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How Panga Sanaa Fellowship plans to build the creative economy in Kenya

Panga Sanaa Fellowship Launch at Sarakasi Dome Nairobi

They were the first people I came across at the Panga Sanaa Fellowship launch. She was standing tall with her locks tied in a neat bun and round studded leather earrings dangling from her ears. An artist’s look. 

He wore a branded black and orange tee, locks flowing on the sides of his face. He preferred to sit on a stool around the round table #metoo.

This was Liboi – who likes to introduce herself as Sharon – and simple Simon. Not only were they Kenyan musicians aka my favourite kind of people, but also participants of the Panga Sanaa Fellowship.

The Backstory

On 1st March 2022, I attended the launch event at Sarakasi Dome, Ngara. Little did I know I would later be more involved in the orange economy through a creative business skills training by HEVA Fund and GIZ. And learn why intellectual property needs to be protected.

Before the event began, my new acquaintances explained to me what Panga Sanaa was about. I was surprised they weren’t tired of answering my follow up questions. They were both representing their creative associations which had qualified to be part of the 2022 program. 

Why did they apply? 

Well, Liboi’s association wanted to rebrand from ASMO to AGMA (African Grassroots Media Alliance) which supports projects in Nairobi slums such as Kariobangi, Mathare and Kibera. ASMO also wanted to move from being a parent association and instead work with their member associations as partners. This, she believes, would make them step up instead of feeling entitled like children. 

As for Simon, Film in Kenya Association wanted to establish and strengthen their membership model. And to ensure that one member didn’t have too much control because they pumped in too much money.

As Savara once said, Balance.

The Entertainment

Our conversation was interrupted by the event kickoff at 2.30 pm. More people had streamed in: new and familiar faces including members of Gravitti Band and Shamsi Music. Whether they had just come from a rehearsal session or a collaborative recording session is still a mystery.

I later found out they were members of KEMPA – Kenya Musicians and Performers Association.

Mwalimu Gregg Tendwa was the host of the event – sans his signature locks. After encouraging us to get our complimentary drinks (which I did) and fried bites (which I ignored), he introduced the entertainment for the afternoon. 

Judith Bwire is one of the few Kenyan female nyatiti players who stands out in a male-dominated field. I first watched her play during the first Ayub Ogada tribute concert in February 2019. On this day, she was accompanied by Dan Rusto, the percussionist whom I had last seen in 2020 at KWETU Space Kakamega performing alongside Afrofusion Kenyan artist Lulu Abdalla. 

Judith Bwire nyatiti player and Dan Rusto Kenyan percussionist playing at Panga Sanaa Fellowship launch
Dan Rusto on percussions and Judith Bwire the nyatiti queen

While this new pair played, a Sarakasi aerial dancer dropped down – or rather slid down in the space between the spiral stairs. The last time I saw anything like that was at the Kilifi New Year Festival.

Our dancer of the day wrapped himself in a silk black cloth and did back-breaking stretches in the air. I gasped for air every time he would wrap himself and then let himself go. The cloth catching his leg at the last minute before he hit the floor.

Judith and Dan would play at the end of the event as well. This time, our eyes were enthralled by two Sarakasi acrobats: one tall and sturdy like Goliath, the other short and lean like David.

Unlike the Bible story, these two cooperated. Goliath lifted David in the air, supporting him upside down with just one arm. Even balancing him with the top of his head!

Now if that isn’t talent I don’t know what is.

Fun fact: “Goliath’s” real name is actually David!

Sarakasi acrobats

What is Panga Sanaa?

Back to the program. Gregory Mwendwa aka Gregg Tendwa introduced Panga Sanaa, the fellowship program for action-oriented leaders of creative sector associations in Kenya. These associations include unions, societies, guilds, community-based organisations, NGOs and trusts. 

In early January, the program invited Kenyan creatives to apply to be part of the first cohort. The incentive? Between March and November 2022, they would receive weekly training, capacity strengthening and peer to peer support.

According to Pangaa Sanaa Fellowship, their goal is to create an enabling environment where creative careers are an achievable long-term reality for Kenyan artists. How? PSF would bring these fellows together to strengthen the leadership and membership capacities of their associations. 

Basically, enable Kenyan creatives to build stronger associations for collective bargaining.

Alix Masson speaking at Panga Sanaa Fellowship launch
Alix Masson the project designer

The Participants

Out of 70+ applications, 10 organisations in Film, Music and Visual Arts were chosen. With 3 participants from each organisation, you can do the math.

Like Liboi and Simon, these fellows had different goals including building membership, organizational structure, marketing strategies, strengthening leadership and rebranding.

Their organisations had quite interesting acronyms:

  1. AGMA, previously Alliance of Slum Media Organisations (ASMO)
  2. Filmmakers in Kenya Association (FIKA)
  3. Photographers Association of Kenya (PAK)
  4. The Arts Society of Kenya (TASK)
  5. Kenya National Visual Arts Association (KNVAA)
  6. Association of Animation Artistes Kenya (AAAK)
  7. Kenyan Association of Music Producers (KAMP)
  8. Kenya Musicians and Performers Association (KEMPA)
  9. The Association of Visual Artists and Collectives (AVAC)
  10. Entertainment Journalists Association of Kenya (EJAK)
Marion Op het Veld of Sarakasi Trust speaking at Panga Sanaa Fellowship launch
Marion Op het Veld of Sarakasi Trust

The Partners

The host then introduced us to the partners of this fellowship. The first one was represented by Marion Op het Veld aka Mama Sarakasi who founded the Sarakasi Trust in 2001. Meaning the Kenyan performing arts development organisation celebrated their 22nd anniversary this year.

The Panga Sanaa Fellowship is also supported by GIZ (the German Development Cooperation) and the Goethe Institut. The two German organisations have collaborated before on various projects including Muthoni Drummer Queen’s PerFORM music incubator, SEMA (Santuri Electronic Music Academy) and Digital Media Incubator. Definitely more than what the local government has done for the Kenyan creative economy in the last 10 years.

Dr. Kiprop Lagat, the Director of Culture in the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage, represented the government during the event. And he publicly supported the initiative. A step in the right direction.

Alix Masson, Susanne Gerhard (Goethe Institute), Marion Op het Veld, Joyce Nzovu (GIZ), and Gregg Mwendwa

The Facilitators

We also met the curriculum designers for the program: Alix Masson and David Muriithi aka the selfie king. They both emphasised the need for creative associations to move beyond event-centric planning to structural planning for them to thrive in a highly competitive landscape. 

And this program would help them do just that.

Their curriculum involves 4 pillars:

  1. Governance and leadership
  2. Membership models and services
  3. Organisational development 
  4. Policy and advocacy

By the end of the fellowship, the leaders should have gained transferable skills between different departments of their associations. They should also have created strong networks between their organisations enabling them to implement joint advocacy campaigns, present a unified front, and make collective demands to the government.

This all-rounded 8-month training would occur in two phases:

  1. The Incubation phase from the beginning of March to the end of June. The fellows would have weekly workshops where they would learn from various industry experts.
  2. The Consolidation phase between July and October. This would feature virtual follow-ups as they apply what they learned. And they could continue to use Sarakasi Dome as a co-working space.

After this curriculum breakdown, David maintained his throne by taking a group selfie with us. 

David Muriithi Panga Sanaa fellowship program designer taking a group selfie
David Muriithi the selfie king

What about Policy?

Gregg then invited one of the fellowship facilitators, Prof Kimani Njogu, to talk about policy. Fun fact, he’s also a linguist – who writes in Swahili. 

In polished English, he explained that policy builds a framework for doing something. And he shared a culture policy in the works: that is, to introduce Kenyan children to education using the dominant language of their local catchment area.

If they live in Bondo, they should learn in Dholuo during their first few years. And if in a multilingual area, use Swahili. 

Since culture is dynamic, can we consider sheng a Kenyan language too?

Advocacy is a long journey, he admitted. It takes years, even decades; for things to change in the country, you need to be patient and strategic. Know who your allies in government are. You also have to minimise aggression to get things moving. Let others take credit.

He highlighted what we need now is to follow up on implementation. Which is what the Creative Economy Working Group is all about; a network of associations that is activated when necessary. Such as recently when the Kenyan creative economy was under threat. 

On October 22, 2021, Homa Bay County woman representative Gladys Wanga proposed changes to sections 35(b) and 35(c) in parliament under the Copyright Amendment Bill. You probably saw online petitions about it. 

If passed, the amendments could have legitimised piracy by making it harder for Kenyan creatives to contest online content that violates their copyrights. Leading to the loss of their precious revenue.

The orange economy in Kenya involves various sectors including visual and performing arts,  architecture, film, design, fashion, music, advertising, software, TV and radio, and videogames. What underlies all of them is they are copyright-based. Without the protection of intellectual property, they are doomed.

Why is it called the orange economy? You ask. Well, orange is the dominant colour for culture, creativity and identity used in ancient Egypt to adorn the tombs of the pharaohs.

Talks of intellectural property laws in Kenya have become rampant, especially since 26th April was World Intellectual Property Day. And for the whole of April, ARA (Artists Right Africa) in collaboration with Afreative held weekly webinars to educate African creatives about their relationship with copyright.

Even KECOBO has made it easy for Kenyan artists to register their copyrighted works online.

After the Partners Against Piracy (PAP) lobbied against the copyright amendments, these retrogressive changes were removed from the bill. PAP also welcomed the new amendment that states Kenyan musicians are entitled to at least 52% of the revenue generated from the sale of their music through ringback tones. A huge jump from the 16% they currently earn from Skiza Tunes.

As Panga Sanaa’s policy and advocacy specialist, Prof affirmed that fundamental change in Kenya’s creative sector will only come through engaging with such policy. 

Gregg Mwendwa interviewing policy specialist Prof Kimani Njogu
Gregg Mwendwa and Prof. Kimani Njogu

The Future

By the end of the launch event, I was satisfied with the free information, live entertainment, and three glasses of fresh juice. I had my photos taken next to the Panga Sanaa banners and made two new friends – Liboi, sorry Sharon, and Simon. 

I look forward to seeing their coming transformation as young leaders and how it impacts their creative associations. How they will attract more members i.e. Kenyan creatives with their mighty membership models. And how they will influence policy in Kenya’s creative sector by working together. Umoja ni nguvu, utengano ni udhaifu.

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Simon Peter
Simon Peter
2 years ago

I was not only glad but encouraged to have met you there. My days at Pangasanaa have been super great and I’d say it was partially due to my first contacts. Sharon is an amazing lady, and I, Simon, I’m good I guess 😂 keep doing what you do, and thanks to Pangasanaa and Sarakasi trust. FIKA 💪🏿💪🏿

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