binyavanga-wainaina
Image via Nairobi Wire

I woke up this morning, dutifully writing a blogpost about the Nobel Prize when I received a message from a friend about some major drama taking place on Wainaina Binyavanga’s twitter feed. I hurried off to Twitter and saw a string of angry tweets criticizing The Caine Prize for African Fiction. 

Here is how I understand his concerns: 

He thinks that in the African—especially Nigerian—literary scene, we accord the Caine Prize for African fiction far too much significance than it deserves.

How can this foreign literary institution purport to define all that is best and awesome in contemporary African fiction?

Dear Caine Prize,” he says, “u made nothing, produced nothing, distributed nothing. U give a Prize of cash money and publicity. That is it.” Why then do we hold this prize up to some undeserved pedestal and, in the process, neglect our homegrown literary institutions such as Farafina Workshop, Kwani, and so on? 

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He even goes as far as calling out specific individuals like Lizzy Attree, one of the organizers of Caine Prize, asking her to respond to his remarks and the Nigerian writer, Elnathan John, challenging him to a debate. {READ Elnathan’s response HERE.}

 To those who accuse him of biting the hand that fed him—Binyavanga received the Caine Prize in 2002—his answer is: so what! Winning the Caine Prize does not prevent him from expressing honest criticism. Besides, Caine Prize is not entirely responsible for his success as a writer. It’s taken him 12 years of hard work to get to where he is.

Here is how it started: 

Binyavanga first aired his quarrel with the Caine Prize a few weeks ago during a This is Africa interview with Nigerian journalist, Chiagozie Nwonwu

“I give the Caine Prize its due credit but it just isn’t our institution. All these young people who are ending up in that place were built up by many people’s work.” 

He also says: “What is  happening is you people are allowing the Caine Prize to receive funding and build itself as a brand and make money and people’s career there in London while the vast majority of [African] institutions are vastly underfunded and vastly ungrown, and they are the ones who create the ground that is building these new writers.”

He also criticized what he saw as a Nigerian literary “addiction” to Caine Prize to the neglect of local literary platforms like Farafina and Saraba

In these tweets, however, Binyavanga seems to have turned up the heat a notch. His tone is a bit more aggressive and condescending. So now I’m wondering. Is there something he is not telling us about his concerns about Caine Prize? Is there something else eating him? Has Caine Prize done this really bad thing that he’s not wanting to share?

I’m choosing to stay out of the drama for now and maintain an objective distance. Read the tweets below. And let me know what you think. 

 

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