Monday, May 23, 2016

African Writers You Should Know: Jackee Budesta Batanda

The first story I read written by Ugandan writer Jackee Budesta Batanda was her story Dora’s Turn which was highly commended in the old Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Short Story Competition (CBA). It’s about two girls, friends, who are child soldiers. I read it nearly ten years ago and still I think of it often, such a powerful story written in under 600 words.

Jackee has gone on to win many writing awards since then. The most prominent, at least for her fiction, would be winning the 2003 Commonwealth Short Story Competition for African Region. She said winning that award was one of the most exciting things to happen to her as a writer.  I was still an undergrad at the time of winning. That was the affirmation I needed to keep on writing at a young age. I believe all young writers need that kind of validation, if only to tell them, that they are doing fine and they need to keep on.”

Jackee is a journalist, author, speaker and senior managing partner with SuccessSpark Brand Limited, a communications and educational company specialising in media relations, content creation, digital communications and educational programmes.  They are best known for their writing workshops and mentoring programmes.

Jackee has had her writing published around the world in publications such as The New York Times, Boston Globe, Latitude News, The Global Post, The Star- Africa Edition, The Mail & Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Independent, The Guardian, The Sunday Vision and The Sunday Monitor, as well as in numerous anthologies. She’s a recipient of the Ugandan 2010 Young Achievers Awards and was among 39 writers under 40 chosen as most likely to shape the future of literature on the continent. Her story is included in Africa39 an anthology with short fiction from those 39 writers.

In 2012 she was featured in The London Times alongside nineteen women shaping the future of Africa. That same year she was a finalist in The 2012 Trust Women Journalism Awards hosted by Thomson Reuters Foundation and International Herald Tribune. She holds an MA in Forced Migration Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, a BA in Communication Studies from Makerere University, and a Diploma in Education from Kyambogo University.

I asked her about her novel, A Lesson of Forgetting, that I’d heard she was working on.  She said, “It follows the life of a former spy chief in a dictatorial regime who is released after 25 years in life imprisonment. His return reawakens a country’s amnesia of the past and explores how nations and their people helplessly deal with the mechanisms set up to handle past atrocities and heal wrongs. It also sees how he tries to reconcile with his family. It is still a work in progress and has been on the back burner as I focus on revising, Our Time of Sorrow, about an apocalyptic cult murder based on a true incident in Uganda March 2000, where members of cult were burnt to death as they waited for the end of the world.”

Writers living, writing, and publishing in Africa face many challenges. I asked Jackee what she thinks the single biggest problem facing writers in Uganda and on the continent is. “A vibrant publishing industry. Most of the companies are small and lack funds to adequately market the works and produce good quality works. Of course there are so few opportunities for new writers, and the established outlets, suffer from cronyism, where only a small circle of writers benefit.”

For us in Southern Africa, you find that South Africa acts like a mecca to writers, as a place with more publishing opportunities. I asked Jackee what the climate was like in East Africa, if they had a mecca too.  “In East Africa, Kenya would be the mecca, with more publishing opportunities for writers. However, there is a shift with more young writers opening up publishing houses. They are in their nascent stages so we are yet to see their impact,” she said.

And what about integration and cooperation between writers in East Africa?  “There are a numbers of festivals and initiatives coming up which offer an opportunity for writers to interact. Examples are The StoryMoja Festival, Writivism Festival, Kahini Writers Festival, Babishai Niwe Poetry Festival, FEMRITE writers’ annual residency and the African Writers’ Trust Conference. ”

Jackee has accomplished so much, but I asked her in a perfect world where would she want to be as a writer and she said, “I would be published, preferably, by a group of African publishers, and have my books read all over the continent.   I would be running more writing workshops around the continent. The two things I am passionate about are writing and teaching about writing.”

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