In the world of literature, Tanzania stands tall. Over the years, as a country, we have produced some of the finest writers who have achieved worldwide fame. Have you ever wondered who can replace Shaaban Robert as the genius and father of Swahili literature?
Dr. Andrei Zhukov’s article titled “Shaaban Robert in the Russian Language” acclaims Shaaban as the equivalent of Alexander Pushkin in Russia, Goethe in German, and Shakespeare in English cultures.
These are the names of writers of pure genius, with work that has survived them and become a hallmark of the culture.
It is fascinating that 60 years after the death of Shaaban Robert, his work remains even more relevant today, the language, the beauty and the prophetic messages.
One of his enduring works is Kusadikika (expressing an imaginary land), where ordinary people demand justice against established despotic authority.
Another writer, Muhammed Said Abdulla, gave the world Kisima cha Giningi (1968).
This novel focuses on the murder of Mwana wa Giningi, and it is one of the best investigative crime novels in Swahili. Perhaps such books inspired Ben R. Mtobwa, who gave the world, Salamu kutoka Kuzimu (1987), a crime investigation novel where we see chilling murders and teaches us that crime doesn’t pay.
There are many books of Kiswahili literature, and I could go on mentioning them.
Similarly, in the world of English literature, we are not left out.
In 2021, Tanzanian-born British novelist and scholar Abdulrazak Gurnah won the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature, drawing the world’s attention to the fact that he is our own writer born in our beloved homeland. It was amazing since the prize is still considered the most prestigious in literature.
President of Zanzibar, Dr Hussein Mwinyi, in a meeting with Prof Gurnah, told him he was a “national pride” and his victory was for “all of us – Zanzibars, Tanzanians and Africans”.
He writes in English, and he has become an inspiration to young Tanzanian writers, that they can rise up and stand up in the world.
Who is the next Tanzanian or Tanzanian-born writer to step onto the world stage and gain acclaim? We have Shafi Adam Shafi, a Swahili writer who has also won several awards and is internationally recognized. One of his books titled “Vuta N’kuvute” has been made into a movie and could catch the world’s attention.
The entry of “Vuta N’kuvute” for the Best International Film Award at the Oscars (Oscars) is a big win for Tanzania.
The Oscars are the global stage for the film industry, and such a win signifies worldwide attention and recognition.
The movie titled “Vuta N’kuvute”, is a romantic drama directed by Amil Shivji.
He managed to feature in all 14 Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) nominations.
The media reports that in 2021 it was in the film festival category “Official Selection of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) (Canada).
I pray that the film wins! If all goes well, it will be a victory for Tanzania.
Thinking about it, it is high time to aggressively promote Tanzanian-made content to go global. Much of the content on our TV channels comes from other countries.
We have so many books for children and adults written by great writers, and all of this work, or part of it, can be translated into films for local and international consumption.
The book, “Vuta N’kuvute” and its associated film is a great lesson that we have rich content for our Kiswahili writers, so our filmmakers can proactively decide to take Tanzanian content to go global. We have so many masterpieces of Kiswahili Literature which can then be translated into other languages like English, German, Russian, French etc. and similarly can be converted into movies.