At the 2015 Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature ceremony. Photo credit:


The winners of the Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature 2019 were announced by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Abdilatif Abdalla, together with the the Safal Group CEO, Mr. Anders Lindgren, during a special ceremony at Intercontinental Hotel, Nairobi, on Thursday, 27 February 2020. The guests of honor included Ms Josephta Mukobe, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Culture and Heritage, and Hon. Safina Kwekwe, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism.

The prize was founded in 2014 by Dr. Lizzy Attree and Dr. Mukoma Wa Ngugi of Cornell University and has the express goal of recognizing writing in African languages and encouraging translation from, between and into African languages.

The judges—Prof. Clara Momanyi, Dkt. Amiri Swaleh and Bwana Ahmed Rajab—selected Lello Mmassy’s novel Mimi na Rais (The President and I) as the winner in the fiction category while Mohamed Songoro’s poetry manuscript Nusu ya Moyo (Half of a Heart) was selected as the winning entry in the poetry category. They will each receive prize monies of $5,000 US.

The chair of the judges, Prof. Momanyi, said that Mmassy’s novel Mimi na Rais (The President and I) “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.”

On 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. . . 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.”

Mmassy, from Tanzania, holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics of Development. He writes fiction and analyses on economics, politics and development in newspapers and magazines. Mimi Na Rais (The President and I) is his first work to be published. Songoro, born in 1993, 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. His poems have been broadcast on radio in 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 second place in the poetry category, 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.”

Theuri Maina, from Kenya, was shortlisted for his novel, Ziaka Imetoboka. Nassor Hilal Kharusi, from Zanzibar, was shortlisted for his poetry manuscript, Mama Usihuzunike. Both attended the ceremony.

The Board of Trustees of the Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature includes Abdilatif Abdalla (chair), Mukoma wa Ngugi, Lizzy Attree, Happiness Bulugu, Walter Bgoya, Henry Chakava, Chege Githiora, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Carole Boyce Davies, Rajeev Shah, and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. The prize administrator is Moses Kilolo.

Brittle Paper congratulates the winners. 

For more information, please contact: Prof. Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Cornell University, [email protected]; Dr Lizzy Attree, [email protected]; and Moses Kilolo  [email protected].