Telecommunications company 9mobile has sent out a press release clarifying—to a point—the status of the 9mobile Prize for Literature, one of the most significant international book awards focused on African literature.
The statement appears to be a response to a JRB report from the beginning of June, which pointed out that the winner of the 2018 9mobile Prize has still not been announced. This despite the fact that a shortlist of three books was released back in January 2018, and that the winner was expected to be revealed around March of that year.
- Read: The mysterious demise of the 9mobile/Etisalat Prize for Literature—the world’s biggest Pan-African book award
Communication from the prize organisers ceased in June 2018, and the shortlisted writers, Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀, Lesley Nneka Arimah and Marcus Low, and their publishers, were given no indication of whether a winner would ever be announced, or awarded the £15,000 prize money.
However, in a press statement released this afternoon, 9mobile acting director of marketing Layi Onafowokan shed some light on the situation, saying that the winner of the 2018 edition of the award will be announced ‘soon’, and adding that Telecommunication Services Limited, the company that manages 9mobile as far as The JRB understands, ‘wishes to reiterate its commitment to the development and promotion of talents and assures of fulfilling its commitment to the finalist of the 2018 edition of the 9mobile Prize for Literature’.
The statement also thanks the patrons and judges of the prize, ‘for their excellent service over the years’.
The prestigious award was launched in 2013 as the Etisalat Prize for Literature, founded by telecommunications company Etisalat Nigeria, and billed itself as the ‘first ever pan-African prize celebrating first time writers of published fiction books’. In August 2017, Etisalat Nigeria renamed itself 9mobile, and the award received a name change at the same time. In an email to the publisher of one of the shortlisted books at the time, prize organisers said the ownership change had delayed the announcement of the 2018 winner. Some feared that the financial crisis being faced by the company would threaten the award, although 9mobile management denied this in several reports.
Past winners of the 9mobile Prize received £15,000, an engraved Montblanc Meisterstück pen, a book tour to three African cities, and an Etisalat Fellowship at the University of East Anglia, under the mentorship of Professor Giles Foden, author of The Last King of Scotland. In addition, Etisalat pledged to buy 1,000 copies of each shortlisted book, a significant number of sales for a fiction author, and the shortlisted authors were also rewarded with a book tour. The JRB is uncertain whether these are the commitments referred to by Onafowokan in the press statement.
The announcement of a winner for this high profile prize, however, would be an important first step.
Read the 9mobile statement in full:
9mobile Restates Commitment to Redeem 2018 Prize for Literature
Lagos, Nigeria, Thursday, July 25, 2019: Emerging Markets Telecommunication Services Limited (EMTS) wishes to reiterate its commitment to the development and promotion of talents and assures of fulfilling its commitment to the finalist of the 2018 edition of the 9mobile Prize for Literature.
The winner from the shortlist for the 2018 edition of the 9mobile Prize for Literature competition comprising What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah, a Nigerian; Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo, also a Nigerian; and Asylum by Marcus Low from South Africa, will be announced soon.
The Executive Management of 9mobile will like to sincerely thank all the eminent scholars that have served as the Patrons and Judges of the 9mobile Prize for Literature initiative for their excellent service over the years since the debut of this flagship literary Prize in 2013.
The 9mobile Prize for Literature, launched in 2013, is the first pan-African literary Prize that celebrates African first-time writers of published fiction. It is open solely to writers from African countries, resident anywhere in the world. Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo won the inaugural edition of the prize in 2014 with We Need New Names, while South African novelist Songeziwe Mahlangu won with Penumbra in 2015. Fiston Mwanza Mujila from the Democratic Republic of Congo won in 2016 with Tram 83, and in 2017 Nigeria’s Jowhor Ile won for his first book And After Many Days.
Acting Director, Marketing, 9mobile