Festivals Uganda

A snapshot of the Writivism Festival 2016

There was a flurry of activity at the Uganda Museum in Kampala as the Writivism Festival 2016 happened from August 22-28th.

The Writivism Festival has come a long way in the last few years from its humble beginnings in 2012. Fortunately for all in the region with a love of books and writers they stuck with their mission as they year this would be the only official book festival to happen in the East Africa region as Storymoja moved to Ghana.

The festival which is much regarded by many in the literary community started on a not so very positive note. When they announced its dates of 22-28 August, it quickly became a very unpopular move in Kampala. This was our friends from the Babishai Niwe Poetry festival had announced that they would be hosted from 24-26 August. Kampala residents now had to choose between the two festivals which is not ideal as many would have preferred to attend both festivals. It might have seemed petty but the way this situation was handled by the Writivism team wasn’t great. I was told quietly by some Kampala residents that this arrogant attitude meant that they wouldn’t be attending the Writivism festival. At least not this year.

School visits photo/Emmanuel Sigauke
School visits photo/Emmanuel Sigauke

The Writivism Festival started as it has been doing in the last few years; with the kids. The delegates of the festival were conscripted and taken around several schools to inspire the next generation of artists and consumers of the artists products in the future. They would go to schools like Gayaza High School. Nabisunsa Girls Secondary, Buwagga School, and Kitante secondary school to meet very enthusiastic students. At one point, students from Gayaza went to the conference venue and met the delegates who <were too chicken> couldn’t make it to the schools and they wowed with their poetry. The next generation of poetry in the pearl of Africa promise to receive the baton from the elders and take over the world.

Also part of the beginning of the festival there was also the workshops that the festival has become famous for. Some of these included managing a literary prize by Dr Madhu Krishnan and Publishing translations by Dr Ruth Bush. It was a very good opportunity for delegates to learn a different part of the literary infrastructure which was welcomed by those who wished to know more about the world of books.

Harriet Anena
Harriet Anena

The festival proper started on Tuesday August 23rd as poet Harriet Anena gave a performance of her show I Bow to My Boobs. The one woman show based on her poetry collection A Nation In Labour which was published in 2015. The show which was close to an hour saw Anena in a body hugging yellow dress dealing with several issues that the Ugandan society has to navigate. The one that this blogger responded to the most was the one with the title poem I Bow To My Boobs which had nothing to do with the fact that she was referencing such a wonderous part of the female form. The poem was about this village woman who is under assault from an abusive husband and who prays that her body and specifically her boobs which become weaponised. The show was wonderful. I enjoyed the content being offered by the poet although I would have loved if there was some tightening of the presentation; it would have missed about twenty minutes and not missed any of its potency. I would love to see this poet performances on stages in Nairobi, Lagos and Johannesburg in future.

There were many other performances at this event with Maimouna Jallow’s rendition of the The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives which she had just come from performing at the Chale Wote Festival in Ghana a few days before. Also showing at the festival was a showing of Biyi Bandele’s movie Half of a Yellow Sun based on a novel of the same name by Chimamanda Adichie. Also screening was Desert Flower based on the journey of Waris Dirie the model from Somalia who was also famous as a campaigner against female genital mutilation.

Away from the performances, there was a helluva lot of book and reading stuff going on around at the Uganda Museum. There were daily keynote addresses at the events like they had in previous years from respected people like Julius Ocwinyo and Zukiswa Wanner.  There were also the award ceremonies with Ugandan writer Acan Innocent winning the Writivism Short Story Prize 2016 and Redscar K’Oyuga Macodindo taking the Okot p’Bitek Poetry. (Macodindo has since been outed as a serial plagiarist that Writivism have disowed– egg on everyone’s face there)

The highlight of a literary festival is of course the writers and they were there in droves from all corners of the continent as well as further afield. They came from Francophone as well as Anglophone Africa which I suspect hasn’t happened a lot in the last few years. Books were launched there with the author in attendance including Yewande Omotoso’s The Woman Next Door, Panashe Chigumadzi’s Sweet Medicine, Jagero Oduor’s Ghosts of 1894, Nakisanze Segawa’s The Triangle and Chuma Nwokolo’s How To Speak Naija. Also launching without the writer were We Are All Blue by Donald Molosi and A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder by Grace Musila.

It wasn’t just the writers with their own books on show at this festival. There were also some of the finest writers working on the continent today. They were featured on panels with readings from Gambit, Safe House, Rwanda’s Huza Press, Bahati Books, and more.

In the panels and the book launches you could meet and interact with your favourite African writer from all over the continent within the museum grounds which had both a rolex guy, a beer guy as well as a restaurant for the foodie.

It was a very successful festival hosted at the Uganda Museum this August. With the exception of that ill adviced move “clashing” with the Babishai Niwe Poetry Festival dates I suspect that we would have seen a few more numbers.

By James Murua

This blog is run by James Murua a Nairobi, Kenya based lover of books.

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