The Ugandan novelist and political activist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, who was reportedly arrested, detained, and tortured by the Ugandan authorities following the publication of his allegorical novel The Greedy Babarian, have been named the 2021 International Writer of Courage. 

Kakwenza was selected by the 2021 winner of the Pen Pinter Prize, Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangaremgba, in line with the custom which requires winners to announce a co-awardee. The International Writer of Courage laurel is bestowed on a writer who is “active in defence of freedom of expression, often at great risk to their own safety and liberty.”

Kakwenza’s novel The Greedy Barbarian is set in a fictional country and explores themes of government corruption. Following the novel’s publication, Kakwenza was arrested in April 2020. He told The Guardian that he was detained and subjected to a week-long torture. Subsequently, he was charged with “an act likely to spread the infection of disease [Covid-19], contrary to Section 171 of the Penal Code Act, Cap 120.” Upon discharge, he was re-arrested in September and released three days later on police bond, still likely to face charges for offenses that include inciting violence against the government. Details of his ordeal in detention was provided in his new book Banana Republic.

The Guardian also reports that Kakwenza is currently undergoing treatment for injuries suffered while in detention.

Kakwenza received the award at the British Library on October 11. He shared a note on Facebook expressing his gratitude.

Honoured to receive an award from PEN — as an international writer of courage — at the British Library yesterday. This is not just because I have been Gen. Yoweri Museveni’s critic for 21 years, but for having the courage to narrate the harrowing ordeal of torture that I suffered upon publishing my debut novel, The Greedy Barbarian. Instead of running away from my country despite my tormentors still being around and in power, I lived to tell the ugly tale of torture in my book, Banana Republic. I boldly wrote my story without fear as a solace that the pen is mightier than the sword. Congratulations to the 62-year old Zimbabwean Tsitsi Dangarembga with whom I share the prestigious Pinter Prize of literature. Thanks everyone.

Last year’s International Writer of Courage was the named Eritrean poet and journalist, Amanuel Asrat, who has been detained by the Eritrean government since 2001.

Congratulations to Kakwenza Rukirabashaija!