The winners of the Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature 2019 announced in Nairobi on February 27, 2020, are Moh’d Khamisi Songoro for poetry and Lello Mmassy for prose.
The Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature recognises writing in African languages and encourages translation from, between and into African languages. The award, founded by Dr Mukoma Wa Ngugi (Cornell University) and Dr Lizzy Attree, has previously been won by Zainab Alwi Baharoon and Jacob Ngumbau (2018), Ali Hilal Ali and Dotto Rangimoto (2017) and Idrissa Haji Abdalla and Hussein Wamaywa and Ahmed Hussein Ahmed (2016). The award is handed out for both poetry and prose.
The Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature this year is sponsored by Mabati Rolling Mills Kenya, ALAF Limited Tanzania (part of Safal Mauritius Limited), Cornell University and the Ngugi Wa Thiong’o Foundation. Judging the prize, which made a callout for entries in June, are Ahmed Rajab, Prof Clara Momanyi, and Dr Amiri Swaleh. This team announced the shortlist for the awards on December 15, 2019.
The winners of the awards were announced by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Abdilatif Abdalla, together with the Safal Group CEO, Anders Lindgren during a special ceremony at the Intercontinental Hotel, Nairobi on Thursday 27 February 2020. The guests of honour included Josephta Mukobe the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Culture and Heritage and Safina Kwekwe the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Tourism.
The winners of the prizes are Lello Mmassy’s novel Mimi na Rais (The President and I) in the fiction category while Mohamed Songoro’s poetry manuscript Nusu ya Moyo (Half of a Heart) in the poetry category. They both receive the prize money of $5,000 US.
Speaking on behalf of the judges, the chair, Prof Clara Momanyi said that Lello Mmassy’s novel Mimi na Rais (The President and I) won first place because “it is a modern novel that looks into the current political reality in many African countries, but with a distinct approach because the writer uses the tools of modern technology to increase readability.” She added that, “The writer shows where the Kiswahili novel is headed; to the highest standards of literature.”
Lello Mmassy, from Tanzania, is an Economist by profession. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics of Development and works with one of the biggest Breweries in East Africa. His passion for writing fiction dates back to 2001. Since then, he has written different fiction stories as well as analytical articles on Economics, Politics and Development in newspapers and magazines. Mimi Na Rais (The President and I) is his first work to be published, even though he has other stories online.
On Moh’d Khamisi Songoro’s poetry manuscript, Nusu ya Moyo (Half of a Heart), the judges said that, “the manuscript employs very captivating language through the use of sarcasm and engaging language that is distinct and of the highest professionalism. Besides, the poet teaches the meaning of words and thus contributes to the development of Swahili. The poet’s composition is of the highest quality and is written with great skill.”
Moh’d Khamisi Songoro, born in 1993, is a writer and poet who grew up in Zanzibar. His pen name is Mfalme. He is studying towards his bachelor’s degree in Literature and Education with a focus on languages at the State University of Zanzibar. He started writing poetry at the age of 14, where he participated in composing poems for school purposes under the close guide of his teacher. Songoro started professional writing in 2015 and a number of his poems have been broadcast on several radio stations on the island of Zanzibar.
The second place winner in the fiction category was Kenya’s John Wanyonyi, whose novel Safari ya Matumaini (A Journey of Hope), was awarded $ 2,500 US. The judges called it “a special work that tackles topics that many works of Kiswahili literature fail to engage, that is, spotlighting the male child; his experiences and his place in today’s society at large.” The judges also noted that the novel is written in an interesting style which adopts simplicity to make it accessible to the reader.
The second place in the poetry category, which was also awarded $2,500 US, was Mji wa Kambare (The Township of Kambare), by Rashid Othman Ali. Ali was born in Pemba, Zanzibar. The judges commented on Ali’s poetry for its “mix of content with various composition elements that are very relevant to real life today.” And for its “careful selection of words and language which makes his poetry manuscript attractive and enjoyable for the reader, making them want to come back and read again. Ali’s poetry excites, entertains, inspires and teaches and this is another example of how Swahili poetry continues to grow and inspire current generations.”