This year presented a bag of mixed fortunes for the arts and lifestyle in Kenya. OGOVA ONDEGO reviews the year.
It was during this period that the Embassy of France in Kenya decided to support artistic and cultural programmes through a local body, |Alliance Francaise, from January 2005. The new director of Alliance Francaise, Jean-Michel Frachet, assisted by Christian Randrianampizafy, will be expected to work closely with the AF in Mombasa and AF associate centre in Eldoret in supporting visual and performing arts and cultural dialogue between Kenya and the Francophone world.
Founded in 1883 in Paris by influential personalities like Louis Pasteur, Jules Verne and Ferdinand de Lesseps with the aim of promoting diversity in the linguistic and cultural fields, Alliance Francaise now has 1075 centres in 131 countries around the world. The Alliance Francaise de Nairobi, whose board of trustees is chaired by Jane Kiano, was established in 1949 and is currently the largest AF in the world.
Visual artists housed at the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) in Nairobi were in November 2004 forcibly evicted. The artists, who say they had been with the Kuona Art Trust Studio since 1995 when it was started as a non-profit making art trust, said they were victimised in a complicated yarn of intrigue of corruption, mismanagement and ineptitude involving a senior officer of the Ford Foundation in Nairobi. They alleged Kuona founding director Robert Burnet, who left the organisation in 1998 to take up the position of Arts, Media and Culture programmes officer at Ford Foundation’s Eastern Africa office in Nairobi, is still controlling Kuona using Ford Foundation that is a major funder of Kuona. Soon after receiving notices of eviction in 2003, fine artists had approached representatives of the audiovisual, mass media, visual and performing arts sectors who presented a petition to Dr Tade Aina, the Eastern African Representative of Ford Foundation, on November 25, 2003. Although the artists had pinpointed Burnet as being the one harassing them from his perch at Ford Foundation, Burnet had vowed at the meeting that he had nothing to do with Kuona Trust. Dr Aina had then promised that Ford Foundation would call a meeting with Kuona before the end of December 2003 and urge its programmes director, Judy Wanjiku Ogana, that artists be not ejected from Kuona until their grievances had been looked into and determined. It was in this meeting that Dr Aina had asked Burnet to confirm or deny that he had anything to do with Kuona and the latter had categorically said he had nothing to do with Kuona. In the petition presented to Ford Foundation, artists had accused Ford Foundation of running Kuona by “remote control”. “The personal involvement of the Ford Foundation’s Arts, Media, and Culture programme officer has resulted in officers of Kuona Trust being insensitive to artists,” a section of the petition had said. The artists lamented that their questioning of anomalies,exploitation of artists, misappropriation of funds at Kuona due to the influence of some individuals had led to their victimisation. When Kuona attempted to evict artists from the Art Studio within 24 hours on January 7, 2004, the latter had responded with a court injunction. “It would be grossly unfair for Kuona to use its perceived better standing with the Museum to ‘resolve’ the dispute by having the Museum evict artists,” a letter, by Mbugua Mureithi of Kituo cha Sheria, to Farah Omar Idle, director-general of the NMK, said. This resulted in a long drawn war of wits that led to Kuona relocating to pave way for the eviction of artists, as, it is said, they had no business remaining at the museum with whom they had no contract. It was through Kuona that they were operating from NMK. Peter Kimani of Nation Newspapers had quoted Idle as saying, “If there are major disagreements, that would call for a review of the memorandum of understanding.” And perhaps this is what came to be in the eviction of artists 10 months later.
Although not directly involved in the war of attrition that had seen the visual artists first sue Kuona Art Trust that was based at the NMK before suing the management of NMK as well for what they described as unfair treatment, performers Zamaleo Arts and Culture Trust was also shown the door. The artistic director of Zamaleo, Odero Aghan, protested saying he had reached a memorandum of understanding with NMK management before setting base here. “We asked the museum to give us a chance to interpret culture through performing arts and we have done this over the past seven years,” he said. “Performing and visual arts were meant to open doors of museum, bringing folklore to life.” He says this was done on a barter basis. “We interpreted culture during workshops, conferences and exhibitions through performances at museum. The museum is victimizing Zamaleo because of the trouble it is having with visual artists who have taken it to court.”
Two major films “The Constant Gardener and The White Maasai” and television features and series “Survivor Lebanon, The last Breakthrough, Die Patriachin, and Brothers of the head”, were made in Kenya and helped generate US$17 million for the country. A US$600,000 Survivor Spain reality television is set to begin shooting in January 2005. Sustained efforts to establish a film commission, set local content broadcast quotas, streamline the broadcast sector, the publishing of a Kenya film guide by ComMattersKenya, and the release of a survey findings on television broadcast programming in East Africa by Development Through Media were other landmarks of the sector in 2004. With the support of the Embassy of France, Kenyans continued to build capacity in areas like production, management, scripting, networking and infrastructure. There appeared to be a renewed interest in Kenya’s great variation and breathtaking locations that have earned some of the world’s greatest productions “Lion King, Out of Africa and Nowhere in Africa” success.
While Robai Musilivi Khamasi beat a field of 14 beauty queens from Asia, America and Europe in South Korea to the Miss University International title, the ministry of culture and Unilever developed what they termed a national dress for Kenya but that the populace largely ignored.
Kenyans Lydia Achieng Abura, Big Pin (Chrispin Mwangale), and DNG (Davidson Ngibuini) were declared winners at the controversial 9th KORA All Africa Music Awards in December 2004. While Abura jointly won the Best East African Female Artist Award with Ethiopian Tsedenia Gebremarkos, DNG was among three musicians declared Best Gospel Musician. Others were South African Deborah Fraser and Ivorian group Schekina. On the other hand, Big Pin was declared Best Male Artist in East Africa.
Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o returned to Kenya after more than two decades of self-imposed exile. Thugs attacked him and raped his wife at what was believed to be a calculated move at settling a family feud.
Gichora Mwangi, a theatre practitioner and founder of Karamu Trust, died on September 24. A teacher, actor, playwright, and director, Mwangi, 38, held a doctorate from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom