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When artistes stood for the African dream





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At a round-table session held to celebrate Prof Austin Bukenya a little over a fortnight ago, the subject of FESTAC ‘77, also known as the Second World Black Festival of Arts and Culture, repeatedly came up.

Veteran thespian Steenie Njoroge was in attendance at #BukenyaForum, and he had with him a copy of Kenya’s souvenir programme for FESTAC ’77, which was held from January 15 to February 12, 1977. When I saw it, almost 40 years after the event, I had this strong urge to make sense of our participation at that famous festival.

If you mention FESTAC in Nigeria, there are two places that immediately ring home. One, is the federal housing estate, located on the Lagos-Badagry expressway, initially created as the accommodation for delegates of the festival. The estate has lost the glory it once held and many of the houses are now owned by private individuals.

The second, more popular connotation is the National Theatre in Iganmu, Lagos, home to the Festac Festival. This international event brought together 75 countries and communities from all over the world.

Today, the National Theatre remains a major tourist attraction. It is documented that 9,546 participants and over 550 visitors attended the event from 62 FESTAC delegations.

To look through the archives of Festac’ 77 and situate the discussion in Nairobi requires a visit to the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC) located on Broad Street, Lagos. CBAAC was established in 1979 and houses all the materials and core collections relating to FESTAC’ 77.

A walk up the stairs, leading to the offices and archives section brings you face to face with a framed image of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Mzee’s portrait accompanies those of Sir Seretse Khama of Botswana, Rwanda’s Juvenal Habyarimana and Gaafar Nimeiry, who was President of Sudan from 1969 to 1985.

These portraits speak briefly of the Pan-African efforts of that era.

CBAAC’s archives section is well-organised and it is easy to retrieve data from it. Although the official English programme is absent, there are several in French, which was the second language of the event.

There are data registration cards for participants from all the countries and from Kenya, a young Professor Micere Mugo leads the pack followed by a host of other artistes, some alive, some having long left us.

Lenny Juma, Paul Onsongo, Katana Kazungu, Allaudin Qureshi, Sharad Sandakass and Njeri Mwotia were present. So were David Maillu, Chris Wanjala, Francis Imbuga and the late Seth Adagala, who directed The Trial of Dedan Kimathi in Nairobi.

Adagala is also remembered as the first African director of the Kenya National Theatre, the man who pioneered the very worthy National Theatre Drama School, which was opened by Tom Mboya, the then minister for Economic Planning.

For the event, Imbuga wrote Betrayal in the City, and Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Micere Mugo co-authored The Trial of Dedan Kimathi.

They depicted the struggles of the people towards independence as well as those of a pseudo-liberal society showing that the reality was “not yet Uhuru”. Both plays were published in 1976, and prepared for the stage by the Festac’ 77 drama troupe.


These Kenyan productions shared the stage with LANGBODO, an adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s A Forest of a Thousand Demons and Kinjeketile from Tanzania.

Although hugely successful at Festac and well received, it had not been an easy run for the Kenyan troupe. Back home, local playwrights and actors had to contend with issues of nationalism, ownership and the identity of African theatre almost daily.

In a series of articles written by Wanjala, Hillary Ng’weno, Phillip Ochieng and Imbuga, there were repeated calls for the opening up of the cultural space at the Kenya National Theatre in the face of the then expatriate owners.

An article written in the Sunday Nation on October 10, 1976, by Seth Adagala detailed the struggle and “Long Hard Battle to stage Kimathi Play.”

In 2015, Prof Ngugi would allude to this struggle in his speech at the official opening of the newly-refurbished KNT. The belief of his generation of thespians was that Kenyans had the right to partake of their own nationalism before the plays, which had not been previously performed on stage, were performed for a larger international audience.

All sorts of reasons were given by the powers that were then, to prevent Kimathi from being staged, including the claim that there was a dearth of African audiences in Nairobi’s theatres.

“After a struggle and some outcry from the press, we were given three days to present the play,” said Ngugi.

The theatre was filled, much to the surprise of the naysayers. This episode, however, would be the beginning of Ngugi’s run-ins with the government of the day.

Much has changed over those years in the thinking that brought Africa together at what was arguably its largest gathering of the arts in that decade. Festac’ 77 had been preceded by the First Black Cultural Festival held in Dakar, Senegal, in 1966.

Incidentally, the ideas calling for a “resurgence” of the black man’s culture, as if it had been lost somewhere, were mooted in Paris in 1956 when the Pan African Cultural Society called a meeting of Negro Writers and Artistes to discuss the same.

Public discussions on the African continent 40 years later are more about leadership, peace and security than about our commitment to cultural promotion. Forums like #BukenyaForum are valuable because they allow us to go back in history and assess the gains we have made at national, regional, continental and personal levels in achieving the kind of Africa we want.

The question of African identity still stands, 40 years after FESTAC and now it is inescapably threatened by that age-old link between our land and eager masters of economic imperialism who are aided by self-serving leaders. Perhaps, it is time for another FESTAC.

Ms Mucheke works with Santuri Media and is author of a forthcoming title, Looking back at 50 Years of Lagos”.


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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard




Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.


However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard




President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health




Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.


Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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