By Ismaila Chafe
President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday in Abuja congratulated the winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for Literature, Abdulrazak Gurnah, a Tanzanian and former lecturer at Bayero University, Kano.
Gurnah is the fourth Black person to win the literature prize coming after the first person, Prof. Wole Soyinka who won in 1986; Derek Walcott of Saint Lucia (1992) and Toni Morrison, the first Black woman to win the prize in 1993.
In winning the prize, the Swedish Academy highlighted Gurnah’s “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effect of colonialism and the fate of refugees in the gulf between cultures and continents’’.
President Buhari’s congratulatory message is contained in a statement issued by Mr Femi Adesina, his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity.
It stated that President Buhari believed that given the ignoble experiences of Africans and people of African descent in the past, all forms of race-related vices and injustices had no place in modern history.
He saluted the bold African voices using arts, music, literature and sports to stress that “our world is better when we treat one another with dignity and respect.’’
Gurnah writes in English; lives and works in the United Kingdom.
He was born in Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous island off the East African coast, and studied at Christchurch College, Canterbury in 1968.
Zanzibar and former Tangayika merged in April 1964 to form the current Tanzania.
In that year, Zanzibar underwent a revolution in which citizens of Arab origin were persecuted.
Gurnah was forced to flee the country when he was 18. He began to write in English as a 21-year-old refugee in England, although Kiswahili is his first language.
His first novel, “Memory of Departure,’’ was published in 1987.
He has written numerous works that pose questions around ideas of belonging, colonialism, displacement, memory and migration.
His novel “Paradise,’’ set in colonial East Africa during World War I, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994.
“Paradise’’ deploys multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism on the shores of the Indian Ocean from the perspective of the Swahili elite.
A distinguished academic and critic, Gurnah recently sat on the board of the Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African literature and has served as a contributing editor for the literary magazine “Wasafiri’’ for many years.
He is currently professor emeritus of English and postcolonial literatures at the University of Kent, United Kingdom, having retired in 2017.