Although representatives of Kenyan artists were in Tanzania during the 20th Bagamoyo Festival of the Arts to learn how to manage art lest they be left behind by their colleagues in the East Africa Theatre Institute( EATI) member countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania), it was sad to note that they remained where they have always been–in a limbo. For this, they stand to lose an estimated Sh9 million from the Swedish International Development Agency, OGOVA ONDEGO reports.
EATI secretary, Godwin Kaduma, said he found it ridiculous that Ethiopians, Ugandans and Tanzanians have already established their chapters of EATI while Kenyans continue to haggle over donor funds. “At first they were supposed to be represented by KIDEA in EATI but artists formed Kenya Association of Theatre Actors (KATA) headed by Wakanyote Njuguna, Peter Mudamba and Catherine Kariuki which later broke up on allegations of financial impropriety. Mudamba and Kariuki formed a splinter KATA which cannot be recognised by EATI,” Kaduna said. Mudamba, Kariuki and Odero Aghan-whose presence in Tanzania was questioned by EATI and Kenyan thespians-went to Bagamoyo as representatives of individual arts groups and not as EATI representatives, according to Kariuki, the EATI resource person. Mudamba, the former treasurer of KATA, says “Kenyan artists should be given a chance as their leadership is the one that went a little astray. Whether we have an EATI chapter or not, Kenya had to be represented in Bagamoyo.” In a swift attempt to salvage their image and perhaps keep the Sh9 million Swiss money, Kenyans have now formed Institute of Performing Artists Limited (IPAL) to implement EATI activities in Kenya on an interim basis. Its directors are Mudamba, Kariuki, Aghan, Agnes Aabala, Mweni Lundi, and Blak Odanyiro.
They held a meeting in Nairobi on December 14 at which 24 participants drawn from universities, non-governmental organisations, and mainstream theatre groups were represented. A four-member subcommittee comprising Patrick Kwamchetsi Makokha, Sammy Mwangi, Joy Masheti and Neema Bagamuhunda has been seconded to IPAL to draw up guidelines, work plans, and time frame within which the Kenya chapter of EATI should be set up.
“The IPAL board is overseeing the process-not implementing it- to guard against mistakes made by KATA,” Mudamba says. “Through this subcommittee, we are separating policymakers from its implementers.” The artistic director of Mbalamwezi Players, Mudamba says the immediate goals of IPAL are to set up a secretariat, and hold workshops for playwrights and acrobatics for streetpeople. As to whether their activities are just a Nairobi affair, Mudamba says “all areas where theatre is active-Mombasa, Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu, Nyeri- are represented.” Kariuki, the former secretary of KATA, says the split came as a result of funds being misappropriated by chairman Njuguna.
A probe committee, headed by Odanyiro, had investigated KATA and recommended that Njuguna refunds the missing money (Sh130000). Perhaps to preempt the recommendations of the probe team, Mudamba and Kariuki say Njuguna called an election on a Sunday, had himself re-elected chairman and threw them out. Moreover, he brought two of the three people who had investigated him on board. However Njuguna denies any malpractice simply saying “there was a power struggle in KATA with Odanyiro’s eyes focused on chairmanship.” In other words, he is being demonised by people who wanted his position. Following the contentious elections, Kariuki says “we asked EATI headquarters in Dar es Salaam to close KATA’s account.”
She adds that SIDA had even recommended they place a disclaimer in the Press denouncing Njuguna after failing to reconcile him with the others. It was Kariuki who took representatives of theatre groups to Bagamoyo in her role as EATI resource person, she says, adding that before launching IPAL the bickering was jeopardising three years of funding meant to benefit artists. KATA had already received a year’s funding and a furter Sh1.4 million is being held until the differences are resolved, Kariuki explains. Odanyiro’s report had recommended that the whole KATA committee be censured and a constitution be drawn to prevent abuse and engender accountability and transparency of office bearers.
A community theatre and participatory education expert, Odanyiro says the attitude of greedy individuals using the names of artists for selfish reasons is working against the development of the arts in Kenya. He argues that the practise has gone on for far too long and that it is not confined to KATA. “Groups like KIDEA, Association of children and young people (ASSITEJ), and International Theatre Institute have all had problems in the past because they have been personalised,” he says. Mumbi Kaigwa laments that unlike Tanzanians and Ugandans who are united and solve their own problems, theatre practitioners in Kenya operate as inward-looking lone rangers. “There is no communal spirit amongst them,” she says, adding that she is not even aware of the existence of IPAL. But why should she, a major player on the arts scene who owns two theatre outfits-The Theatre Company and The Children’s Theatre- be kept in the dark? She has been in theatre for more than 25 years.
Also unaware of the existence of IPAL are Phoenix Players, vernacular theatre groups and numerous artists who insist no one can claim to speak for them. Could IPAL be just another body riding on the backs of theatre practitioners to enrich a few self-appointed ‘leaders’?