By Japheth Ogila
Published May 19, 2014
An initiative aimed at turning Kenya into a creative industry focusing on motion pictures has been launched.
Dubbed ‘Machawood’, Machakos Entertainment Centre for Film, Media, Music and the Arts shall be located in Machakos in eastern part of the country not far from Nairobi.
The Government of Machakos County has set aside 50 acres of land on which to develop what is deemed to be Kenya (nay, eastern Africa)’s creative hub. The project has also received Sh60 million (about US$705, 000) from the Government that has constituted a special team to bring the project to reality.
As if to show the seriousness with which the project is taken, Governor Alfred Mutua of Machakos has already launched an 8,000-seat Machakos Stadium and Machakos People’s Park, complete with a water fountain, amphitheatre, benches and washrooms. Also in place is a comprehensive security plan that led to the purchase of 120 security vehicles, ambulances, security dogs and a call centre for security enhancement.
So, why is this anticipated creative industry in Kenya named ‘Machawood’?
Just like the film industry in the United States of America and India was branded ‘Hollywood’ and ‘Bollywood’, respectively, Though much more ambitious even more than USA’s ‘Hollywood’ and India’s ‘Bollywood’, the Machakos project—perhaps not to lose the unforgettable ‘-wood’—is being called ‘Machawood’.
While welcoming the development as being in the right direction as it will create employment, generate revenue to the exchequer and attract tourism through branding, analysts are calling for caution and thorough planning based on relevant and appropriate research to avoid the pitfalls such an ambitious project could fall in.
What sparked the debate on April 4, 2014 were set of photographs on ‘Machowood’ that Eddie Irura of Film Kenya magazine posted on the Group page of Lola Kenya Screen on Facebook.
This is how the discussion went:
Et Cetera: Eddie, what exactly is being built; offices, studios, sets, theatres?
Ogova Ondego: Do they start with buildings or with investment in film people; building capacity, human resource?
Eddie Irura: They start with a vision to develop a resource that is intended to be available to the communities around Machakos for development of audiovisual media productions.
Et Cetera: I think human resource is a key component. You could end up with buildings that are not staffed or occupied. Unless they are giving some form of incentive, it will be tricky for a Nairobi filmmaker to move their entire production to Machawood.
Mwangi Kaburugu Kbg: We appreciate what Machawood is doing…but I think in as much as infrastructure is important, it’s better to even do a film or other project fully under Machawood so that the artistic part of the project can begin.
Eddie Irura: Human Resource and Skill sets can be migrated, employed and available at the development. The construction of Machawood in my regard isn’t intended for Nairobi or Mombasa filmmakers to migrate their production houses to Machakos but to prop up Machawood as a resource, first to residents of Machakos. It is aimed at opening up the entire Machakos region as a filming destination.
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Ogova Ondego: Human resource development (investing in people), not in buildings, would be priority. Buildings can come later. Once the people whose capacity for production has been enhanced. Ever heard of Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort in Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria? More than Sh29, 750, 000, 000 (US$350, 000, 000) was sank in the project; its entertainment strip hosts a movie production studio called Studio Tinapa or Nollywood, a digital cinema, a casino, a children’s arcade, restaurants, a mini amphitheatre, a night club, pubs, open trade exhibition area, among other amenities. But know what? Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort hasn’t generated any dividends to the government that built it; it is being sold. I toured the place, took pictures, talked to people, and shed a tear or two. Machawood could learn from that experience and begin by equipping the creative people with skills before setting up buildings. This is free money-saving and disappointment-avoidance advice.
Ogova Ondego: Eddie Irura, how much capital is Dr Alfred Mutua’s Administration allocating to this project? Ksh29, 750,000,000? Most of us sing praises of Nollywood all the time; why has Nollywood Studio, complete with a digital cinema and government support, failed to take off to the extent the Cross River State Government is looking for private investors to buy it?
Karanja John: What I would like you to do, Ogova Ondego, is to visit Machawood and if you get a chance to talk to the governor, you will get the business thinking behind the model….it is not about the building….I do get your point and I believe that it is 1000% valid, but if Machawood does not start, Dr Mutua’s vision for a film industry in Ukambani will never come to be….and the business he sees out of the venture will never come to pass….we shall never know what might have been….
Mwendwa Mutua: Human resource would have been the priority in this case. Starting a film industry in a region where nobody makes films is not an easy task unless producers from Nairobi migrate to Machawood.
Ogova Ondego: It isn’t bad to have a horse. It isn’t bad to have a cart. But it isn’t advisable to have the cart before the horse. I revisit the Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort in view of what Mwendwa Mutua’s just said—Starting a film industry in a region where nobody makes films is not an easy task unless producers from Nairobi migrate to Machawood; that’s just what the Cross River State Government was told: Set up your ‘film village’ where videos are made. The Governor, hell-bent on proving a point before his term ended, disregarded the advice and his project became, yes, a white elephant.
Machakos, a semi arid land, is about 40 kilometres from Nairobi. Most people who make film in Kenya are based in Nairiobi, not Machakos. This casts the viability of this project in doubt.
Like Calabar that was to rely on Lagos City for business, Machakos shall rely on Nairobi City—like Lagos, Nairobi is the home of skills, investors, infrastructure and consumers—unless a new model of business is invented.
I couldn’t sum up this better than Mwendwa Mutua: “Starting a film industry in a region where nobody makes films is not an easy task unless producers from Nairobi migrate to Machawood.”