Tsitsi Dangarembga, 2021 PEN Pinter winner has selected Ugandan novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija as this year’s International Writer of Courage. This is an award given to an author who has faced persecution for airing their beliefs. The two authors will share the PEN Pinter prize that goes to authors who have fulfilled Harold Pinter’s dream to, “define the real truth of our lives and our societies”.
Kakwenza got into trouble because of his novel, ‘the Greedy Barbarian’ that expounds on high-level corruption in a fictional country. On April 13th 2020, the novelist was arrested and detained for seven days during which he was deeply interrogated about his book.
Kakwenza has detailed his experience during his time in detention in his latest work, Banana Republic. The novelist notes, “In Africa when you write fiction, especially political fiction, such as the political allegory Animal Farm by George Orwell, the leaders will always think that one is writing about them. Of course every dictator will suspect that the writer meant to embarrass him. Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda felt that it was him that I had written about and so he sent his hoodlums to arrest and torture me in order to hamper my creativity. The idea was to completely stop me from being creative.”
Kakwenza was overjoyed and thanked PEN for advocating for his freedom. He noted, “If it weren’t for PEN, I would still be somewhere in prison, perhaps forgotten. When I was hanging on chains in dungeons, I swore to my tormentors that I would never write again if they gave me a chance to live, as if they were some deities or God. Truth is, I survived death. I appreciate PEN for advocating for my freedom of expression and the different centers all over the world that sent in lovely messages of courage. I received the messages with smiles even though I was in horrendous pain.”