9mobile Prize for African Literature

After over a year and a half of no activity, there has been serious movement on the 9mobile Prize for African Literature.

The 9mobile Prize for African Literature, formerly the Etisalat Prize for African Literature, has quickly built itself as a leading prize on the continent. Founded in 2013, it is the first pan-African prize celebrating first-time African writers of published fiction books in English. The three shortlisted writers are rewarded with a three-city book tour and the eventual winner goes home with UK£15,000 in prize money and other goodies. As the Etisalat Prize for African literature, it was won by Jowhor Ile (2016), Fiston Mwanza Mujila (2015), Songeziwe Mahlangu (2014), and Noviolet Bulawayo (2013).

In 2017, there were changes as the company rebranded from Etisalat to 9Mobile; the prize changed its name to the 9Mobile Prize for African Literature. The process for the prize started in July with Harry Garuba (chair), Doreen Baingana and Siphiwo Mahala announced as the judges.

In December, the longlist for the prize was announced with Lesley Nneka Arimah, David Cornwell, Anietie Isong, Odafe Atogun, Bronwyn Law-Viljoen, Ayobami Adebayo, Qarnita Loxton, Marcus Low, and Mukuka Chipanta making the cut. The shortlist of Lesley Nneka Arimah, Marcus Low, and Ayobami Adebayo was announced at the tail end of January 2018. It was set to be a battle royale with the winner anticipated to be announced between February and March. However, all was quiet from the prize sponsor.

On June 11 this year, our friends at the Johannesburg Review of Books did the story, The mysterious demise of the 9mobile/Etisalat Prize for Literature. In it, they reported on the prize that had built itself up so well had suddenly stopped bringing anguish to the writers who had been shortlisted over a year and a half without announcing a winner.

It seems like someone at 9mobile read the piece as they released a statement stating, “Emerging Markets Telecommunication Services Limited (EMTS) wishes to reiterate its commitment to the development and promotion of talents and assures of fulfilling its commitment to the finalist of the 2018 edition of the 9mobile Prize for Literature.”

Ama Ata Aidoo, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, Margaret Busby, Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Zakes Mda, and Dele Olojede, the patrons of the prize, also released a statement. In it, they expressed ‘dismay and sadness’ at how the prize, which was ‘fast becoming an institution’, had ‘been allowed to disappear without any announcement or explanation from the sponsors’.

The statement continues, “as Patrons with a deep and abiding commitment to supporting African authors and publishers, we feel this is a situation we cannot allow to continue. We have, earlier this week, contacted the 9mobile executive to inform them of our resignation with immediate effect.”

We now await the next stage in the drama that is the 9mobile Prize for African Literature. Hopefully, the winner of the prize can be announced sometime soon.