At a ceremony held on 27th of August, during the 2016 Writivism Festival, the inaugural Okot p’Bitek Prize for Poetry in Translation was awarded to Kenyan Poet Redscar McOdindo K’Oyugi ahead of the other two finalists Okwudili Nebeolisa and Gbenga Adesina. However, on 8th of October 2016, our attention was drawn to extremely serious allegations of plagiarism levied against Mr. McOdindo and following an involved investigation, it was found that “A Dua for the Masses”, one of the poems Mr. McOdindo submitted to the prize jury for consideration—ultimately leading him to win the prize, had been heavily plagiarised from Zanzooba Magdoos’s poem of a similar title. Another submitted poem “She was born natural” was also found to have heavily been plagiarized from a poem by Nijla titled “I was born natural” (2013).
Plagiarism is theft. In the strongest terms, we condemn incidents and practices of plagiarism. We believe in and vouch for originality of thought and condemn any theft of ideas.
We accordingly revoke the prize award and all the antecedent benefits, from Mr. McOdindo. We are deeply disappointed at the disrespect with which he treated all institutions he submitted plagiarised work to. We are disappointed that he treated the Okot p’Bitek prize with the same disregard. We sought him out, because we cared about his wellbeing, and the general rule of fairness in all matters. We did our best to offer him an opportunity to explain himself. We believed that engaging him on the issue would be a learning process for him, and provide a window for our own and his accountability. His refusal to cooperate, his refusal to honour any of our attempts to communicate with him, with even an acknowledgement, not to mention a reply has left us no option.
We deeply regret the fact that in the first year as a new Prize Writivism did not have in place a plagiarism check as part of our evaluation process for submissions, and we have put measures to ensure that this will not happen again. We apologise to all individuals and entities associated with the prize for our breach of the duty to protect the integrity of the prize. We also apologise to the Okot p’Bitek estate, family and the entire community associated with the great poet’s legacy, for having failed to protect its integrity through anti-plagiarism processes. We will be refunding the prize amount back to the donor.
Writivism will continue to learn and build on this unfortunate experience and continue striving to support arts and culture, particularly writing/literature, both poetry and prose in its future work, which could not be achieved without the support of our friends, partners, supporters and donors.