The last week of May 2024 was tremendously rewarding and rejuvenating to me both professionally and spiritually.

You see, I had travelled to Cape Town for the launch of a master blueprint framework document that will lead to the creation of an important scientific consortium with potential of catalyzing impact on research especially that that impinges on health research. The African Population Cohorts Consortium (APCC) is an exciting new initiative bringing African scientists together to strengthen and promote excellence in cohort-based research on the continent. The overarching aim is to improve the health and well-being of populations across the African continent, deploying robust and innovative methods, and improve the health and social systems that serve them. Towards the end of April, 2021 a good friend made a ‘side pass’ to me by alerting me of a new request for proposals from then then Wellcome Trust (now Wellcome) of the UK. 

I had just ended my tenure as Team Leader of a management team for the East Africa Research Fund (EARF) and was thus open to pursue this opportunity. My first task was to identify a deserving implementing institution since this work could not be done by an individual consultant. The hunt was successful and I ended up being a co-Investigator of an excellent team of practitioners and researchers. Really first-class people. We co-designed the concept note and our consortium was among the two shortlisted. We developed the full proposal and faced a barrage of questions from an expert panel assembled by the funder. At the end of the process our consortium, named “Collaboration for the Establishment of the APCC (CE-APCC)” was awarded the contract. Funding for the formative phase was generously provided by the Wellcome, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and UKRI Medical Research Council. For those interested in this work kindly read the blueprint document.

It was on this basis that I invited to Cape Town to crown the end of the 18 months of work and launch the blueprint. At some point during the formative phase I was “eased-out’ of the project. Why? A subject for another discussion. Anyhow someone somewhere remembered the origins of the project and my contribution and I was rewarded by an invitation to attend the meeting. It was a great re-union, in some cases meeting people we had worked together virtually due to COVID-19 limitations.. The conference was for a two-day period, however, I was able to benefit from a weekend before the meeting. I hence put on my boots and decided to update myself with what the city had to offer. I had done Table Mountain in a previous visit so that was not of any interest to me. I have never really wanted to go to Mandela’s Robben Island. I consider it too depressing. 

For me the site of value was the late Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s St George’s Cathedral given that I am a practicing Anglican. The remains of good man are interred in front of the high altar. 

How did it go? The site visit never happened. Why? A subject for another day.

I turned to revisit and update myself with what happens in the famous Cape Town’s Waterfront. 

With Table Mountain as its backdrop, the 123-hectare neighbourhood is located within the Cape Town, South Africa, where millions of people visit each year. It contains art, entrepreneurs, and sustainable design. Wikipedia will tell you that ‘it is known as Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, since it isnamed after Prince Alfred and Queen Victoria, members of the Royal Family of Britain when Cape Town was part of the Cape Colony. Alfred, while serving in the British Royal Navy, visited Cape Town and ordered construction of a new harbour for the colony…’

It is here that our story really begins. What an amazing place that is a hive of electric and intense activity.

What is attractive about the waterfront? The Waterfront is a place where people connect, a public space that abounds with new opportunities, that promote prosperity and wellbeing for all South Africans. There are over 450 shops, and more than 80 restaurants, and a wide range of other destinations. Music and art are part and parcel of what you savor. 

Cape Town’s Waterfront has been supporting local art, design and performance initiatives, honouring the rich history of the arts that exist right here on our shore.

“The Waterfront is where artists are supported and encouraged to thrive in a creative economy that values culture. It’s here that nearly 10 museums and galleries bring contemporary African ideas to the fore, while honouring the rich history of an eclectic nation…

As a conference treat, the conference participants were treated to a dinner at the Gold Restaurant in Cape Town’s Waterfront. What an experience it turned to be. The restaurant “offers an authentic African experience. So much more than just an African restaurant, a night at GOLD is an immersive experience that will take you on a 14-dish taste-safari paired with traditional Mali puppets and entertainment….”

Dinner at the African restaurant is accompanied by interactive entertainment. Guests “cannot help but be swept up in the excitement of archetypal African stories told through the live entertainment with dinner. Our African entertainment includes praise singing to welcome you, Mali puppetry, and dancing to the rhythms of the marimba percussion and djembe drums. Feel the heartbeat of Africa with our pre-dinner interactive djembe drumming session every evening at 18:30….”

Food for thought: Why don’t we see this type of entertainment and art supported in Kenya? 

Case in point. The national monument that is Mama Ngina’s Drive in Mombasa

A recent visitor has this to say: This is a truly unique road. It is very scenic because it encircles the spectacular Indian Ocean. On the other side there are beautiful lush-green golf courses and gardens. It is an ideal place to have a picnic or a leisurely stroll. Many festivals are held in this area. Between 1912 and 1936 the British developed beautiful gardens and parks here. The road passing through them was called the Azania Drive. After independence the first president Jomo Kenyatta discarded this name and renamed this scenic road after his fourth wife Ngina Kenyatta. She is also the mother of the fourth president Uhuru Kenyatta…”

Yet another: First time visit after the renovation. I loved the concept. Separating the cars from the walkway was the best idea.Fully lit up at night is brilliant. However, needs to be maintained as there are gaps in the drainage where a child could break a leg running…

I find it is very disappointing to walk through Mama Ngina’s Drive on Mombasa just to see more and more people making the walk for selfies and personalized photos. Hardly any entertainment is available. As for food; roasted cassava seems to be the delicacy woth munching.

I recall the boogies and other events when I lived in Mombasa 1971-1976. What went wrong? Why is that we don’t we see investors attracted to support this iconic drive by providing for performing arts and other forms of art expressions? Has the County Government of Mombasa developed an investment plan for the drive….? I am told that The Governor of Homabay County has plans for a drive by the lake shore. Good move, but H. E. Wanga should take a leaf from Cape Town’s Waterfront….

Take another case from our capital City of Nairobi.

The revamped Uhuru Park in Nairobi  is described as having “manicured lawns, well-maintained trees, enhanced walkways and green spaces. The lilies pond at the park has been turned into an aquarium named Uhuru Aquascape. The larger artificial lake at the park has been transformed into a major waterfront with a Swahili restaurant with a footpath crossing over it…

More hype: “The lilies pond at the park has been turned into an aquarium named Uhuru Aquascape.The larger artificial lake at the park has been transformed into a major waterfront with a Swahili restaurant with a footpath crossing over it. The park also has a botanical space with all species of flowers and plants to capture Kenya’s floral biodiversity, with flowers and plants labelled to enhance learning. Management offices, event spaces, physical exercise spaces and touristic features and attractions are available.There are terraced sitting areas with a biosphere look, a dancing fountain put up along Processional Way, several eateries and two high-end restaurants. Shelter gardens and outdoor spaces have also been created including a water cascade, ablution facilities, a skating park and walkways. Sculptures of wild animals which include warthogs and rhinos have been placed strategically along the grass lawns. Read more at:

All very nice and kudo’s to the design effort by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF). It is a welcome relive from the past. Families have somewhere to go and while their way. Plenty of space and well catered for walkthroughs. A really good beginning.

What to eat? Little so far, ice cream, bottled water and soda and hot dogs. This is an investment paradise that should take off. Are there plans? What about real art beyond metal sculptures of our wild neighbours?

Recently, Kenya’s Ambassador to Belgium, Prof. Bitange Ndemo published a provocative thought leadership article titled “The Power of Cultural and Creative Industries”

The remit of his argument is that: 

“The cultural and creative industries (CCIs) encompass sectors of economic activity involving the creation, production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services with cultural, artistic, or creative content. These sectors include music, film, design, fashion, crafts, performing arts, visual arts, and heritage. While these areas are critical components of economic growth and employment in other parts of the world, Africa has yet to exploit these industries’ benefits fully.

Quoting data from UNESCO, Bitange says “the global share of CCIs in GDP was 3% in 2015, but only 1.1% in Africa. In contrast, Asia and the Pacific accounted for 4.2%, Europe and North America for 3.3%, and Latin America and the Caribbean for 1.9%. The top five countries in terms of CCI contribution to GDP were China (7.4%), Japan (6.8%), South Korea (5.8%), India (4.9%), and the US (4.6%). Morocco (2.5%), Tunisia (2.4%), South Africa (2.3%), Egypt (1.1%), and Kenya (0.7%) were the top-ranking African nations.

I stress, the data then showed that though Kenya was among the top-ranking African nations, its share was a paltry 0.7%.

Bitange identifies several reasons why CCIs only make up a little of Africa’s GDP. These include undervaluation of the potential contribution of the and the fact that most creative activities are done informally, the lack of investment and support, the limited availability of markets and distribution channels, weak protection of intellectual property rights, and the fact that CCIs are not fully integrated into national development strategies and policies. However, he see hope.

“However, there are also opportunities for CCIs to grow and thrive in Africa, given the continent’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, young and dynamic population, fast-growing digital and mobile penetration, and vibrant and innovative artistic scene.”

In 2009 Odhiambo from the University of Nairobi lamented on the lack of a coherent policy for performing, visual and other forms of arts:–1944892

 So, how do we obtain hope from this desperate environment?

I am told there two bills being that have been developed and have gone through the stakeholder process. Interestingly, they are by two different ministries of the Government of Kenya. The Draft Creative Economic Policy and the Creative Industries Bill, 2023 proposes the establishment of a creative industries Development Fund that will support the growth of the creative industry through financial empowerment. It is expected that the fund will offer infrastructural support, research funding, and help in the creation of creative hubs.

But we need more. The government’s role is to create the enabling policy infrastructure. It is up to the private sector as well as the you and me to play their role. During the early 1990s, amidst the very repressive regime of KANU, a unique alliance of professionals was established drawn from the widest cross section of disciplines and trades and named as ‘The Council for the Promotion of Performing Arts’ now metamorphosed into ProPerArt Trust. Led by seasoned practitioners such Dr. Oby Obyerodhyambo among others,  this mission-oriented trust is a unique intellectual melting pot, blending the widest possible range of competencies and talents. It is a forum that promotes cross-fertilization of ideas, as well as incubation of visions. The trust co-coordinates the promotion of creative thinking (ProPerArt Creations), Through the delivery of this programme, the trust has ably demonstrated leadership by investing in high quality theatre productions. 

It is through private initiatives such as this that we are likely to be able to nurture and support the creative sector.

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