By Dickson Ogutu
The left wing annex office on third floor of Kencom House is quiet, save for the computer keyboard tapping silently at the secretary’s desk. Yet another busy Tuesday afternoon at the Department of Sports, Culture and the Arts it seems. The Department is domiciled under the Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts. The door on the immediate right is wide open, revealing a neatly arranged work station at the end of the room.
“It is his policy to keep the door open, mostly while in and especially while not in, so anyone visiting the Department has no doubts about his availability to see them,” an aide explains as we are ushered into PS Joe Okudo’s Office.
The Executive Talk team is visiting to speak to one of the youngest and most experienced talents driving delivery of Government services and policy interventions in Kenya today. Joe Okudo oversees affairs as Principal Secretary at the State Department of Culture and the Arts, an extension of the Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts.
While we sit tight awaiting to be summoned in by his secretary, Joe himself casually walks into the waiting area. “Karibuni gentlemen, pleasure to meet you, we can all come into the main office.” Joe Okudo himself is clearly a man of his own art and culture, as we find out.
In a country where athletes, footballers, artists, designers, and performers in all manner of creativity and art are freshly taking over as the new millionaires around town, the wave of economic prosperity driven by creativity is sweeping across Kenya.
There is no shortage of names to draw examples from. Harambee Stars National football team captain Victor Wanyama has only recently penned a multi-million shilling contract with top English side Tottenham Hotspurs.
The fairy tale narrative of comedians like Churchill Ndambuki, the success of film stars like Lupita Nyon’go in Hollywood and the overnight rags to riches tales of Kenya’s running gold medalists points to a creative economy roaring to its full potential.
“This is a new State Department, emanating from The Executive Order of April 2016. Before, it was the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Arts with only a single Principal Secretary. The President intervened creating a separate State Department for the creative sector,” he introduces us to his mandate. As we take seats and settle down in his office, Mr. Okudo sets out to highlight projects of the State Department he oversees.
“The Government strongly believes that Kenya’s creative industry has come of age and now requires greater special attention than ever. The Executive Order of April 2016 gives us the mandate to look into the national cultural policy, heritage, film development policy, national archives and public recording, management of national museums, monuments and historical sites, promotion of library services, research and conservation of music, the management of culture and all policy formations surrounding those issues; and that, is really what I do,” he says.
He emphasizes that there is huge potential to turn the creative sector in Kenya around into the immense engine of economic growth it truly is, in his opinion.
“Among other deliverables, the current Government pegged a significant part of its development promises on job creation and opportunities for youth. It goes without saying that majority of players in the creative industry are the young people of Kenya themselves.
For a long time, much focus in youth development has only been directed towards the development of entrepreneurial skills and formal employment that has always been pegged on a certain level of education.”
He says that a quick look at the creative sectors of bigger economies like the UK, India and the US, all of which Kenya seeks to be at par reveals that Bollywood, Hollywood and the sports industry in the UK are among other key players in their specific talent and creative driven sectors contributing a great deal to the various GDP of their countries .
The PS notes that part of what he has set out to do, starting with creation of functioning institutional frameworks, is to unite talent based groups and creatives and enable practitioners in the sector in Kenya to operate in a coherent manner, exploiting available opportunities together while working closely to grow talent creativity into businesses models within the talent and creative industry.
“We all know it’s a good thing to be able to play football, run or sing. But to be an entrepreneur player, singer or runner is a totally different thing and makes all the difference, and that is the capacity we want to develop as Government to potentially scale skills to income from talent and creativity , and to build their potential to grow. The most important part of this creative industry transformation journey also involves mitigating artists, talented youths and creatives against the risk of failure,” says the PS.
PS He points out that once the baseline study is completed and there exists a structured source of data and information on the creative industry, it will be easier to systematically monitor and implement the transformation strategies of the creative sector in Kenya, a baseline survey that he now takes as his personal responsibility to make happen at the State Department.
He however also quickly admits that sanitizing the sports, arts and creative sector is not going to be a walk in the park. “The sector itself is very disjointed, you have film and very many people to consult in film, Music and consultations to do at very many different levels, guys on River Road, content stables, the artists themselves, media, arts, fine arts, visual arts etc.”
To move the industry ctowards prosperity, he says he now seeks to convince stakeholders to change tact and unitedly approach the creative business with business minds of a united sector, as is the case with organizations like the Kenya Association of Manufacturers or the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA).
The PS further reveals that conversation to turn creativity into investment is already at advanced stages, and that the State Department of Sports, Culture and the Arts is currently in discussion with donors like Danida (the Danish Foreign Development Agency) The British DFID, HEVA Fund and UNESCO, organizations he says have shown immense support and willingness to support reorganization of the creative sector in Kenya.
“While the Executive Talk might be to be first to carry news about this cooperation, you will see us launch this program very soon extensively and officially on other media as well.” he says.
“The recent conversation at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) affirmed that there is recognition world over that the creative industry is now of age and needs to be taken to the next level if any country wishes to develop and grow. It’s an industry currently punching above its weight by generating value far wider than itself.” he adds.
He cites the accelerated use of talents in advertising campaigns, the manufacturing industry, and development of monuments and culture that feeds avenues of tourism, entertainment, brands, movies and personalities, adding that as a result of lack of qualified aggregated data available research by The Kenya Copyright Board estimates the creative sector in Kenya contributes about 5% to the GDP falling short of global best practices that currently stands at about 10%.
He adds that cultural excellence also provides different kinds of product development, supporting other industries in the economy at the same time as well.
So we ask him just how much the Department is investing in identification and nurturing of raw talent and creatives of the country.
“There is a very clear brief from the Office of the President that the future of the nation and Africa lies on empowered youth. This empowerment lies in providing the youth with opportunities and investing in infrastructure that can help them develop those opportunities. We know the growth of Sports, Arts and Culture which is closely correlated to the youth is driven by technology and creation of demand, a kind of appetite within the economy. We will work closely with colleagues in the Ministry of uun the Schools and Colleges sports, competitions across the many levels in the country to grow the winners yond the very occasions themselves.”
“When my children and all our children can go out there and use their talents playing sports or singing to bring money home, that will be my happiest motivator, an indicator”.PS Joe Okudo, 2016.
He explains that practical implementation of this started with the renovation and rehabilitation of the Kenya Cultural Centre (formerly Kenya National Theatre) that was badly dilapidated.
In a Public-Private Sector collaboration approach with East African Breweries (EABL), approximately KSh 140 Million was invested refurbishment, and equiping of the Cultural Centre with modern equipment and sound system.
“We have laid foundation plans of setting up an international cultural center that will be the biggest cultural hub in the region. It will feature a Film Production School that is already in place at Kasarani. It’s already being used to develop content that fits into the 60% local content policy framework for local stations,” says the PS.
The intention of all these efforts, he explains, is that the Department projects that the baseline study will in about five years time help to guide the mandate of the Sports, Arts and Culture landscape in Kenya.
“For the first time in this country, there will be available a creative sector strategy that will also rope in capacity building for all stakeholders,” he says, referencing the devolved function of culture at the county level. He emphasized that the Department will work in consultation with Culture Ministers in all 47 counties. “Our plan is roll out these developments country wide, so that you can find a Sauti Sol growing up in Nairobi, yet another in Siaya, in Murang’a, Mombasa etc.”
With donor partners like the HEVA Fund now providing money to develop different value chains within the creative sector from fashion design, music and film as seed money for the development of talent, PS Joe Okudo says the State Department of Sports, Arts and Culture is now fully implementing all the 2005 UNESCO Conventions on the Promotion and Protection of Diversity and Culture that Kenya is signatory to.
Cognizant that literacy is a wider part of cultural empowerment, the PS points out that part of the problem bedeviling education and literacy of citizens in Kenya is the death of the culture of reading.
“The Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts has therefore recently launched the Digital Library Project to reintroduce the culture of reading within young Kenyans to inculcate the seeking of knowledge through reading as a day-to-day thing,” he says.
The project is expected to increase uptake and boost reader numbers by about 39% country wide,” he says, adding that these libraries will receive about between thirty five to a hundred e-readers with each e-reader carrying nearly about two hundred books.
He also says The World Reader donors have assured that some of the books in the project hold up to a maximum of one thousand five hundred stories, and that they will be supplying additional between seven thousand and twenty thousand of such e-books that the Ministry intends to distribute outside Nairobi. He explains that the Ministry is overseeing a few main libraries across the country while majority is now under the devolved County Government functions.
“What is even more motivating is the fact that disadvantaged informal settlement residents like Mathare and Kibera will benefit first from the Digital Libraries Project. The more you have of a learned population, the better placed they are to interrogate good behavior, and the overall growth of society. He reveals that development of an ultra-modern library complex is currently underway in Nairobi’s Upper Hill area that will serve as the epicenter of the National Library Network. “We now have National Libraries nearly in each of what used to be the provinces, right all across the country including Marsabit, a responsibility the Ministry is fully in pursuit of, to inculcate a reading culture as the spring of civilized behavior in society, says the PS.
The PS also says that the Ministry is planning to train young writers on publishing skills from the new Library Book Incubation Centers such that they would be able to feed content into the e-readers.
The intention is such that whenever the material is accessed a set quantity of payments will be made to the young writers. “We have approximately twenty three million registered library readers in Kenya today,” he says.
The PS reveals that the Buruburu Library in Nairobi for example is at sixty to seventy percent usage at all time. “In recognition that digital media is a big hit, we are changing the way books are done. The e-readers now present an IT interface that well resonates with younger readers.”
To practically demonstration of the Department’s quest to stand with the creative industry in Kenya, the PS was recently in Siaya with financial aid and condolences on behalf of the Government for members of a traditional music band who had perished in a tragedy inside the Lake Victoria.
Accompanied by Youth Enterprise Fund Chairman Ronnie Osumba, the PS handed over financial capital to survivors of the 17-member band to help them pick up from their devastating loss. “Traditional music among communities of Kenya not only informs the diversity of our entertainment culture but also deepens our cultural values and continually define our national identity.”
We shift the focus to sports and PS Joe Okudo is particularly categorical about clean sports.
“Being good at anything comes with responsibilities. Kenya’s improving performance in sports especially athletics has attracted us both admiration and malice. Before, we were known to be the powerhouse in track and field events. Then we stormed the 400M hurdles and took the gold in Beijing. Then Julius Yego came on the scene and took over Javelin, and gold in the 1500M race. Sometimes when you beat people so much they think it’s not straight, hence the genesis of all this interest on Kenya.”
He affirms that Kenya’s position about clean sports has always the same. “Kenya has always remained a vocal proponent of clean sports. The fact that we now have a doping law and a doping agency within the country goes a long way to explain our commitment in this direction. Kenya is only the second country with these frameworks in the world,” he says.
The PS adds that most of Kenya’s ardent doping critics do not even have doping laws governing their own athletes. ” The anti-doping agency and legislation the legislation in place is an advantage to us because we can now ensure that every athlete competing here or representing Kenya abroad is clean on our own,” he says.
He adds that Kenya has several times recently tested its own athletes before they left for the Rio Olympics and ” You can take it from me that the Kenyan Athlete is the most tested in the world as it is today.”
He however points out that some evil people within Kenya and abroad are hell-bent on to proving otherwise, and that Kenyan players and athletes need to take greater personal responsibility regarding the protection of the national brand against doping by learning to read malice and mischief and conveying the right messages out there while flying the national flag at competitions in tandem with Kenya’s commitment to clean sport.
He also spoke of the state of the Museums of Kenya, revealing that the Ministry is currently on a project dubbed “Looking Through Kenya in 100 Monuments”. where each county will front two of its preferred monuments that relate with communities dwelling there and that defines the cultural perspectives of that community.
Stories of these monuments, after they are developed, will be centralized into the National Museum through a digital ICT interface. “From the click of a button on your phone, you will be able to pick any communities through the monuments and understand what makes them tick”, he says.
He adds that through collaboration with the various embassies, the Ministry is also planning to host regional cultural weeks featuring shows by communities living around East Africa whereby every country will each have an entire week to showcase, culminating with Kenya in the final week.
“By the time we go through all this, some of the cultural barriers and stereotypes doing rounds from across these countries will have been broken down. This cultural week will be held in Turkana and is actually dubbed Returning Africa to the Cradle of Mankind,” says PS Joe Okudo.
On preservation of the cultures of indigenous communities threatened by extinction across Kenya, he says legislation is currently underway with the Culture and Cultural Preservation Bill that the Ministry is currently fast tracking.
“In the face of this vicious assault on culture by modernity, we cannot be exclusive to changes taking place around the world. However, we can preserve heritage in such a way that posterity will be able to understand what was going on, a theme that is also central to the one hundred Monuments Cultural Preservation Project,” he says.
We realize an entire hour has gone by without notice. It has been an insightful conversation with the Principal Secretary. We finally ask him what he would love to be remembered for.
“My stint here at the State Department is an open-ended cheque. It’s a good opportunity because this is the first time we have a State Department directly looking at the growth of the creative economy. We are going to do a baseline study, on which am already working with our donor friends. We will organize the whole industry in a coherent manner so that they can engage with different stakeholders towards development, the copyright policy frameworks and an enabling environment for the creative sector to thrive,” he says.
“Beyond organizing the sector, I aim to leave a strategy in place, so that anybody who comes here thereafter understands that the next few years should be made of these specific moves that we shall already have defined, so as to continue the growth of the creative industry in Kenya. In the process I want to grow artists and creatives as I build their capacity to mitigate against unbecoming conduct and irresponsible behavior that has been the downfall of many famous artists across the globe.”
“I also aim to push for an insurance product for creatives so that they don’t live in abject poverty when thy can no longer perform” he says with conviction. “When my children and all our children can go out there and use their talents playing sports or singing to bring money home, that will be my happiest motivator, an indicator that am helping drive President Uhuru Kenyatta’s transformation agenda and the happiest personal feeling for me. Every day I tick the boxes, imploring if am ever getting any close to this, because it is my motivation,” he concludes.