The Nobel Prize for literature has been awarded to the novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah, for his “uncompromising and passionate” portrayals of the effects of colonialism.

Gurnah was born in Zanzibar, Tanzania, in 1948, but now lives in Britain. He is the first African to win the award — considered the most prestigious in world literature — in almost two decades.

“Characters find themselves in a hiatus between cultures and continents, between a life that was and a life emerging; it is an insecure state that can never be resolved,” the Nobel Committee for Literature said in a statement.

“Gurnah’s dedication to truth and his aversion to simplification are striking,” the committee said. “This can make him bleak and uncompromising, at the same time as he follows the fates of individuals with great compassion and unbending commitment.”

This is the fourth Nobel accolade to be given out this week, after the awarding of the three science prizes. The winner of the peace prize will be announced on Friday.

He is the fifth overall, after Wole Soyinka of Nigeria in 1986, Naguib Mahfouz of Egypt, who won in 1988; and the South African winners Nadine Gordimer in 1991 and John Maxwell Coetzee in 2003.

The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday in Oslo. Last year, the award went to the World Food Program.

The Nobel in economic science will be announced in Stockholm on Oct. 11. Last year’s prize was shared by Paul R. Milgrom and Robert B. Wilson, the inventors of new auction formats which have been used by governments to allocate scarce resources.