Kenya’s Election Season Ironically Boosts Creative Industry

Kenya’s Election Season Ironically Boosts Creative Industry

“It’s a simple case of pure Economics, really,” points out Boniface Mwangi, a photo-activist and founder of the Nairobi-based hub for journalists and visual artists, Pawa254. “Virgin (Atlantic) pulled out of Kenya because the market was not conducive enough for them after the travel advisory was issued against Kenya. Meanwhile, for the hubs, it was a busy period as we had a duty to cover the elections, or facilitate their smooth conduct.”

Given the violence that arose after the last elections, there has been concerted effort from political leaders, local media and civil society alike to avoid a repeat of 2008, before, during and after the elections.

Creative hubs contributed their bit, using the facilities at their disposal to complement the peace effort. In September last year, the iHub launched Umati, which is the Swahili word for “a crowd.” Umati is a hate-speech monitoring platform. Pawa254 launched a Citizen Journalism initiative, allowing for real-time reportage of electioneering and election proceedings.

Joram Mwinamo, Managing Director of Wylde International, believes that this level of participation, innovation and initiative is the key to balanced development in Africa.

“Seventy percent of the next business growth opportunities globally are in Africa. Africa is where to make the money. If we’re not careful, however, the second scramble of Africa will occur, and yet again exclude Africans in the process of this growth,” he said in a speech at the first year anniversary of the Creatives Garage, a community of creative professionals based in Nairobi. He also serves as Chairman of the community’s board of trustees.

While in the past Nairobi’s River Road, a street that has become a metonym for creative industry in Kenya, was the most visible manifestation of creativity, the art scene has boldly grown to near mainstream status. Unlike in River Road, which has often been associated with piracy, there is now growing clamour for formal policy in the creative industry. This would go a long way towards the acceptance of this industry as a fully-grown sector of the economy. Policy structures will be essential in improving the sector’s performance and profitability.

Kenyans need to be more involved in the cultural and arts scenes, according to Mwai. “We have art exhibitions at the Go Down Arts Center, open freely to the public every day from 9am to 5pm, except on Sundays. We are located barely five minutes (drive) from town, in Nairobi’s Industrial Area. Yet we still have more foreign visitors than we do Kenyans,” she revealed.

The Go Down Arts Center recently launched a marketing campaign for a festival of festivals celebrating Nairobi, dubbed Nai Ni Who? (Who is Nairobi?).

Nai Ni Who recently held a 12-week festival in various parts of Nairobi, which was backed overwhelmingly by pro bono support from international sponsors, corporate donors and local media alike. The confidence with which investors have supported them, Mwai reckons, stems entirely from their grit and proven reputation.

“Of course there are those who will question the donations and wonder if we are driven by money or passion. To them, I say, our actions define us.”

The promise of growth in Kenya’s creative industry is evident, and with the past government having set up a creative task force to work on streamlining conversation towards policy formulation in the industry, the best is yet to come.