Abdilatif Abdalla

Kenyan poet and University teacher

Abdilatif Abdalla (born 1946) is a Kenyan writer and political activist. He was imprisoned for his support of the Kenya People's Union and began writing poetry in solitary confinement. A collection of poems from this time were published as a book titled Sauti ya Dhiki (Voice of Agony), which was awarded the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature.


  • I do not regard myself as a poet. And I am not saying this out of modesty. People say I am, but I really am not. I think a poet is someone who writes poetry oftenly. I don’t. I do so only occasionally – once in a very long while. For instance, if somebody had written an article or two on a particular topic in history, would you call that person a historian? To me, a poet is somebody who is always at it – composing poetry regularly, which I don’t. People just decided to call me a poet because of this one book, Sauti ya Dhiki, which I wrote when I was in prison. Perhaps if I would not have been imprisoned, maybe I would not have written any poetry. I do not know. So I do not regard myself as a poet, but as somebody who happened to have scribbled a few poems.
  • Imprisonment failed to break me. In fact it made me stronger. I came out of prison with a stronger conviction than when I went in. I always say jokingly that I thank the government for sending me to prison, because while there I got to know myself better and what I was capable of. That is why I continued with political activism after my release.
  • Because by writing, such writers – especially those who were imprisoned because of their writing, and while in prison were denied writing materials – are at the same time defying the powers that be and making a very bold statement that there is no way that they can be stopped from expressing their views through writing. In other words, by doing so they continue to resist against the very system, which imprisoned and restricted them.
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