By Bamuturaki Musinguzi
Published August 29, 2012
Although cultural events and festivals are recognised globally for their substantial role in cultural interaction and socio-economic development, organisers of such events in Africa lament the lack of support from their respective governments that also force them to pay all manner of suffocating and crippling fees to the state in order to operate.
Ogova Ondego, managing trustee and creative director of Africa’s first and only audiovisual media festival, learn-as-you-do mentorship programme and market specifically and exclusively designed for children and youth, writes in the introduction to the catalogue of the 5th annual Lola Kenya Screen in 2010: “Unless the authorities create an enabling environment for us, this 5th edition of Lola Kenya Screen could be the final festival we present as currently constituted. We are a not-for-profit organization without any share capital or assets…Is it asking too much to lament that the government of Kenya is being grossly unfair to us when it demands that we pay 25% Import Duty and 16% Value added Tax on every DVD/CD sent to us for the use of a purely cultural, non-commercial festival in which participation is free? Where in the world do festivals pay import duty on cultural films?”
Ondego’s sentiments are echoed by Sauti za Busara Music Festival director Yusuf Mahmoud, immediate former Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF)’s director Martin Mhando and Kenya International Film Festival (KIFF)’s director Charles Asiba.
Sauti za Busara Music Festival, held annually since 2004, is said to be a significant boost to the local Zanzibari economy
“When we started Sauti za Busara, February was a low tourism season in Zanzibar. Now it is peak season because of the festival. The Commission for Tourism statistics show the numbers of visitors to the islands during February each year has increased by more than 400% since the festival started,” says Mahmoud.
But this does not mean that the going is easier for Sauti za Busara. Mahmoud notes that Busara receives zero cash support from the governments in Zanzibar and Tanzania where it is located. Instead of receiving contributions from the National Arts Council of Zanzibar better known by its Kiswahili name, Baraza la Sanaa Zanzibar (BASAZA) or local government, in reality it is the other way round with Busara paying thousands of dollars each year for licenses and permits to BASAZA, the Board of Censors, Ministry for Information (for press permits), Zanzibar Municipality (to put posters on the streets), to Immigration (artists’ visas), not to mention costs for hiring the venue.
Prof Martin Mhando lists financing as the biggest challenge to organising festivals in East Africa.
“Having to raise a substantial amount of money each year makes a living hell for the festival director and the administration team. Sponsors and donors do not wish to consider funding for at least three years which would help in managing programming and assuring quality but always insist on single-year funding followed by three months of post-festival evaluation and another six months of discussions for the next festival’s funding,” Mhando tells ArtMatters.Info, musing that “a festival director’s job criteria includes capacity to beg and to never get angry with donors or sponsors.”
Sauti za Busara’s Yusuf Mahmoud says they are “continually under pressure from donors to diversify income and make the festival more sustainable. Embassies in Dar-es-Salaam question why we keep returning to them for support when local government and businesses are getting so much revenue around festival time with all the extra visitors. Donors that used to support the festival tell us the only way to be sustainable is through Public Private Partnership (PPP.”
Festival director Asiba writes in KIFF’s 2012 Report that KIFF has not had a permanent secretariat but has been hosted variously by his own Film Africa and the Kenya Film Commission.
“The festival has not been able to attract funding for the office operations which includes the hiring of the relevant and skilled staff necessary for effective festival management,” KIFF says.
KIFF was inaugurated in 2006 with the support of the Embassy of France in Kenya. For the first five years, the French Embassy supported the running of the Festival secretariat including allowances for the festival director.
During the last two years, the festival has survived on the personal donations of Jim Shamoon–the current KIFF Trust chairman, his company Bluesky Productions–and the personal sacrifice from festival director Asiba who, we are told, has offered his services free of charge.
But why would that be of any surprise to anyone when the Nairobi-based Lola Kenya Screen, with all its year-round programmes , almost wholly supported by managing trustee Ondego?
Prof Mhando argues that the other challenge to festival management is government interference. “For example, we still have to show all our films to the Zanzibar Censor Board. We have argued that since this is a festival and not a commercial venture and films are shown only once or twice at most, there is no need to have the films censored.”
“In 2007,” Ondego says, “the Kenya Film Censorship Board had threatened to cancel the second Lola Kenya Screen festival as we could not afford their film rating fees. However, we reached a compromise with them in the nick of time enabling the festival to proceed as planned though the first day was disrupted. Since then, we always work on some kind of partnership with KFCB that sees them waive the rating fee. But every film we screen has to be submitted to them for vetting.”
Dr Mhando says that another insidious challenge to festival organisers is the expectation some people have in how a festival should be. “There are those who think all festivals have to look and feel like Festival de Cannes, Venice or Berlinale. We laugh at those because clearly they do not understand the cultural base of “festivals” in general. Festivals are a global driving force behind the circulation of ideas and the sense of identity. Why have Cannes in Zanzibar? For that matter why have Zanzibar in Berlin?”
ZIFF also suffers from Zanzibar’s lack of cinemas.Â “There is no single cinema in Zanzibar and therefore we have to show films in hotel and museum halls. Of course we have the magnificent amphitheatre of the Old Fort where 1,500 people congregate each evening to watch films for the 10 festival evenings. However, during the daytime we have to use small venues that do not inhere the cinema experience,” Mhando says.
Fesival organisers also express worry over the danger of over relying on donor funds to run their annual programmes.
“At ZIFF we are now concentrating on enlarging our local sponsorship base because we recognize that they are the best guarantee of our sustainability. From the days of 100% dependence on foreign donor support ZIFF is now only 25% dependent on foreign funds,” Mhando says. “…foreign donors often have their own cultural values and views of what festivals should be and it is not easy to change the thinking of those who have the power of money. Interference in how festivals should run- for instance, copying the western models only leads to modern slavery.”
For Sauti za Busara to continue in Zanzibar, Mahmoud says, “We are of the opinion that the local government needs to contribute somehow, as well as airlines, hotels, restaurants and bars and other businesses that profit during the time of and because of the festival.”
“Another idea we have is that for every visitor arriving to Zanzibar throughout the year, let’s say $2 goes into a kitty or mfuko for cultural events, which is managed by the Ministry for Culture or an independent body,” Mahmoud adds.
Mahmoud argues that festivals and other cultural institutions could then apply to this fund for assistance, with applications being supported on basis of merit. “If a simple scheme like this could be implemented by our government, all our festivals will have an element of financial security year on year, and it may even encourage the startup of new cultural events for the islands.”
Though saying the government of Zanzibar supports ZIFF in limited ways–we have a most sumptuous office in the Old Fort in Zanzibar and they support us during the festival by providing immigration, police services and other political support–Mhando says “the government needs to recognise that this is a major investment that needs sustaining and if we lose it the government would be losing a major source of socio-political pride as well as financial and commercial benefits.”
Dr Rudo Sithole, executive director of the International Council of African Museums (Africom), says African governments support the cultural sector but usually not to the required levels.
Dr Sithole says African governments often have much more pressing issues–healthcare, transport, food security and in some cases conflicts–to deal with. “As a result, culture and museums are usually among the lowest government priorities. They need, however, to realise that culture and development are closely linked and that it is necessary to harness the good aspects of our cultures for the development of the continent.”