Africans will spur creativity and innovation by celebrating their own excellence
This week, Wole Soyinka, the first African to win the Nobel prize in literature, said he wanted another award: The Grammy. Speaking at Oxford University, Soyinka was responding to Bob Dylan’s recent crowning as the winner of the prestigious literature prize, when he said: “Since I’ve written quite a number of songs for my plays, I would like to be nominated for a Grammy.”
To be fair to Soyinka, our attention shouldn’t be drawn so much to his flippant remark than on the choice of the award he stated. Africa, a continent of over 1.2 billion people, barely registers globally when it comes to honoring excellence and merit or even acknowledging the role of awards in social, scientific and cultural advancement.
There are currently numerous awards that recognize distinction across the continent. Yet few if any are based within the continent, or work to provide spaces or incentives on a daily basis, rather than reward excellence in general. The most prominent awards directed at the continent are funded from abroad, whether in engineering and medicine (Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation or the Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize), writing and translation (Caine Prize or the Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize), poetry and adult fiction (Brunel and the Burt award), besides the Mo Ibrahim prize in African governance. There are also some local awards, some of which are country-specific (Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature or the Nigeria Prize for Science), while others are awarded to a few countries or a specific region (South African Independent Publishers Award).