As a member of FEMRITE- Uganda Women Writers Association, I have watched the literary world grow and vibrate with phenomenal writers like Jennifer Makumbi who won the common wealth prize for “Lets Tell this story properly.” She did us all proud. We have so many others who got exceptional prizes like the Caine Prize and the Miles Mooreland prizes. Right now the sure sign that the sector has soared even more is with the presence of major more publishers and literary organizations like writivism and the Africa Writers Trust which have built a storm of writing in Uganda and which is not about to be shaken easily. Every year FEMRITE holds its Annual Week of Literary Activities at the Uganda Museum, and this year between 23rd and 28th July. It facilitated four workshops that equipped young and established writers with new skills to grow.
I had a conversation with Faisal Kiwewa, the Founding Director of Bayimba Cultural Foundation and the Bayimba Festival which took place between the 2nd and 5th of August 2018 on Lunkulu Island commonly referred to as the new home for artists. Faisal tells us his personal experience about the growing culture and arts in a close interview I had with him. I realized that his growth is a part of the growth the whole sector is experiencing.
1 – When you started Bayimba, who/what inspired you?
Bayimba was started after my personal exploration of both the culture and the performing arts sectors in 2004/05. As an artist, I always felt there was not enough room for the growth of an artist because of the environment, the lack of spaces or platforms to showcase works of different disciplines, the skills gap and the opportunities to meet and network with other stakeholders from around the world. The founding of Bayimba was to bridge this gap.
2 – Knowing what Bayimba Festival is today, did you set out to make money and be rich?
Hahahaha, definitely not in my DNA have looked or thought of money as my ambition, I guess me and my team are all very passionate about our roles and the work we do – serving the arts and the artists.
3 – Most people in the arts, that is music, poets, writers start out as a hobby and even do other jobs…was it the same for you?
No, I had to make a choice between being an Artist and serving the arts. As a performing artist then, I thought I would be conflicting with my and Bayimba’s values if I continue to perform while carrying the responsibility of programming others. That is why it has been from the start a job.
4 – Do you appreciate anything government has ever done to help Bayimba grow?
I think the government priorities have not yet been for the arts, hence the lack of budget and any other form of support, but some of the folks in the Ministry and other authorities are appreciative of our work and help in any form or kind when need be. There is a promise in the shift to the mindset though within the Department of Culture, the National Planning Authority and the Ministry of Finance to start looking and inviting in culture. I think that is really good – we keep our fingers crossed.
5 – The most disappointing thing that has ever challenged your belief in growing Bayimba?
Not at all, I wake up every day with my head high and my energies pure to deliver and serve the arts and the artists. Challenges and disappointments have been motivations to work harder and perform better. I do my best always to be and I do my best always to be and look at things positively.
Social Change And Employment Through The Arts And Culture
I think the arts and culture sector in Uganda has done a lot to contribute to the development of the country and to the empowerment of its common citizens.
I talked to Sam Okello about his contribution to the arts through social change and empowerment of those he can help and he answered all these questions in a podcast which will be available to listen to soon. Sam Okello is a Ugandan musician, actor, and comedian. He is also the founder of Mizizi Ensemble, ROOTS Retreat and Camping Resort, Sounds of the Nile Festival and Hope North, a secondary school and sanctuary for young victims of the war in Uganda. Hollywood actors;Susan Sarandon, Mary-Louise Parker and Forest Whitaker are advocates of Hope North.
Below is a brief of what he told me about his impact on social change in the Arts.
- From your background I see a lot of social change and attitudes, tell me about that.
Okello Sam told Joy Feelings mag that an environment was prime to growth and to what everyone else will ultimately become. The value systems he encountered as a child have contributed to what he is today, and with the value that a child was everyone’s child has made him who he is today although his childhood was disrupted by his abduction by the Kony rebels. It was a traumatic childhood that he lived through and overcame.
This experience is the brainchild behind Hope North School which is a school and sanctuary for young victims of the civil war. It has a nursery, primary and secondary school section. Hope North assists orphans, refugees, and former child soldiers.
The school also employs other people who benefit from its existence by being able to acquire employment. Through his other projects like the Mizizi ensemble and the Roots resort, Sam Okello has managed to boast cultural tourism and to employ so many other people in his thriving world of the arts.
- When did your journey begin as an artist?
Sam replies to this question happily and says he is a follower of dreams. He started at Kololo Senior Secondary School and later started working with the Ndere Troupe in 1998 where he developed his career in the arts. He is now a performing artist with several movies under his belt. He appeared in several movies like the white light, The Last king of Scotland and currently is featuring in the Honorables aired on one of Uganda’s most popular TV stations, NTV. For whatever he does, it’s all about bringing about positive social change Uganda.
- Give us a few names of people or organizations you think have done a lot to lift the sector and your personal thoughts on its ability to create sustainable employment.
In Uganda it has been the Ndere troupe, the Uganda National cultural center which gave artists space to create and perform their art.
Writers like Christopher Mukiibi, Wycliff Kiyingi, Professor Rose Mbowa, Professor Sserwada and not forgetting great men of poetry like Okot P’ Bitek. He also pointed out organisations like the Art Beat of Africa who played huge roles in the sector. Institutions like the Bayimba Foundation, Mizizi Ensemble which he founded. He is currently facilitating a mentorship program around the country with Mizizi and has given more than 300,000 scholarships under hope for North school. In November he will be holding the Nile festival in which reknown artists like Oliver Mtukudzi from Zimbabwe will feature. They will work with the Ugandan artists to create a new musical sound collaboration in a lab for JUDI BOLA ONLINE the next East African music.
Foreign Donors have made a great impact like the FORD Foundation,UNESCO, DOEN. The creative industry has as a result become the biggest employer of youths in Uganda.
- What is your favorite movie and why? Is Hollywood for Ugandans as well?
Okello says optimistically that Hollywood is a very competitive place though has been able to be a part of the Hollywood movie. There are several Ugandans who have succeeded in the industry like Mwine. He has therefore been part of the Hollywood breakthrough even though the world looks at Lupita Nyongo’ as a Kenyan artist belonging to Kenya but she has more roots in Uganda than the world knows.
His favorite movie right now is the Wakanda Movie-Black Panther. He loves its depiction of the African continent as it should be in terms of the concept and intrigue.
He is a part of a group of Ugandans doing strategic things to make sure Ugandans get there by bringing Hollywood stars like Susan Sarandon,Louise Parker and Forest Whitaker, and still has more plans to bring Whoopi Goldberg and Robert De Niro
Compiled by Joyce wolayo