By Iminza Keboge
Published September 7, 2017
Players in the East Africa movie sector have paid tribute to Benjamin Akpor Otebele (1956-2017) who died in a senior care home in the US. The USA-based Nigerian founder of Arusha African Film Festival (AAFF) in Tanzania passed away in Tacoma, Washington, USA, on August 31 2017.
East African Film Network (EAFN), a regional civil society for which the late Otebele served as Technical Advisor till his death, says: “Akpor will be remembered with fondness in every heart of an East African filmmaker as that committed brother, who with a smile and a chuckle, made us aware of what was great about this part of the continent- a sense of togetherness that is not easy to find elsewhere.”
In a statement issued by EAFN’s Vice Chair Martin Mhando of Tanzania but signed by EAFN Chair Leonce Ngabo of Burundi, EAFN says the late Akpor “showed us that being East African must be cherished; he etched it in our minds that our struggle is similar and therefore one; he cautioned us against that myopic thinking that never saw Africa as the world that it is but only a geographical entity baptised by some. It is Akpor who brought all of us together in Arusha in 2014, and moved us to all other parts of the world by making AAFF a global touring festival, that we shall always walk with as we journey towards where he has gone ahead of us.”
While Mary Birdi, Manager of AAFF and EAFN Country Representative for Tanzania says she has “lost a friend, brother, partner and mentor…who believed in transforming the film industry in Tanzania, who worked so hard day and night to make things happen,”
Grace Lindsay Mbabazi of Uganda who participated in an EAFN actors’ workshop held at AAFF in 2015 describes former AAFF director of AAFF as irreplaceable says the late Otebele “mentored me, believed in me, made me become great, made me sit where presidents sit,created many opportunities and opened many doors for me in my acting career.”
Actress Pretty Katende of Uganda says Otebele was “the only person who believed in me whole-heartedly when it comes to acting.”
“I will never forget the extent to which Akpor Otebele went in building me up personally and professionally,” says Floriane Kaneza of Burundi of Otebele, a former president of the Association of Theatre Arts Students at University of Ibadan in Nigeria under whose watch first edition of the Nigerian Universities Theatre Arts Festival (NUTAF) in 1980/1981.
Nile’s Diaspora International Film Festival (NDIFF) of Uganda whose founder is Phad Mutumba says of Otebele: “The work you’ve done for the film fraternity and especially the youth mentorship programmes in [East Africa] has been a great help in youth development and your departure leaves a deep hole that will be ever so hard to fill. You being one of the pillars on which we built the East African Film Network and a great African Film ambassador in the Diaspora means that EAFN will never be the same.”
Nairobi-based Lola Kenya Screen media and arts festival, skills-development and marketing platform for children and youth in eastern Africa, says: “We worked closely with the late Otebele in the East African Film Network”; that “The late Otebele co-facilitated our cinematography workshop in 2014 that brought children from Kampala, Kigali, Bujumbura, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar to Nairobi to collaborate with their Kenyan counterparts”; and that “Two films–KISWAHILI SAVES THE DAY and HOPES AND DREAMS–were realised.”