, and Mukoma Wa Ngugi, assistant professor of English at Cornell University, in order to recognize writing in African languages and encourage translation from, between and into African languages.  The annual prize is awarded to the best unpublished manuscripts, or books published within two years of the award year across the categories of fiction, poetry, memoir, and graphic novels, and to the best poetry book published in English translation by the Africa Poetry Book Fund. The winning entries are published in Kiswahili by East African Educational Publishers (EAEP).

The other fiction works shortlisted for the 2016 prize were Mmeza Fupa by Ally Hilal and Mkakati wa Kuelekea Ikulu by Hussein Wamaywa, both from Tanzania; the poetry work Umalenga wa Nyanda za Juu by Richard Atuti Nyabuya from Kenya was also shortlisted.

The three judges who selected the prize winners from among 20 entries were Rayya Timammy, University of Nairobi, Kenya; Shani Omari, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and Joshua S. Madumulla, Tumaini University, Iringa, Tanzania.

The judges, in recognizing the long Kiswahili literary tradition said, that in Abdalla’s winning novel, “women’s issues are discussed in great depth. The imagery of woman is depicted clearly in her various roles and capacities. Oppressive traditions and patriarchy are shown to be the greatest obstacles to her progress. She fights and emerges the winner in the end.”

Pointing out that the winning poetry collection used the Kimvita dialect, used in Mobasa, the judges noted the dialect has been used by “renowned” poets of various periods in history, like Muyaka wa Muhaji, Ahmed Nassir Juma Bhalo, Abdilatif Abdalla and now Ahmed Hussein. “This is a dialect which has its own idiosyncrasies in terms of the pronunciation of some of its sounds and is rich in vocabulary,” said the judges.

The prize is supported by Mabati Rolling Mills Limited of Kenya and ALAF Limited of Tanzania (subsidiaries of Safal Investments Mauritius Limited), in addition to The Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs at Cornell University and the Africana Studies Center at Cornell University, USA.

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