Friday, September 25, 2015


 #Babishai2015, 1ST POETRY FESTIVAL in Uganda, organized by the Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation
photo credits: Zahara Abdul
Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva, Adeeko Ibukun and Professor Remi Raj

The #Babishai2015 poetry festival, the first poetry festival in Uganda, took place from 26 to 28 August 2015 at The Uganda Museum in Kampala. The open-themed festival, organized by the Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation, was a celebration of the #Babishai2015 shortlisted poets, awarding the winners, sharing poetry through master-classes, performing before younger and older audiences and launching the BN Poetry Foundation’s second anthology, Boda Boda Anthem and Other Poems: A Kampala Poetry Anthology. The estimated number of participants in total was 250 and the total number of countries represented was 11. There was also a welcome to the festival discussion of the #Babishai2015 shortlisted poems led by Harriet Anena, held at Femrite on 24th August.
Davina Kawuma and Harriet Anena

Members at the discussion

Being the first poetry festival brought exciting and well-thought out sessions. On the first day, the festival began with a dance breakfast with celebrated dance group, Batalo East. Abdul, the dance director, opened up with a physical awakening of our bodies and minds and artists and consumers of art. While dancing with the festival participants, Abdul engaged in conversation about the poetry of dance and how our bodies communicate more than we can ever think.

Abdul and Sammy Wetaala in dance session.

  Later on was a master-class by Dr. Charles Mulekwa, entitled, From the page to the stage. During this session, Charles highlighted how stage performances cannot or should not exist without the process of the page, meaning writing, re-drafting and editing. Two of his students performed various poems, practically giving new meanings to words on a page.

During poetry-in-session that evening, a monthly session hosted by Roshan Karmali, the true meaning of liberty through art was felt. With performances from Checkmate Mido, Fatuma’s Voice, Professor Remi Raji, Chijioke Amu-Nnadi, Khamara Ashnan, Jason Ntaro, Fortune Unlimited, Gordon Musinguzi, Roshan herself and other celebrated poets, each piece a personal ritual and conviction of words, rose into a unique and most memorable night.

On the 27 August, second day of the festival, we held two master-classes. The first was by Professor Remi Raji, who is a board member of the Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation and current President of Association of Nigerian Authors.  His class was a discussion of poetry, its craft, importance of respecting the craft and appreciating poets that have inspired great works of a generation. He then demonstrated the importance of pruning writing, of thinking creatively in order to write creatively and ended with a challenge of writing a spontaneous chain poem. The results were incredible.  

Another unforgettable session was led by Ife Piankhi and Checkmate Mido, ‘From the page to the stage.’They engaged us in role play, picking character traits and demonstrating them without speaking. It was quite hilarious, challenging and worthwhile. Theirs dealt with body language and the power of silence,  as we understood better ourselves, our voices and our innermost convictions as we react emotionally. All this played into how and why we write and perform poetry. It was spontaneous and tricky at the same time. Kagayi Peter, one of Uganda's celebrated spoken word poets, led us through important discussions on poetry and the spoken word, challenging us into deeper understanding.

Chijioke Amu-Nnadi, who also led a master class, used a more spiritual and soul-searching approach. He acknowledged that poets are spiritual beings and that their poetry should manifest from that deep spiritual connection. Kagayi Peter, a well celebrated poet from Uganda, spoke candidly about poetry, the learning process, the spoken craft, identifying with subject matter and production.

None of us knew that blogging poetry could be so much fun and Magunga Williams, one of Kenya’s most celebrated bloggers and Eric Otieno from Fatuma’s Voice. Blogging is one of the most essential forms of communicating in our times. It’s creative, has a wide reach and potentially positive influence. Blogging, in order to be taken seriously, requires utmost care and consistence in order to gain credibility. #hopeyougotthat .Femrite, Black Poet and Checkmate Mido met students, children and a few older poets, sharing challenges and joys of writing but mostly encouraging younger writers to not give up, to read and practice as much as they could and read widely.

In the evening, we launched Boda Boda Anthem and Other Poems: A Kampala Poetry Anthology, at the Goethe Institut. Close to 100 guests were in attendance. The anthology, edited by Ugandan writer, Mildred Barya, a doctoral fellow at The University of Denver, is a selection of voices across the world, on me the theme of Kampala City. The verses, well selected and edited, magnify Kampala’s weaknesses, strengths and aspirations, through their imaginative images and strong diction. Guest appearances from Daniel Omara, one of Africa’s greatest stand up comedians, were a major highlight. Chijioke Amu-Nnadi launched the anthology and Professor Remi Raji made an order of 30 copies for each of the states of Nigeria represented under the Association of Nigerian Authors. Jalada Africa, who sent reviews to several journals in East Africa, also led discussions on the anthology and asked participants about their own imaginative depiction of Kampala in 50 years time.

On Friday the 28th, the day began with a session entitled, “When the earth weeps, art also weeps.” Led by Sara Kaweesa, a board member of the Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation and director and founder of Arocha Uganda, she emphasized how crucial it is for us to be stewards of thee earth and use creative messaging to share that to the rest of the world. As artists, our responsibility is to raise as much awareness of the dangers of global warming, littering and un-care of the environment. Next that day was Poetry On the Mountain. In partnership with Uganda Travel Bureau, The Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation will take poets and thrill seekers for an excursion to The Mountains of The Moon in Kasese-Uganda. Deo Lubega, Patron of the Mountain Club of Uganda, took us through the process of both physical and mental preparation for the task ahead. Interested participants registered and from June 10 to 13 in 2016, about 50 enthusiasts will climb Mountains of the Moon and recite poetry, at an individual fee of 355 USD. For more details, visit the website or email

Every lunch time of the festival was filled with performances from various artists including children. In order to fill the demand for performance space, this was necessary. We then held a session led by Cross Cultural Foundation of Uganda, who talked about historical buildings in the city and how important the documentation of history is, to the preservation of culture. Later, we were hosted by Martha Byoga aka Maritza, host on Urban T.V, who interviewed past winners and shortlisted poets of the Babishai Niwe Poetry prize, alongside the #Babishai2015 shortlisted poets. It was here that Rashida Namulondo, Kelly Taremwa, Flavia Kabuye, Sophie Alal, Sheila Okongo Nyanduaki, Regina Asinde, Adeeko Ibukun and Nakisanze Segawa, who were present. Interestingly, while a few poets wrote their poems on the spur, all of them had to go through the rigor of re-writing, editing and self-doubt, which still re-emphasizes the importance for all poets, that nurturing is always key.

In the evening, was the grand finale award ceremony. Guests filled the main hall of the Uganda Museum. Various poets filled the stage and a documentary highlighting the Babishai Niwe Poetry journey was played, before Professor Remi Raji, board member of Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation and President of Association of Nigerian Authors, announced the top five winners.

The #Babishai2015 celebrated shortlisted poets by name:-
Adhiambo Agoro from Kenya, Richard Otwao from Uganda, Arinze Ifeakandu from Nigeria, Sheila Okongo from Kenya, Nick Makoha from Uganda, Sanya Noel from Kenya, Lua Davis from Cameroon, Gbenga Adesina from Nigeria, Famia Nkansa from Ghana, Tolase Ajibola from Nigeria, Babajide Olusegun from Nigeria, Danica Kreusch from South Africa, Salawu Olajide from Nigeria, Ann Waruguru from Kenya and Adeeko Ibukun from Nigeria.

In fifth place was Ghanaian poet Famia Nkansa, for her delightful love poem, Elixir.

In fourth place was very memorable poem Like Scented Mangoes by Nigeria’s Arinze Ifeakandu.

In third place was the irresistibly provocative master poet, Nick Makoha from Uganda, with his poem, LHR.

In second place was the chilling and highly imaginative poem, The Ghost of Jevangee by Sheila Okongo Omare Nyanduaki of Kenya. She attended the Storymoja Festival in Nairobi in September.

And in first place, from over 2,000 poems, Adeeko Ibukun’s A Room With A Drowning Book, emerged winner. The subtle politics, vivid imagery, atypical structure and secreted message, were some of the winning points for the jury. Adeeko’s winning prize: 1,000 USD. Along with other shortlisted poets, m prizes include attendance at the Lagos International Poetry Festival, the Ake Arts and Book Festival, online mentorship for six months and copies of poetry collection and anthologies from poets celebrated world-wide. The prizes for first fifteen winners : Copies of poetry collections and anthologies, participation in various literary festivals continent-wide and six months online mentorship from well-known, celebrated, remarkable poets world-wide.

We thank all volunteers, George Kiwanuka, Caesar Obong, Sheila Abaho, Sylvia Nakiirya, Rosey Sembatya, Mirembe Kisakye, Nambozo Norah, Joan Agaba, Christine Namubiru and Ann Apio.


      #Babishai2015 winning poem

           A ROOM WITH A DROWNING BOOK  by Adeeko Ibukun (Nigeria)

            Somewhere in the room a book is drowning, the floor
            is shivering with pages. You said the spine is the balance

 to our two winged hearts. Sometimes it’s the light knitting
            its letters to our hearts. I see how things hold us in their lights

so we aren’t here or there like you’re here and somewhere
a lover holds you in her heart, light in water teaching these lessons.

Sometimes something holds clearly what we couldn’t say in words.
We face it to learn our silence and that again becomes part of

our languages. Places own us like this, light bounces off them,
turning their spears at me. Our hearts beat now and vision takes

its shapes—the stream of consciousness, nuances as water turn,
streamlet as novella lost in our undercurrent.  I’m lost in a story now

or a story’s lost in me. Perhaps we should hang on words so that
we do not drown. Remembering makes living its anchor. So I asked

if it’s us you wanted to save insisting everything  is placed this way
and that way of our anniversaries, each moment  achieved  as light

buried in water—so it’s here or there, past or present, our chairs and tables,
dresser and records becoming the dykes. The mirror’s at an angle

to the world so it does not yield all its light at once. Everything’s our
subject before we become their subject, relying on memories to endure.

    All #Babishai2015 shortlisted poems can be read here:

  Photos of our festival can be viewed on our blog at

  Follow us on Twitter @BNPoetryAward

 Best Wishes!

 Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva
 And the Babishai Niwe team.

 Thanks to our partners:-

 Stichting Doen, The Uganda Museum, The Uganda Society, Urban TV, Power FM 104.1, Gilgal   Media Arts, Storymoja, Novel Concepts, Parresia Publishers, Sunday Trust Nigeria, Femrite,  Sooo Many Stories, Poetry in Session, Nation Media, Jalada Africa, Lawino Magazine, Touch FM 95.9, The Observer Uganda, tru-IT Uganda Limited, The New Vision, Goethe-Institut, Uganda Travel Bureau, Cross Cultural Foundation of Uganda and Malaika Educare.

#Babishai2016 festival takes place from 24 to 26 August 2016 - The Uganda Museum

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