Kenyan parents can now rest easy in the knowledge that book prices are not going to be increased, at least according to the publishers’ umbrella body.
In a press statement dated January 2, 2016, Mr. David Waweru, the chairman of Kenya Publishers Association (KPA), reports appearing in the media to the effect that book prices have been increased by up to 15 per cent are ‘false and alarmist’ .

image

“The  source cited is  not an industry insider and  no  effort was made  to verify this  false
information,” explained Mr. Waweru, who is also the CEO of WordAlive Publishers.
He added “The facts  are that  out of over 4,000  textbooks in the
Orange Book only  about 200 books are affected  by a  price increase of between  4 and 10 per cent.” He however did not specify which books are to be affected by the price increase.
“Whereas publishers would have
wished to  increase the prices to match the increase of the  costs of production and mitigate for the
weakening shilling, publishers instead  opted to  lower their  margins with  the increase of  4 to 10 per cent and keep a majority of  the titles at the same price level.  In fact, prices on some titles were  reduced,” he added.

image

Mr. David Waweru

Our sources however tell us that, on this issue, the horse has already bolted, as book distributors have marked up their prices and are advising bookshops to follow suit.
The real bone of contention, though is the Kenya government’s unpopular decision to slap VAT on books. “KPA once again  urges government  to
zero-rate textbooks as it is  immoral to  tax knowledge and  therefore raise  the  barriers  of access  to books,” said Mr. Waweru.
Kenya, he explained, is the second country in Africa, after South Africa, to impose VAT on books despite being signatories to international conventions that commit not to impose taxes on books.

Nudes make for good art, but not all

Posted: December 14, 2015 in Issues, News
Tags: ,

I wrote this piece in August and it was published in The Nairobian. I thought I might reproduce it here.

The other day I came across quite a thoughtful Facebook post by a woman who poured out her heart on the merits and demerits of posing nude for a painting. What struck me was how deeply and hauntingly reflective her piece was.

image

She proudly pointed out that her body deserves to be celebrated and honoured. “Why should I be ashamed of a vessel which has served me well, which despite innumerable illnesses, pregnancy, and breastfeeding and various abuse from me, has housed my soul and nurtured my dreams?” she posed.
Her essay, which, among other things, explored moral and religious issues as appertains to nude paintings, got me thinking; while there are women who will not think twice about disrobing and baring all, nudes are more complicated than that, as testified by the dilemma of this woman, an artist in her own right, and who, in her confession, is approaching 50.
“…here I am middle-aged, on the cusp of my 50th birthday, with everything in my body heading south with effortless ease, ready, nay, baying to pose nude for a painting…” she wrote.
Seeing as we are living in the age of the digital camera and camera enabled smart phones, more and more women are baring all and somehow their images are finding their way on the Internet. The debate over who released these images is neither here nor there. Suffice to say that the ‘damage’ has been done and team-‘mafisi’, have salivated on them and shared them.
Remember how musician Kaz caused an Internet furore when her nude images were shared far and wide. There is also the more recent case of a Ugandan musician, who claimed that her Nigerian ex-boyfriend had leaked her nude photos on the Internet, as a way of revenge for being dumped. What’s with female musicians and leaked nude photos anyway?
Well, if you ask me, there is nothing artistic in these photos; in fact I would call them trashy. They come nowhere near nude paintings, which can only be appreciated by those who treasure the finer things in life.
Lord Kennethe Clark, in his seminal book The Nude: a Study in Ideal Form, makes the distinction between the naked body and the nude. He states that to be naked is to be deprived of clothes, and implies embarrassment and shame, while a nude, as a work of art, has no such connotations.
From the above explanation alone, you will then realise that a nude painting is a work of high art. My Facebook friend’s post should be viewed purely in that light; hence her dilemma. While she has come to term with her sexuality and is thus not afraid to celebrate her body as a work of art, she has to reckon with the realities of life and societal/religious expectations.
She makes reference to obstacles posed by religion when she says: “Christianity, as it is presented, equates the female body with sin. I resent that. I do not consider my body sinful; I think it is wonderfully and beautifully made…”
Still, as much as nudes as regarded as works of high art, it must not be forgotten that eroticism forms the core of their attraction. Says Clark: “No nude, however abstract, should fail to arouse, in the spectator, some vestige of erotic feeling, even though it be only the faintest shadow – and if it does not do so, it is bad art…”
Here is Kenya Patrick Mukabi is known for his nudes, featuring plus size women. Mukabi, who moved his base from the Godown to the Railway Museum, told ‘The Nairobian’ in a past interview, that he gets volunteers who disrobe and model for him. Now that is art.
The other person known for such kinds of work is coast-based Richard Onyango.
As for my Facebook friend, I urge her to follow her heart; it is always right, the heart that is.

image

Kenyan book lovers, on Saturday October 17, woke up to an excoriating piece of criticism aimed mostly at literary critics of the University of Nairobi. The writer Harry Mulama, in not so many words, dismissed them as a bunch of washed up incompetents.
Pricked to the quick, Prof Chris Wanjala, who was especially heavily targeted, took to his Facebook page to respond. Read his response, verbatim, below.
“What a reading on an October morning before the 20th when we celebrate Mashujaa day? Does the author know the pain of keeping the literary discourse going for all these years. If we had not written would Harry Mulama have had anything to rant about? He is looking for answers outside us,outside Kenya. It is like the proverbial child who thinks that this is not his mother and looks outside for surrogates. Let us see how far Harry Mulama will go.
As a colleague has mentioned this morning,the question we ask is, “Who is behind Harry Mulama ?” His article cites very few cases of the works that have been written by members of the academic staff of the Department of Literature Depth Uon .I know in the article like his, he would not have had enough space for quotations, references and different works and ideas. But at least he needed to contextualize and make comparisons.
And even then, the discipline of literary criticism is growing and multiplying and depending on many people, including Harry Mulama,to move it into new areas. The evidence of this is all over in this country, not just at the University of Nairobi, but at Kenyatta, Moi, Egerton, Maseno, Masinde Muliro, and private universities like Daystar.
We are not doing badly at all and no one is going to create sheep and goats in the discipline.
All the people that Harry Mulama mentions belong together. Why do people who fail to either get a degree from the University of Nairobi and/or get a job there resort to hiding
in the bush and begin throwing stones at the reputable scholars who keep knowledge flowing in Kenya? Look around this country’s universities and tell me how many professors, senior lecturers and lecturers there the Department of Literature at the University of Nairobi has trained, examined and rewarded higher degrees. You just need to look at the list of high degrees the Department of Literature at the University of Nairobi when it gave Dr Eddah W. Gachukia a PhD on “Cultural Conflict in East African Literature,” and she now the founder of Riara University to see our influence and impact. You will come to the winner of the 2015 Burt Award, Christopher Okemwa who now teaches in Kisii University, wrote: “Mushida’s Cooking Pot: A Creative Exploration of Women Issues in Kenya.” for his MA qualification at the UoN, in 2008, and scholars like Dr John G.O. Mugubi, Kamau wa Goro, Dr. Sophie Macharia, Dr Kweya G Kweya, who are teaching in other universities, and Dr Kisa Amateshe of Kenyatta University, to know the expanse of the UoN’s influence.
Even those Harry Mulama is extolling like Professor Simon Gikandi and James Ogude are University of Nairobi products. Professor Evan Maina Mwangi, who operates from
the US, was our MA and PhD student. He wrote a thesis entitled: “Stylistic Reciprocity Betweeen Textual Errancy and Cohesion in David Maillu’s Broken Drum,” for his Master’s in 1997.
Is Harry Mulama’s not the story of the proverbial rabbit who could not get fruits from a tall tree and ended up saying, “After all those fruits are not ripe?” If Harry Mulama has some writers who can write better than us, why does he not get them to come forward and write for the Saturday Nation? If he thinks we are not worthy academics, why, in this free and democratic country, can’t he train his own and have them do the job of literary scholarship?
We may not be the best but we are what you have and we are expressing the fears, hopes and aspirations in the discipline of literature, which even the best can deal with. This shameless attack is a case of infantile radicalism coached in demented cowardice.”

Kenyan writers are still basking in the afterglow of the most important twin events in their calendar year; the literary awards season where they get to be appreciated for their labour love.
The Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) and the National Book Development Council of Kenya (NBDCK) gave out the Text Book Centre Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature and the Burt Award for African Writing respectively. It was truly a harvest season for writers as the overall winner for the Burt Award went home with Sh765,000 while the one for the Jomo Kenyatta Prize got Sh300,000.

image

One might look at the varying prize money in the two awards and think that the Jomo Kenyatta Award is inferior to the Burt Award – indeed, the top winner in the Jomo Kenyatta Prize gets substantially less than what the second runners-up in the Burt Award got (Sh425,000). The fact of the matter, however, is that the Jomo Kenyatta Prize, small money notwithstanding, is far more prestigious, having been established in 1974. Some of the winners, over the years include heavyweights like Meja Mwangi, David Maillu and the late Wahome Mutahi, among others.
The Burt Award, which is bankrolled by William Burt, a Canadian philanthropist, after whom it is named, was awarded on Friday, September 25, at the Kempinski Hotel, while the Jomo Kenyatta Prize was awarded, a day later, at the Pride Inn Hotel, in Westlands. Text Book Centre was added as a prefix to the Jomo Kenyatta Prize, to recognise the proprietors of Text Book Centre, who have consistently funded the award over the years.
Christopher Okemwa, took the overall prize, in the Burt Award, with his book Sabina and the Mystery of the Ogre, published by Nsemia Publishers, pocketing Sh765,000 in the process – had he been sufficiently philanthropic, he would have donated his prize money to overall winners (in the English and Kiswahili Adult categories in the Jomo Kenyatta Prize) and still retain Sh165,000 as balance.
Okemwa’s book addresses the thorny issues of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early forced marriage as exemplified by the struggles, and eventual triumph, of a girl called Sabina, who dares to challenge these two cultures in her Abagusii community and comes out triumphant. This win is a major plus for Nsemia Publishers, who have for sometime occupied the margins of publishing in Kenya. Nsemia was the refuge for writers who, rightly or wrongly, felt that mainstream publishers had shut doors in their faces.
Mark Chetambe, published by EAEP, took second prize for his effort Names and Secrets, taking home Sh595,000. This is the first time EAEP was getting a nominee in the Burt Prize, which has previously been dominated by Longhorn, Moran and Phoenix Publishers.
The third prize went to Charles Okoth, whose book A Close Shave is published by Phoenix Publishers. For his effort, he received a check worth Sh425,000.
In the Text Book Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature, Yvonne Adhiambo, via her critically acclaimed book, Dust, published locally by Kwani? took the English Category prize, earning herself Sh300,000. Yvonne Adhiambo won the Caine Prize for African Writing with her story, Weight of Whispers, in 2003, a year after Binyavanga Wainaina, the founder of Kwani? won the same award with autobiographical short story, Discovering Home.
The panel of judges, chaired by Dr Tom Odhiambo of University of Nairobi noted that Dust, written by a writer “who is comfortable with style and language of expression, strongly reminds Kenyans that ignoring the country’s ‘fractured’ history is perilous for our pursuit of national commonness.”
The winner in the Kiswahili adult category was John Habwe, with his book, Pendo la Karaha, published by Moran. In the Youth Category, the winners were Tissue Boy, written by Edward Mwangi (Moran) and Naskia Sauti ya Mama by Ken Walibora (Longhorn).
In the Children’s Category, the winners were A Scare in the Village by award winning author Stanley Gazemba (OUP) and Ushindi wa Nakate by Clara Momanyi (Longhorn). The two winners in the Youth Categories, each took home Sh150,000 while those in the Children’s category got Sh100,000 each.
There have been murmurs in writing circles as to why writing for adults, as opposed to writing for the youth or children, is considered superior if the prize money is anything to go by. Proponents of children’s writing argue that the prize money should be the same, seeing as writing for children is quite technical. No writing should be seen to be inferior to the other, they say.
Now that the prizes have been awarded, it remains to be seen whether publishers and award administrators will make extra efforts in marketing these books. In previous years, apart from the award ceremonies and stories in the media, no extra effort is put to make these award-winning books known to the wider public.

Paa ya Paa Art Gallery is calling on artists who have their artworks stored there to collect their pieces, apparently because they are running out of space. In a Facebook post made on Thursday July 16, the centre invited the artists for chai – probably the delicious grass tea made by the generous host Mzee Elimo Njau – on Saturday July 18, at 10.30 am.

 

Elimo Njau and his lovely wife Philda

Elimo Njau and his lovely wife Philda

Could this lack of space be the result of the court ordered subdivision of the five-acre plot, Paa ya Paa sits on? Following a court dispute between Elimo and his first wife Rebecca Njau, a Nairobi court ordered that the land be divided into two equal parts, with the other part going to Rebecca. The last time Maisha Yetu checked, the other part, which hosts, the famous Freedom Fighter sculpture, had already been fenced off.

It now remains to be seen whether artists will heed the call and collect the pieces. This might present logistical challenges to some of them, especially those with more than one pieces, more so if they are framed, as most artists lack efficient means of transportation.

Reproduced below is the Facebook post. Note that there was a typo in the date, whereby it reads 2025 instead of 2015.

Paa Ya Paa
Call For Artists –
KARIBU CHAI
Saturday, July 18, 2025
10:30 a.m.
We invite the following artists to Paa Ya Paa on Saturday, July 18th at 10:30 a.m. to come for a cup of tea and to pick up your artworks left in storage for many years. In this our 50th year of existence, we no longer have space available. As we work toward our celebration at the end of the year, we will also share with you our calendar of activities as we look forward to the future. If your name is not listed, but you know some of the artists, please inform them just in case they have not seen this notice.
THANK YOU.
FRIENDS OF PAA YA PAA
ARTISTS: Adam Massava, Anne Mwiti, Allen Green, Allan Kangetwe, Boyd Oyier, Bevern Otieno, Caroline Mbirua.David Mundia, Dedan Kimani, Daniel Wanjau, Dan Marigi, Esther Mukuhi,Elegwa Wycliffe Swift, Ezra Joab, Evanson Kangethe, Eliud Ngugi, Evans Maina, Elias, Elian Mung’ora, Evans Mwangi, Eric Manya, Florence Ochieng, Frederick Kamau, Fred Shinzu, Henry Odero, Hussein, S.K., Hannah Turuga, Immaculate Juma, Isaac Kamau, Jimmy Matu, John Gitonga, Kibacia Gatu, Kayiira Owentebbe, Ken Artifat, Kamondia, Kayako, Lionel Njuguna, Lazarus Tumbuti, Lawy, Mike Kyalo, Moses Kabiru, Mukwana, Laura Vanessa, Morphat, Makonde, Nuru Bahati, Ngaruiya, Nduta Kariuki, Onyis Martin, Orade, Paul Owino, Paul Kihiko, Peter Murio, Patrick Kariuki, Robinson Omweri, Richard Mudibo, Sinoh, Smoki, Tony, Tabitha wa Thuku, Timothy Bonanza, Uhuru Brown, Victor Nandwa, Watindi, Hezron; Wangatho, B., Yassir Ali .
PAA YA PAA Arts Centre
0733 270 109

Artists have until October 14 to submit their pieces for this year’s Affordable Art Show which is set to be held at the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) between October 23 and 25. This is an event of the Kenya Museum Society (KMS) aimed at raising funds in support of NMK.

Bertiers

The art show is open to paintings, sculpture and mixed media work. Submissions will be juried. An individual artist can submit a maximum of two pieces, which should not be priced at more than Sh99,000. “Each piece should measure 100cm x 100cm (paintings and sculptures) for easy carrying of the art pieces by buyers,” says the communication signed by Lydia Galavu, the art curator at the museum and Patricia Ithau, who chairs the KMS Affordable Art Show.

The artworks to be submitted must have been created in 2015. Artists can also submit a third, A3 piece priced at Sh10,000.  The opening of the art show will take place in the courtyard behind the Louis Leakey Auditorium on Friday evening, October 23, 2015. The show will continue on Saturday and Sunday until October 25.

Artists’ work should be delivered to the former NMK boardroom at the rear of the courtyard on Wednesday, October 14, between 10am and 3pm. Artists from outside Nairobi who send work by public means,  must ensure that their submissions arrive no later than October 12.

Unsold art must be picked up on October 26, between 10am and 3pm. After that date and time, the art will belong to KMS and will be used to raise further funds for NMK.

Barely a month after Culture minister disowned the ‘Kenyan Pavilion’ at the Venice Biennale, it is now emerging that a letter had been written by the ministry requesting participation at the Biennale. This is in spite of repeated denials from the ministry, including CS Hassan Wario, of the same.

Already a letter allegedly written by Wenslas SA Ong’ayo, on behalf of the Principal Secretary, expressing the intention of the Republic of Kenya to participate in the event, is doing rounds in social media circles. The letter, apparently written way back in November 10, 2014, and addressed to Dr Paolo Baratta, the chairman of the Foundazione La Beinnale di Venezia, said that “Maretti Editore srl” “will sponsor the event and that Mrs Paola Poponi has been appointed Commissioner of the Republic of Kenya pavilion,” says the letter.  Onga’ayo is the director of administration at the ministry.

Ong'ayo

Matters came to a head when it was discovered that, for the second consecutive time, Kenya was being represented by Chinese artists at the prestigious event – the same happened in 2013 – popularly known as the Art Olympics. Local artists and their representatives protested and formed a delegation to seek clarification from Wario.

On April 14, the SC, accompanied by, among others, Ong’ayo, addressed a press conference at the Kenya Cultural Centre, and strenuously denied knowledge of the ministry’s connection to the people manning the Kenyan pavilion.

“Our investigations on this issue show that this happened at least twice before, in 2003 and 2013, through the involvement of Armando Tanzini, who resides in Malindi,” read part of Wario’s statement. “Tanzini and his team have presented themselves, wrongfully and repeatedly, as Kenya’s official representatives.”

During the press conference, a resolution was made to the effect that Kenya’s name and flag would be dropped from the pavilion. A letter to that effect was dispatched to Venice. That action by Wario must have caught Tanzini unawares, for he is the one that released Onga’yo’s letter, to prove that he indeed had the ministry’s backing.

Silvia Gichia, the director Kuona Trust, who was at the forefront in agitating against the Kenyan pavilion, told The Nairobian, that Tanzini called her from Italy, where he is manning the pavilion. “He was very furious and was protesting what he called betrayal by the ministry,” explains Sylvia. “He was saying that the ministry was tarnishing his name, yet they were the ones who issued him with the letter, and that is how he emailed me that letter.”

She says that Tanzini acted surprised when asked why he did not include Kenyan artists in the pavilion. “Which artists?”  he retorted.

Sylvia adds that following the Tanzini’s revelations, she got in touch with Wario, who expressed disbelief at the direction the saga had taken. “He promised that action would be taken at the ministry level,” adds Sylvia.

On her part, Sylvia, who is a member of a committee – consisting of government officials and individual artists – formed to address the Biennale saga, expressed her disgust with the government. “We are disappointed with the government; Wario should be on top of his game. We hold the government responsible for this whole fiasco,” she says adding that there is a need to re-evaluate that committee seeing as their trust with the government has taken a hit.

We wrote a email to Tanzini seeking his side of the story by had not received a response by the of going to press. Calls and a text message to Ong’ayo also went unanswered. Wario’s personal assistant, who promised to get back to us once he came out of hospital.