Nairobi's cultural heritage under scrutiny 

Joy Mboya speaking at the Tamaduni Conference on July 24, 2023. PHOTO | POOL

Count on Prof Kimani Njogu and his Twaweza Communications to tackle the tough cultural questions like how to get the county government fully engaged in strengthening Nairobi culture in all its diverse genres, including cultural heritage.

It began last week at Kenya Cultural Centre during ‘Tamaduni Conversations Nairobi’ when Dr Mshai Mwangola gave a thumbnail history of Nairobi and her historical perspective enhanced by Joy Mboya, (founder-executive director of the GoDown Art Centre) who noted Nairobi was culturally multi-layered, starting with the Maasai.

The rest of the layers were constructed, she added. A trained architect who’s been involved with the culture sector since she was eight, Joy recalled the poem on elves that she performed at a music festival that year.

She had memorized it so well that she spontaneously shared it while on the first-panel discussion of the day.

Creatives who attended the Tamaduni Conference July 24, 2023, at Kenya Cultural Centre. PHOTO | POOL

Having teamed up with British Council to explore issues of cultural heritage and county government, Twaweza’s Irene Cege introduced the rest of the first panel which included Department of Culture’s Julius Manzi, UNESCO’s Judy Ogana, and Maurice Otieno of Baraza Media Lab.

It was Manzi who reminded us the first framework best used to address issues of cultural heritage was Kenya’s 2010 Constitution.

That’s because it identifies Culture as the bedrock of social development. He also noted there is a Nairobi City Culture Act, but admitted it needed more input from the cultural sector.

Fortunately, Twaweza had also invited Humphrey Otieno from Nairobi County government to participate in the cultural heritage conversation.

Otieno has already been engaged with cultural practitioners like TICAH (Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health).

It had been through his support that TICAH has a regular monthly drummers’ session in the park in front of the former Hilton Hotel.

He also approved their creating murals in various parts of CBD, including the long wall across from Jivanjee Garden near Globe Cinema roundabout.    

Public spaces in Nairobi like the ones TICAH has already beautified were another subject that panelists and Twaweza wanted to address.

That was why Sarakasi Trust was invited to attend, represented by Marion (aka Mama Sarakasi) Op het Veld.

Sarakasi had formerly been the commercial Shah Cinema but currently, it is a performance centre that Marion says is mainly used to train acrobats and dancers, but it’s also available for public use by other artists.

How to generate more public spaces was a key concern raised. But Otieno said the County government is prepared to assist more cultural groups once they come forward and engage with him.

One group that has utilized public space while also engaging at the grassroots with the local community is the Wajukuu Art Centre.

Based in Mukuru Lunga Lunga, it’s a public space frequently referred to as an informal settlement. But Joy noted it should just be called what it is, a settlement.

Wajukuu was represented on the second panel by Ngugi Waweru who just got back from Germany where the centre just won first prize from Documenta, (a leading European cultural festival) for its qualitative engagement with the local community.

Dr Mshai Mwangola-Gitonga moderating the Tamaduni Conference at Kenya Cultural Centre on July 24, 2023. PHOTO | POOL

The panel also included Churchill Ongere from the Kuona Artists Collective, and African Art Matters’ founder and lead writer Peter Achayo.

Moderated by Dr Lydia Muthuma of the Technical University of Kenya, she admitted that her degrees in Art History were grounded in European, not African art.

But hopefully, writers like Achayo will generate sufficient information on Kenyan and African art to create books and blogs to raise awareness of what Judy Ogana described as a vibrant Nairobi culture.

One point that Joy raised was that while mapping out sectors of the city, GoDown found that most communities are segregated from one another in the city, either by geography or choice.

Despite this reality, Judy still contended Nairobi was a vibrant cultural hub both nationally and regionally.

She and others suggested that having more cultural festivals was one vital way to bridge the gap between communities and rouse awareness of the city’s wealth of indigenous culture and cultural heritage.

Otieno also observed that more cultural festivals would make Kenya all the more appealing. As such, he suggested cultural groups also need to engage with the Ministry of Tourism since Nairobi and Kenya as a whole have much to offer culturally, not just in terms of wildlife.

In the end, what was agreed was that more needs to be done for cultural heritage, the main one being to devise a Strategy for strengthening structural links between cultural heritage and county government.

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.