The Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize has Awarded $38, 000 for Writings in African Literature


In this op-ed, Lizzy Attree and Mukoma Wa Ngugi, co-founders of the Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize, explore the origin of the prize, its pillars, why the interest in African indigenous languages and their vision for using the prize to strengthen African cultures and its literary tradition


We launched the Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African literature in 2014 and have spent the last four years building the Prize into an institution we can be proud of. The prize has the express goal of recognizing writing in African languages and encouraging translation from, between and into African languages. In its first three years we have awarded at total of $38,000 to nine writers for their work and published two novels with East African Educational Publishers. We’ve held 3 award ceremonies in Kenya and Tanzania and received Pan-African and international media coverage and enormous support from institutions and writing collectives throughout Eastern Africa.

The prize is named after its primary sponsors, Mabati Rolling Mills (a subsidiary of the Safal Group), a roofing company based in Kenya and Cornell University, an Ivy League university in Ithaca, New York. That one of the major sponsors is based in Kenya, has shown that African philanthropy can lead the way in underwriting African cultural production. Cornell’s support is through the Africana Studies and Research Center and previously from the Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs.

We have been aiming to secure funding for another 3 years of the Prize from Mabati and the Safal Group and can now confirm that the Prize will continue for another 3 years, until 2020. We continue to give our time on a voluntary basis and will be forever indebted to Abdilatif Abdalla who Chairs the board in his retirement providing much needed wisdom and expertise.However in order to fully professionalize the prize, more funding is needed in order to have paid staff working on the prize. The ideal that we continue to strive is for an endowment that would allow the prize to last into perpetuity. For that to happen, more African philanthropists have to be at the center of African cultural production.


The 15,000 dollar prize will be split into four and awarded to the best Kiswahili unpublished manuscripts or books published within two years of the award year across the categories of fiction/short fiction collection, poetry and memoir, and graphic novels. We are looking for innovative and exceptional manuscripts that can include slang Kiswahili as well as more traditional forms.

Recognizing that a major impediment to the growth of writing in African languages has been what to do with the manuscripts once written, Mkuki na Nyota and East African Educational Publishers (EAEP) will have first options to publish the winning fiction entry. And the best poetry book will be translated and published in English by the Africa Poetry Book Fund. We are still looking for publishers interested in translations across other languages, African and non-African alike.

To enter please send unpublished manuscripts or books (fiction, poetry, short story collections, non-fiction, memoirs, or graphic novels) published in Kiswahili within two years of the award year to Manuscripts should not be less than 50,000 words for fiction and 50 pages for poetry. Submissions are now open for the 2018 Prize and the deadline is the end of June 2018.

2016 Award in Dar Es Salam

For more information please visit our bilingual website at: Follow us on twitter: @KiswahiliPrize and most certainly like us on Facebook: Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature. You can also reach us via email at






Dr. Mukoma Wa Ngugi is an Assistant Professor of English at Cornell University and the author of Black Star Nairobi (Melville, 2013), Nairobi Heat (Melville 2011), Hurling Words at Consciousness, and the forthcoming Mrs. Shaw (Ohio University Press) and Hunting Words with my Father (Africa Poetry Fund) in 2015. His first academic monograph entitled The Rise of the African Novel – Politics of Language, Identity and Ownership(University of Michigan Press) has just been published.


Dr. Lizzy Attree is the co-founder of the Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature. She has a PhD from SOAS, University of London and Blood on the Page her collection of interviews with the first African writers to write about HIV and AIDS from Zimbabwe and South Africa was published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010. She is a Director on the board of Short Story Day Africa and was the Director of the Caine Prize from 2014-2018. She also sits on the board of Writivism, which is part of the Centre for African Cultural Excellence (CACE). In 2015 she taught African Literature at Kings College London and will teach World Literature at the American International University in London in the autumn. She has just completed an Arts Council funded project on African footballers at Chelsea and Arsenal and published the associated anthology of poems Thinking Outside the Penalty Box with the Poetry Society.