Board of Patrons of 9mobile literature prize resigns

9mobile Prize for Literature
9mobile Prize for Literature

The members of the Board of Patrons of the 9mobile Prize for Literature have resigned their appointments ‘with immediate effect’.

The patrons include Ama Ata Aidoo, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, Margaret Busby, Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Zakes Mda and Dele Olojede.

Aidoo, a Ghanaian author, poet, playwright and academic, is a former Minister of Education under the Jerry Rawlings administration.

Allfrey, an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, is Editor-at-Large at Canongate Books, a senior Research Fellow at Manchester University and Chair of the Caine Prize for African Writing.

Busby, a Ghanaian-born publisher, editor, writer and broadcaster, is also an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

Manyika is a British-Nigerian writer of novels, short stories and essays.

Mda is a South African novelist, poet and playwright.

Olojede is a Nigerian journalist and a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting

In their joint resignation letter to the management of the telecoms firm, the patrons expressed ‘dismay and sadness’ that the prize, which was ‘fast becoming an institution’, was allowed to “disappear without any announcement or explanation from the sponsors.”

The resignation letter dispatched last Friday was published in the Johannesburg Review of Books (JRB).

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The resignation letter reads:

“A Public Announcement from the Patrons of the 9Mobile/Etisalat Prize for Literature

“In 2012, under the leadership of the Etisalat High Value Events and Sponsorships department, we the undersigned accepted an invitation to serve as Founding Patrons of the Etisalat Prize for African Literature.

“It is a source of great pride for us all that within a few short years the Prize was established as an internationally recognised literary award for African writing and that the annual announcement cycle became a noted part of the literary calendar.

“With the transition from Etisalat to 9Mobile we understood there would be a period of change and adjustment. However, it is with dismay and sadness then, that we have watched over the last two years as what was fast becoming an institution has been allowed to disappear without any announcement or explanation from the sponsors.

“It is with deep regret that we must acknowledge the demise of what was an important initiative in supporting and celebrating the best of African cultural and literary output.

“In January 2018 a shortlist of three books was announced. The date for the announcement of the winner was never announced—indeed, 9mobile has failed to issue any further communication. The writers have been left in limbo and speculation and rumour is rife regarding the fate of the Prize.

“As Patrons with a deep and abiding commitment to supporting African authors and publishers, we feel this is a situation we cannot allow to continue. We have, earlier this week, contacted the 9mobile executive to inform them of our resignation with immediate effect.”

The Announcement

In December 2017, 9mobile announced a list of nominees for its 2017 Prize for Literature (formerly the Etisalat Prize for Literature).

The 9mobile Prize for Literature is a pan-African prize initiated to celebrate debut African writers of published fiction.

The winner was expected to take home £15,000 and a fellowship at the University of East Anglia to study creative writing.

In January 2018, three of the nine entries in the list were shortlisted for the final selection process. Those selected included: “What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky” by Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria); “Stay with Me” by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ (Nigeria), and “Asylum” by Marcus Low (South Africa).

The winner was expected to be announced around March of that year.

However, communication from the prize organisers to the shortlisted writers and their publishers, ceased in June 2018.

By last June, the winner of the 2018 prize was not announced, prompting the JRB to contact the prize judge and the shortlisted publisher.

Both confirmed not receiving any recent communication from 9Mobile on the status of the prize since June 2018.

After the shortlist of the prospective winners was announced, JRB said the prize went quiet toward the end of 2018.

According to JRB, the last Facebook post on the prize was in August 2018, with the last tweet in September, while the shortlisted authors were left in the dark.

9Mobile reacts

In its reaction, 9Mobile blamed the delay on its recent ownership change process, and said confirmation of a date for the announcement of the prize winner would be made before the end of the third quarter of this year.

Following the announcement of the resignation of the Board of Patrons, the JRB reported that the 9mobile management put out a letter to defend it position.

The Acting Director, Marketing, 9mobile, Layi Onafowokan, said the winner of the 2018 edition of the award will soon be announced. The firm also reiterated its commitment to the development and promotion of literary talent in Africa.

Unfortunately for the shortlisted writers, Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀, Lesley Nneka Arimah and Marcus Low, there is no indication of whether one of them will ever receive the prestigious award, or the £15,000 prize money that comes with it.

Following fears that the financial crisis faced by the company would negatively impact its capacity to sustain the prize, 9Mobile management reaffirmed its commitment to continue the sponsorship.

Announcing the prize name change, 9mobile Chief Executive Officer, Boye Olusanya, said: ‘9mobile is proud to be at the forefront of promoting creativity and innovation among Nigerians and will continue to support the discovery and growth of home grown talents by creating platforms that help African writers to tell authentic African stories.’

Also, the Vice President of Regulatory and Corporate Affairs at 9Mobile, Ibrahim Dikko, gave the assurance that while the company was going through a change phase, there was plan to continue.

He said the company will continue its “excellent quality service on the network” and “support on the corporate social responsibility side.”

The 9mobile Prize for Literature was launched in 2013. It is open solely to writers from African countries, resident anywhere in the world.

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