Mujila’s ‘Tram 83’ wins Etisalat Prize for Literature 2015


Democratic Republic of Congo writer, Mr. Fiston Mwanza Mujila, has won the Etisalat Prize for Literature 2015 edition. He won with Tram 83, a novel translated from French, and goes home with, a specially engraved Montblanc Meisterstück pen 15,000 British Pounds plus a scholarship at the University of East Anglia, U.K. for mentorship in writing. Mujila is the third winner of the Pan-African literary prize for first time published authors in the fiction category instituted by Etisalat telecommunication company since 2013.

Mujila beat two South African women writers – Penny Busetto (South Africa) – The Story of Anna P, as Told by Herself and Rehana Rossouw (South Africa) – What Will People Say? – to win the prize. The award was held on Saturday, March 19, 2016 at Intercontinental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos. U.S.-based Zimbabwean writer, Ms NoViolet Bulawayo won in 2013 with her novel, We Need New Names while South African Songeziwe Mahlangu won the 2014 edition with Penumbra.

Chief Executive Officer, Etisalat Nigeria Limited, sponsor and organiser of the prize, Mr. Matthew Willsher, said the philosophy of the prize is borne out in the theme, ‘Representing the Diversity of African Voices.’ According to him, “The Etisalat Prize for Literature bears out this year’s theme – diversity as something that has beauty in it, a foundation for innovation, something we truly believe in, something in our roots, that we have to innovate. Diversity is very true in literature; innovation is also very important in the literary world. The promise diversity delivers is key.

“I’ve had to put everything aside to read these works. The prize is not just about the cheque, but about the opportunity for scholarship. It’s also about publishers who produce the books; we buy 1000 copies of each book and distribute them to schools. We also gave the three writers book tours to Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria. We invest a lot of time and organization on the prize”.

The three books were also adapted for stage production by Ifeoma Fafunwa and performed for the audience.

Chair of judges, Prof. Ato Quayson, before announcing the prize-winner alongside his judging colleagues – Molara Wood and Zukiswa Wanner – gave a brief analysis of the three novels. He said, “For somebody who has feasted on novels all my life, reading the books was like eating my cakes and having them back at the same time. It was a joyous journey for me to devour the novels”.

Quayson commended the boldness of Etisalat in interpreting books through the adaptation that also included moving screen images to compliment live performance.

As he noted, “We must praise Etisalat’s boldness in interpreting these texts in animation and to animate the processes in which Africa tells its own story. It’s a unique prize in its own right, of books written by Africans and judged by Africans. It’s storytelling that expands our imagination; that gives us empathy for people we do not know. It’s storytelling that makes us law-abiding citizens.

“For Busetto’s The Story of Anna P, As Told by Herself is beautiful for many reasons. There’s isolation, loneliness and a lot of solitude; the lead character is very alone. There’s beautiful description of nature. But we learn that her silence is due to a traumatic event. The novel reads like an onion that you peel and peel until your eyes are full of water at the end.

“For Rossouw’s What Will People Say?, there’s political uncertainty, an urban decay that seeps into the household in focus. Rossouw holds the family as in prison; each family member is responding to the pressure around them. The tragedy is that a major trauma seeps into the famly, with the mother, Magda, trying to hold everyone together.

“Mujila’s Tram 83 can be read in various ways, but you read it with music whichever way you read it. In it is totalitarian government; there’s decay of government and lack of provision of poor social services. Characters in Tram 83 are not despairing of these conditions like most African novels. They make do with exuberance. The novel can be set to jazz opera; it’s very operatic. It’s a magnificent novel that reaches back to other earlier works like Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman and more”.

Earlier, jury chairman of Etisalat Flash Fiction Prize, Mr. Toni Kan, announced Kuti Ojuolape Module, as winner with her story, Gone. She received 1,000 Pounds with a high-end product.

However, the event was marred by a late start. Scheduled for 5pm, the event did not start until 7pm after guests had been made to stand for two hours. However, Efe Paul Azino’s rousing spoken word poetry performance put the audience in the right mood for the evening.

But the late start also cost the two star acts billed to perform a choice audience. Although many had been eager to see Asa and Darey perform, they quickly took their leave in droves as soon as the prize was announced. If ever they came on to perform, it would be to an empty hall. Sali Keita and Angelique Kidjo had better audience to appreciate their performances back in 2013 and 2014, as the organiser was prompt on those two counts. A better appreciation of audience’s time would do the prize event a lot better next time.

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