In Summary
  • Locally no one seems to have noted that the Kenya Publishers Association did not award the Wahome Mutahi Prize for Literature for 2018.
  • Apparently there were not enough entries to satisfy the demand that the books to be considered for this award be humorous or satirical!

As 2018 slips away and we prepare to welcome 2019, memories demand that we revisit our experiences of the past year as we make plans for the next one. It is human nature to remember the bigger events in life.

Considering how we are globally connected today, probably one of the biggest literary/cultural non-events in 2018 was the announcement by The Swedish Academy that it would not award the Nobel Prize for Literature for 2018! There was consternation in the literary and cultural circles, for this is not just another prize, the money aside, this is the Nobel.

The Swedish Academy explained: there had been allegations of serious indiscretions among members of the panel that chooses the literary winner. Given the near secretive nature of the deliberations of the committee, the matter was left at that and interested parties can only wait for 2019, having probably lost bets. Despite there being so many other significant literary awards, the Nobel Prize is still probably the major mark of literary attainment.

Locally no one seems to have noted that the Kenya Publishers Association did not award the Wahome Mutahi Prize for Literature for 2018. Apparently there were not enough entries to satisfy the demand that the books to be considered for this award be humorous or satirical! However, a Kenyan, Kinyanjui Kombani won the Regional CODE Burt Award for African Young Adult Literature. His book, Finding Colombia, which addresses the problem of drugs and juvenile delinquency topped other entries from Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and Ethiopia.

Yet another Kenyan won the Caine Prize for African Writing. Makena Onjerika’s story, Fanta Blackcurrant, topped the shortlist, which included three stories from Nigeria and one from South Africa. Makena’s story, like that of Kombani in Finding Colombia is about disadvantaged young girls trying to survive the hardships of street life in Nairobi. One would say that 2018 was a good year for children and young adults’ stories.


It is another young adult’s story that provided what would probably be considered the most contentious subject of the year. Rafiki isn’t a particularly controversial film. It is a simple love story, or of kindness, if you like. However, like many love stories, it is complex in the way it seeks to show that love can blossom between two young women in a pretentiously conservative society. Why this particular kind of love irks some people in this country only God knows. Is it the love that is the problem, or is it the people in love that annoys the morality police?

However, when the film was censored by the Kenya Film Classification Board apparently for its ‘homosexual theme’, it provoked interest in many young Kenyans who thronged to venues where it was shown after a court order allowed it. One wonders if the censors would ban Jambula Tree, the short story by Monica Arac de Nyeko from which it is adapted.

The September hiccups caused by the KFCB nearly spoiled what was a good year for Kenyan film enthusiasts, especially after Lupita Nyong’o put in another good show as Nakia in Black Panther. One hopes that as Netflix spreads in Kenya and Viusasa grows, the Kenyan film industry will finally take off.

As film struggles, theatre seems to be rebounding. The Kenya National Theatre has been considerably active in 2018, hosting several plays, throughout the year, especially by Millaz Production, directed by Xavier Nato, and directed by Senator Cleophas Malala.

The usual theatre avenues, especially Alliance Française continues to host several shows in the year. Theatre seems to be back on the menu of the universities with several of them hosting shows in 2018. But one hopes that Senator Malala will carry the spirit of the arts and culture into the National Assembly and challenge his colleagues to attend and watch the plays that he has been directing/producing as well as allocate more resources to the arts and culture in this country.

The government needs to invest in theatres and performing spaces as well as programs throughout the country. On the other hand, it is sad that Kenyan artistes are quite poorly compensated. They more or less enter penury when they retire and die poor. Joseph Kamaru and Gabriel Omolo easily come to mind as artistes who struggled with life in their last days before dying this year.

The literary scene in Kenya has remained active throughout the year. Many of the online magazines, including Kwani?, Jalada and Enkare have continued to publish quite good fiction and creative non-fiction as well as other forms of art. Unfortunately for Kwani? its last listed activity – Kwani? Open Mic session – was in February. The story in town is that Kwani? is as good as dead. Jalada is quite active with its latest issue being Jalada 06: Diaspora, which focuses on African writers and writing from the diaspora, wherever that is.

Jalada is probably the most active, consistent and creative of the online literary publications from Kenya today, although it seems to be driven by a desire to be continental, if not global, rather than local or regional. Still, these magazines have to find a means to support their activities. Donor dependence means that when the funds dry up the venture folds up.

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