Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi in session with the writers

Controversy ensues as Writivism celebrates fifth year in Gulu, Uganda

Writivism which is celebrating five years hosted a reading in Gulu, Uganda after a workshop featuring young writers from Northern Uganda. The events in Gulu didn’t go down well with one of Okot P’Bitek’s daughter’s.

Writivism has built its name as one of the most important literary initiatives in the East African region in the last half decade. Started by young Africans in the Centre for African Cultural Excellence (CACE) with the most prominent of these being Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire it has put Uganda at the centre of the African literary story. Its festival has featured writers like Mukoma wa Ngugi, Noviolet Bulawayo, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Yewande Omotoso, Panashe Chigumadzi, and many more. It has also brought to light new writers with its competitions both fiction and non fiction.

This year the initiative has been celebrating its fifth year anniversary after its humble beginnings in 2013. From July 17-20 there was a creative writer’s workshop conducted by one of our favourite writers Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi of Kintu fame. The novelist and short story writer and former teacher would go over the stories of George Ocen, Racheal Aber, Dixon Odur, Charlotte Ake Lottie, Isaac Okello, Irene Otto, Auma Dilish, Sunday Fred Mugisha, John Okot, and Gladys Oroma. She would also meet with teachers of literature.

On the evening of Friday June 21, the festivities went onto to the O Café, Gulu where there was a reading by Jennifer of her book Kintu and other books as well as poetry performances. It was a great evening had by all.

It wasn’t so great for others. The day was too close for the comfort of part of the estate of one of Uganda’s foremost poets Okot P’Bitek who died in July 20, 1982. One of Bitek’s daughters went to her Facebook to protest what was in happening in Gulu so close to the day that her father died. Here is the status in full;

“In 1982, my dad, Okot p’Bitek died. in 2016, the Writivism Festival held an Okot p”Bitek Poetry Prize for which i raised the first prize award. it was never awarded due to plagiarism. the Writivism board agreed that the money be returned. i have yet to receive it. & today, on the 20th of July, of all days on this calendar, on the anniversary of my father’s death, this festival holds a reading in his hometown & i’m supposed to sit on my hands & remain grateful for recognition for the ever burgeoning talent from there? i have a fight with this festival who will take this festival to Gulu to laugh at us. i have a fight with Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire who i held out for, patient, patient. i have a fight with this level of arrogance, insensitivity & theft. some people have no shame.”

This was clearly a spillover from last year’s mess when the Kenyan winner of the one off Okot p’Bitek prize being proven to have plagiarised his entry. Embarrassing for all involved. In their statement then, Writivism expressed regret and promised to do better in future years. That was the end of that we thought. The revelation (that the prize money has not been returned) has left many quite shocked and confused as we had all thought that this issue had been long sorted out. It leaves the Writivism with many questions to answer. Did they award the prize money to the young conman? If they didn’t, why have they not refunded the p’Bitek family the money?


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