For the second year running, The Observer has partnered with the Centre for African Cultural Excellence (CACE) to publish short fiction stories by young African writers in what has been called the Writivism project.
The newspaper starts publishing the shortlisted story entries on April 21 in its Monday editions. James Tumusiime, the Managing Editor, said the idea is to promote good writing which will in turn promote a healthy reading culture.
The Writivism project idea, a brainchild of Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire, was born in 2012 during a global change maker’s summit held in Brussels. Bwesigye had attended the Euro Africa summit as part of a human rights group, determined to think of a way to inspire change in society. Literature, music and art crossed his mind.
“People like art”, said Bwesigye. “We thought that in the process of liking art, people receive messages through it as well. So, why don’t we combine art with activism?”
To marshall this ‘change’, an organization was born, named the Centre for African Cultural Excellence. ‘Writing’ and ‘Activism’ were combined, and the Writivism project was born.
“I wouldn’t define writivism as a combination of writing and activism, per se,” Bwesigye explains. “I would define it as freedom of expression. Reality is not simplistic and all views on a subject should be respected”.
Bwesigye was inspired by his realisation that almost everyone appeared to assume that the European understanding of life was the only and superior way.
“How come we know so much about Europe and so little about ourselves? Why do we think our societies are backward and outdated?” he asks.
Bwesigye believes this is because ‘developed’ nations harness something called ‘soft power’.
“If we want to say Kampala is developing, we say ‘Kampala is becoming like New York’. That’s American soft power,” he explains.
According to Bwesigye, countries develop through soft power. That is, through how the world perceives them.
“It’s the arts that build economies,” he argues. “It’s not oil. Oil destroys economies. It’s intellectual capital that builds economies!”
CACE rolled out the Writivism pilot project in 2012 with the help of a 2,500 dollar grant from the British Council. As it was a pilot, they focused only on Uganda.
“We called for people to write short stories, and long-listed 23 of them. We invited them for a one-day workshop. Only 19 turned up,” he says.
Undaunted, the project rolled on. The 19 participants were assigned mentors, who had the power to recommend that they continue to the next level or be discontinued. During this time, the participants would write stories and send them to their mentors, who would critique them, and assign them reading material to improve their skills.
“All we want is for African literature to come out, and to build a strong writing network in the industry,” explains Bwesigye.
Afterwards, the writers toured seven schools, where their work was rated by students. After the tours, they had public readings at the Lantern Meet of Poets, Femrite & Open Mic, where their work was once again rated by the public.
The winner of the workshop pocketed Shs 1 million. The first runner-up took home Shs 500,000, and the second got Shs 250,000.
“This year we have gone continental,” Bwesigye explains. “We had workshops in Kampala, Abuja, Nairobi, Cape Town and Harare.”
This time, it was 62 writers who were assigned 20 mentors to recommend who continues to the next stage.
“The writers we are mentoring now have already produced flash fiction stories,” Bwesigye says.
A five-day writivism festival is to take place in June. Here, the judges shall decide on the overall winner, said Bwesigye. “The peer favourite story will take second place, and the public’s favourite will take third place”.
The winners will be announced on June 21, with the festival running from the 18th to the 22nd, at the National Theatre.
“While the core of the festival is about promoting literature, we are also creating a platform for the intersection of other forms of arts and culture with literature,” Bwesigye explains.
Writers, artists, performers, readers, theatre goers, literature enthusiasts and the general public will be brought together in one space to engage in a conversation and experience what it means to live in contemporary Africa.
There shall be workshops for the public, book signings with established authors from all over the African continent, fashion shows, entertainment for children and food exhibition, among other attractions.
To follow Writivism, join the Facebook page, The Writivism Festival.