A praise quote from Nobel Laureate in Literature Wole Soyinka is something you can probably cash in at the bank.
It’s not everyday that this world famous playwright known for his acerbic attacks on the Nigerian government fulsomely heaps praises on anyone like he did for this year’s BBC African Performance Play Writing Competition winner.
Soyinka praised Deborah Asiimwe’s top prize winning play, Will Smith Look Alike specifically noting, “Deborah Asiimwe’s writing was very good, and I became really caught up with the play wondering what the final denouement would be. It was convincing”.
That alone would probably have got this year’s winner acres of press coverage all over the world.
But this year’s BBC African Performance Play Writing Competition came with a special twist for Uganda. It was noted in the BBC June 21 press release that, “For the first time in the 50-year history of BBC drama in Africa, Ugandan playwrights have won first, second and third prizes in the African Performance Play Writing Competition.”
The top prize went to Will Smith Look Alike, written by Deborah Asiimwe. Then as if Ugandans snagging all three places wasn’t enough, two writers tied for second place: Atwine Bashir Kenneth and Julia Childs. Atwine wrote Kitu Kidogo while Childs wrote The Coffin Makers. Third place was won by Angella Emurwon for her play The Cow Needs A Wife.
Asiimwe’s play is defined as, “The story of 17-year-old Tereka as he travels to New York with his school music group after they won a national competition. Once in New York, Tereka believes that his resemblance to the American actor Will Smith will help him to pursue a better life in the USA.”
Bashir’s Kitu Kidogo is, “A tale of two corrupt policemen struggling to make ends meet. They unknowingly prey on the Head of the Anti-Corruption Bureau and the story takes an unexpected twist.”
Child’s The Coffin Makers explores the stigma of HIV while Emurwon’s play The Cow Needs A Wife, is about a young man whose girlfriend discovers she is pregnant. He needs to find a cow to give as bride price to her grandmother and enlists the help of his rich uncle and his opportunistic sidekick.
All the plays explore the corroding effects of corruption, with the characters seeking ways of exploiting the absurd circumstances they find themselves in or hope to escape them by leaving the country. The redeeming feature of the plays is their refusal to be tragic, instead opting for a humorous take on the situations.
Impressed by the quality of the writing and the Ugandans’ feat of claiming all three top positions, Soyinka said, “I don’t know whether Ugandans think they want to knock Nigerians out of this competition because Nigerians used to take everything but this year, no show. I am glad of course I didn’t know who on earth was writing which play.”
The BBC World Service for Africa began broadcasting African plays in 1960. In 1971, a play writing competition was launched, and now hundreds of listeners from all over the continent put pen to paper every year.
The winning entries are recorded and broadcast in a unique annual season of brand new radio drama.
That first competition in 1971 was judged by Soyinka, and by way of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the BBC African Performance season, he returned to judge this year’s competition.