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Carmen McCain Criticises the Etisalat Prize for Not Accepting Translated African Works

In the House of the InterpreterAfrican VioletA complaint often raised about the Caine Prize for African Writing being a very British award, with its prize-giving ceremony taking place in London, has been reiterated by Carmen McCain in an article for Weekly Trust. Drawing on Ngugi wa Thiong’o's discussion on a panel titled “African Literature Prizes and the Economy of Prestige” at the recent Africa Writes festival in London, McCain also comments on the lack of translated works submitted for the prize, another point that has been remarked on before.

“As impressive as the Caine Prize, the Commonwealth prize, the Brunel Prize for Poetry, the recently announced Moreland Writing Scholarship, and other such initiatives to reward African literature are (may they flourish), the healthiest state of African literature will be when the infrastructure to support African literature is developed and hosted on the continent itself,” McCain says.

She praises African-based initiatives such as the Kwani? Manuscript Prize, Golden Baobab Prize, Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature and the Nigeria Prize for Literature and also mentions the newly established Etisalat Prize for African literature, but notes that all of these prizes require the submissions to be made in English. McCain criticises the Etisalat Prize in particular because it excludes works that have been translated into English from African languages.

“But judging from the experience of prizes like the Caine, even if Etisalat changed the rules, would there actually be any translations submitted?” she asks. McCain believes that the real solution is to build up resources and training for literary translators in Africa.

Last week, in my discussion of the Africa Writes Festival, which was held on the 5-7 July in London at the British library, I followed Kenyan author and language activist Ngugi wa Thiong’o in calling for “moving the centre” of the discussion about African literature to Africa itself.

As fantastic an initiative as the festival in London is and as impressive as the Caine Prize, the Commonwealth prize, the Brunel Prize for Poetry, the recently announced Moreland Writing Scholarship, and other such initiatives to reward African literature are (may they flourish), the healthiest state of African literature will be when the infrastructure to support African literature is developed and hosted on the continent itself. As Caine Prize shortlisted writer Elnathan John pointed out at one of the first Caine Prize events in London on 4 July, “I think it is a shame that we are in London having this. I think all of us should be in Nairobi or Ghana or Lagos… Is the Caine Prize useful? Of course. It is among the best things that has helped African writing. But could the interaction be more equal? Yes. You don’t want us to just sit down be getting. We also want to interact and add value to the entire process, and I hope that as time goes by we are able to contribute more to that process.”

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