Kenya: Obama’s Visit Perfect Opportunity to Promote Kenyan Art.


Kenya: Obama’s Visit Perfect Opportunity to Promote Kenyan Art.
The news about US President Obama’s visit to Kenya in July could be the best thing that has happened to the country’s art but only if there is a good lobby to tap the potential benefits.

For one, US is the biggest market for arts — films, music, paintings and books — and a penetration of all or either one of the forms could bring a windfall to the Kenya art economy.

It could open doors to more Hollywood movies being shot in Kenya, music in the US market and internationally through US music companies, festivals, art galleries and products in books stores.

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A good example of gains through the US connection is South Africa whose biggest musicians were nurtured in the US including Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Dollar Brand, Jonathan Butler and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

There are others from Africa including Ethiopia’s Ester Aweke, Zimbabwe’s Thomas Mapfumo and Angelique Kidjo. Others like Salif Keita from Mali found international fame through collaborations with US artistes and music producers.

Many others from other parts of the developing world have had major career boosts in various art disciplines by either collaboration with US artists or through productions by renowned names from that country.

But Kenya has a real advantage due to President Obama’s lineage and well noted interest in Kenyan arts. As Senator, he intervened to facilitate visa to the US for Kenyan members of Extra Golden, the fusion benga group that tried experimental sound of benga and America country and Western.

The US is also a big market for arts and crafts and the large Kenyan population resident in that country provides a strong consumer base for Kenyan arts.

The challenge is for artists and government officials led by President Uhuru who will hold talks with President Obama’s delegation to have a strong agenda for the arts.

Far too often, arts and culture are left out of such important forums that could have a live-changing effect for not only the artists but numerous other linkages that depend on the various art disciplines.

Of special interest is the films and Kenya has not had many major Hollywood production shot in Kenya since the mid 1980s when Out Of Africa won three Oscars and generated a huge publicity that turned the country into a major international tourism destination.

Yet Hollywood still shoots mostly in South Africa sidestepping Kenya’s more superior endowment as a filming location.

The common perception is that relations with Hollywood have remained lukewarm since the 1980s partly due to the country’s bad record in human rights and democracy and the poor marketing strategy to sell itself to the film industry.

But with Kenyans politics now on favourable footing, the evidently improved good rating and reforms have raised its status globally and the US in particular and there ought to be concerted efforts to exploit the improved climate to tap the US film and arts market.

Certainly, President Obama’s visit is an indication of the favour the country is enjoying and this cannot be lost to Hollywood.

However, there is a bit of tidying up to do between now and the time of the visit in order to present a credible appeal to US entertainment industry.

Piracy is still a matter of concern and President Uhuru should make a strong statement towards eradication of copyright infringements if he is to impress his guest and the US film industry because the most affected have been American productions. It is unlikely that US entertainment industry would want to deal with a country that is lax about copyright protection.

Kenya needs to make a strong case to America on this line in order to win favour of the entertainment industry and gain access to that huge market. It is now a case of how well the case is presented and July could very well open the gates to the US market with major opportunities for Kenya’s art economy.


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