€1,000 Sarraounia Prize for Ugandan YA novel THE RAINMAKERS

School holidays, tech-savvy teens, and a mystery set in Uganda in Paul Kisakye’s THE RAINMAKERS…

By Olivia Snaije

It had been a while since I read a YA novel, but when I received Paul Kisakye’s The Rainmakers by post from the Dakar-based publisher, Amalion, along with the French language version, Les faiseurs de pluie, deftly translated from English by Marie Ndiaye, the clean cover design made me open the book right away, and when I began the short novel, I read it straight through. 

Sulaiman Adebowale, Paul Kisakye and Antoinette Tidjani Alou in Niamey, 2020

Paul Kisakye is a Ugandan-born writer and editor and has written a series of sci-fi novels for children. The Rainmakers, which is targeted for a 13-18-year-old age group, is the first recipient of the €1,000 Sarraounia Prize for Young Adult Fiction. The prize was launched in 2019 by the Arts & Culture programme at Abdou Moumouni University, Niger, and the publisher Amalion, to encourage the production of YA literature about African youth and to increase its availability for the largest segment of the population on the continent. The prize is awarded every two years to a work of unpublished YA fiction written in English, French, or Hausa, by African authors and illustrators based in Africa.

In The Rainmakers, the narrator is 15-year-old Tendo Katende, an only child who lives with his parents on a large farm. He has a close network of friends, one of whom he has just started to notice in a different way—when Babirye smiles, his heart skips a beat. 

It’s the school holidays, and instead of waking up at 6 am in order to catch the school bus that takes him to Mukungu High School, Tendo has been sleeping in and playing video games with his friends. But the video games are getting boring and one day the friends accompany Uncle James, one of the dads, who is a scientist and inventor, to drop off four machines he has invented at an electronics repair shop. The units use “omicron rays” to move rainclouds from one place to another and Uncle James has baptized them “Rainmakers”. 

This marks the beginning of holidays that turn out to be the opposite of boring, compounded by the arrival of Tendo’s mysterious Uncle Moses who arrives bearing the gift of a holographic video game. 

The Rainmakers has all the ingredients that should intrigue most YA readers: technology, friendship, the occasionally fraught relationship between teens and adults, an enigma that needs solving, and a burgeoning love story.

The book’s publisher, Sulaiman Adebowale of Amalion, is developing a YA fiction list, and for the moment produces books in French and English, but he eventually hopes to work with languages such as Amharic, Arabic, Bambara, Swahili, Fulani, Wolof, and Yoruba.

The Rainmakers is available in the original English version in the UK through Central Books, in Senegal, Ghana, Uganda, and East Africa and soon in Nigeria. The French version is available in Senegal, Niger, France, and Benelux through Pollen-difpop and in other countries via Amazon. The electronic version is available across countries in West and Central Africa via Youscribe and the Orange telephone network.

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Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris.