Tanzania authors scoop top Kiswahili literature awards

Saturday February 17 2024

Philipo Oyaro (L) receives his award from the Safal-Cornell Kiswahili Prize Chairperson Abdullatif Abdallah and Safal Group CEO Anders Lindgren. PHOTO | SILAS WAFULA | NMG


Tanzanian authors Philipo Oyaro and Fatuma Salim have won the top prizes at the 2023 Safal-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature competition.

Oyaro won the first prize in the Fiction category for his novel Dunia Duara (The Earth is Round), while Salim’s poetry collection Changa la Macho (Sand in the Eyes) took the top prize in the Poetry category.

They received $5,000 each.

This is the first time a woman has won in the poetry category in this prestigious competition.

Dunia Duara is a crime detective story that employs technology in solving crimes. It has credible characters, powerful descriptive language and makes effective use of suspense.

Read: Shortlist out for Kiswahili Literature Prize 2023


The need to create a new, just society is a dominant theme in the anthology Changa la Macho that employs multiple poetic personae, visual and figurative language — a good fusion of form and content.

“It is one of the best experiences in my life because it was my first time to participate in his competition and emerged the winner,” Oyaro said.

When asked what inspired him to write Dunia Duara, Oyaro said: “There are very many issues like corruption, rape, economic sabotage, and crimes which go unpunished — like blackmail happening in the world. I thought that if I wrote about them in a novel and in an entertaining style my message will reach a wider audience.”

The winners of the 2023 edition were awarded by Dr Caroline Asiimwe, Executive Secretary of the East African Kiswahili Commission (EAKC) at a special awards ceremony in Nairobi.

Anders Lindgren, CEO of Safal Group, one of the sponsors of the awards, highlighted the importance of the Kiswahili language in the development of East Africa.

The other sponsors are Alaf Tanzania, Africana Studies Centre at Cornell University, and the Ngugi wa Thiong’o Foundation.

“Safal Group is firmly committed to the cause of African languages,” he said.

Prof Kyallo Wamitila, chair of the panel of judges, commended the 2023 entrants for the high-quality writing.

Read: 4 must-read books from East Africa before the year ends

“We have a treasure of creativity, especially among young people, that transcends the boundaries of each country, and which, if sprinkled with the basics of writing and publishing, literary works will greatly strengthen Kiswahili literature,” Prof Wamatila said.

Walter Bgoya of Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, the official publisher of the winning manuscripts, said the Safal-Cornell Award has raised talented writers since it was established in 2014, "and there is no doubt that it has given writers inspiration.”

The second winner in the Fiction category was Ahmad Simba (Tanzania) for Safari ya Maisha (The Journey of a Lifetime), and in the Poetry category was won Lenard Mtesigwa (Tanzania) for his manuscript Ndani ya Subira Kichwangomba. They received $2,500 each.

Safari ya Maisha is an aesthetically appealing story with a well-crafted plot. The narration is captivating and enchanting; the reader easily visualises the images of contemporary life and its challenges — like family and local rivalries, crime and racial bigotry.

The anthology Ndani Ya Subira Kichwangomba, is striking because of its diversity of structural forms, figurative language and tone that fuses well with various topics discussed.

The other shortlisted works and authors were: Salome Anaishi by Nicholas Ogal, and Ushairi Wa Maisha Ya Kesho by John Karithi both from Kenya.

Two short story collections were also shortlisted, Mtoto Wa Mama Na Hadithi Nyingine by Edwin Omindo (Kenya) and Koti La Karani Na Hadithi Nyingine by Stallone Joyfully (Tanzania).

Read: Sudy, Juma win Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili 2021 prizes

The Safal-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature is supported by Safal Group, through its subsidiaries Mabati Rolling Mills of Kenya, and ALAF Tanzania, the Africana Studies Center at Cornell University, and the Ngugi wa Thiong’o Foundation.

The prize is awarded to the best unpublished manuscript the categories of fiction, poetry and memoir, and graphic novels.

In addition to the prizes, winning entries will also be considered for publication by Mkuki na Nyota Publishers in Tanzania while the winning poetry will be translated to English and published by the Africa Poetry Book Fund.

The prize was founded in 2014 by Dr Lizzy Attree and Dr Mukoma Wa Ngugi to recognize writing in African languages and encourage translation from, between, and into African languages.