By Alex Roberts
And we’re back- out of the quagmire of existential musings and back in to writing on our little corner of the internet (whilst simultaneously ducking VPNs and assorted fuckery).
Indeed- it has been a strange time to throw caution to the wind and put ones’ chips all in on a blog, and probably most writers based in East Africa would agree with me. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that most creatives in the region are, on an almost certainly daily basis, questioning the validity and value of themselves and their work. They probably are even wondering if they’ve gone down the write path career-wise, if all those employment side-eyeing family members were right all along and if they truly should have just become another mundane accountant working out of a schlubby office in Nakuru.
Would things have been better? With all that has happened during the COVID-19 crisis over the last one year or so, it is easy to look back with anger and resentment. It also, from a conspiratorial mindset, seems a set of circumstances almost uniquely designed to set back the creative sector of the region.
I can already hear the eyes rolling, so let’s clarify, no, this article is not some screed claiming the coronavirus pandemic is some sort of awkward new world order control measure that doesn’t exist controlled by Xi Jinping while he goes down on Bill Gates.
We know it’s serious, but the truth must be acknowledged that the powers that be have used these crazy times to consolidate power and further themselves.
This is particularly true within the arts spaces in the region, almost as if the powers that be haven’t exactly approved of the ‘subversive’ elements that rear their heads from the arts.
It is this last factor, the historical precedent of cracking down on dissent, whether it be from the sexually stunted malignant decrees of Ezekial Mutua against the Kenyan film industry or the oppression of singer Bobi Wine’s political ambitions in Uganda is obvious. Let’s find a Rwandan critic from the arts sector…but that search might not turn up any one still able to speak.
It isn’t the restrictions alone that have frustrated so many creatives during this period- it is the inconsistency of the application of them. Church services in Uganda seem to continue onwards and upwards. Political rallies took place across Kenya through out much of the worst days of the pandemic, Ugandan national TV stations hold late night parties broadcast live.
But concerts can’t be held. Bars still have their doors shuttered and patrons banned in Nairobi. The curfew in Uganda is still heavy handed, leave alone Rwanda. The rich are consolidating their wealth the world over, and they often don’t like criticism. In East Africa, the rich are the powerful and they, if nothing else, have an extensive track record of never letting a crisis go to waste.
What better way to stymy the youth’s ambitions and suppress the creativity of their societal critiques than by holding them to a seemingly more exacting standard of regulations that are currently crippling global development, even as the rich nations of the world (the same systemic sub-set that outlined much of the rails of COVID-19 guidelines) actively deny to share the very vaccines that would release the Global South from lockdowns.
There isn’t a clear solution here, as COVID is a true problem, however the issue has to be raised- especially as East African arts were poised to make the 2020s their own. It is now unclear the ultimate fate of the creative sector- be it dramatic comeback somewhere around 2023 or a new state of suspended permanence and empty wallets.