Category: Arts + Culture

12295134_10153603829577559_41289555_oI just arrived in Nigeria for my first time to a rude welcome – our baggage was left behind, but the airline promises to make sure we’ll get all our bags tomorrow.

I am with Sauti Sol, here for the AFRIMA Awards accompanying them as group’s Publicist and Tour Manager. It’s a 40-minute ride to the hotel from Lagos mainland to Victoria Island, where we are staying over the weekend. On our way, we ask our driver to shuffle between radio stations. We don’t hear any foreign music being played but their own – hit and shit songs alike – an amazing model that has forced Nigerian artistes to push their music out of their saturated market.

Interesting how most of the local radio stations in Kenya play more West African and American content than music from Kenya or East Africa. Kenyans have such pride in music. This has built a wall over music fans and media, making everyone a gatekeeper or wanna-be pundit leaving an industry birthing serious imbalances. If more local content, regardless of quality, is put on radio quality and competition levels will skyrocket. You just never hear shit songs on Kenyan radio. But you can’t always hear hit songs on radio either.

Bien asks the driver, “So who are the biggest Nigerian artistes?” Too many, he says. “Who is your best?” Olamide. “Who is the most respected and greatest?” Tubaba, he asserts.

I already hate Eko Hotel at first sight. I’ve heard so much about how dope it is but I just don’t like its grandiose plan. It feels like a small city. I am not sure if the crowd at the hotel all came for the AFRIMA but I really hate crowds and people lingering at lobbies and reception areas. This place is a beehive of activities. Plus part of my room’s ceiling falls on a guest inside my room. Like WTF!?

12294939_10153603827432559_1947468013_oAt night, my girls – Abi leading the battalion scoop me to DJ Spinall’s Album House Party at Oniru Estate. A generous cocktail of Smirnoff welcomes us to the mad house. Poor mansion! Numerous rooms have guests thronging in and out like a festival with bottles popping like it’s a beer factory. On a different side some people are jumping into a pool. I can’t help but think of Banky W’s Lagos Party. Again I hate crowds but I really like this party and its show for the Nigerian affluence. Who allowed all these people to party in their house? Won’t they steal or completely damage the house? I need to see and meet DJ Spinall, so I ask Abi to lead me to the VIP section. On getting there, it’s as packed as a brand new matchbox. I can’t even see or reach him. Our night at the house ends. We end up at a club. Here, my memory fails. I might have had too many :-)


Sunday Morning


I wake up thinking about nothing but our luggage. My heart and conscience tells me that the airline will neither deliver nor call any of us to get our luggage. (They actually never do). So I start to make my own arrangements to go to airport in time to catch the arrival of the flight that should have our luggage. At first I think I will sort it out myself but trouble starts when I can’t find a taxi for the airport because there is fuel shortage in the city. WHAT THE HELL IS THAT FOR? The petroleum industry in Nigeria is the largest in Africa. Contributing to about 14% of its economy, it hardly benefits the normal mwananchi directly. This is why I hate that western media and countries equate GDP to African development and fastest growing |“healthy” economies. What’s the point of having the highest GDP when the person on the street can’t even have fuel or power? Because of this kind of disparity, I am passionate about PR in sensitising communities, policy makers and key stakeholders in natural resource management on equity, transparency and conflict management.

Last year, I worked on a similar project in Kenya’s Turkana area following the discovery of oil reserves. Read To Turkana and Back: Visiting Tullow Oil (Part II)


I don’t know what I’d do without IBB. He sees my distress. Knowing too well that the time it will take me to get a taxi man with sufficient fuel, get through the airport madness and to our luggage will be the same time the airline will take to disembark the luggage, load them back in and send them back to Kenya – he assures me, “Don’t worry I will get you someone who works at the airport to sort everything for you, and we will have to pay him.”

Case closed.

Best Artiste Group, Sauti Sol (1)

Can you see my legs on stage? :)

When our bags finally arrive, it’s such a relief that nothing is missing. We are now ready for the AFRIMA tonight. Despite AFRIMA’s complete disregard for time and schedule management, I applaud the organisers and fraternity for having set up a brilliant system of awarding African achievement and excellence in music entertainment. Sauti Sol win Best African Group & Producer of the Year.

There are so many African stars at the event backstage. Busy with Sauti Sol and spoilt for choice, I show some love to Cobhams, Tubaba, Diamond Platnumz and congratulate Cassper Nyovest for filling the dome. I am more than impressed by the kind of media coverage AFRIMA attracts. There are hundreds of journalists at the red carpet. I’ve had a field day, I would absolutely enjoy working in the Nigerian industry. I’ve met top publicists from Angola, South Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon. I’ve met top radio owners, promoters, music executives and many of my peers. Everyone is warm and open to exchange. I love that about Nigerians. They are open to the rest of Africa and collaborations.

As of the end of the ceremony, our flight back to Nairobi is at 1:50 a.m. unbeknownst to us. Why would anyone book us into such an early morning flight, and especially when the ceremony wasn’t even over then? We have missed our flight back and have only one chance to catch the 12 p.m. flight. But will we? Looking at Lagos morning traffic across The Third Mainland Bridge to the airport and the fact that organisers messed too many flights to sort them all out in good time – we will have to pull an Amazing Race.

BONUS: Thank you so much IBB.

Read the last Part III of To Nigeria and Back: Baptism by Fire coming soon …





When I heard that my luggage was missing :( Lol!

My first time in Nigeria is worse than terrible! It’s such an anticlimax because this is a place I’ve always wanted to visit. I had been beating myself for years for missing to visit my aunt when she used to live in Nigeria. That, and Nigerian cuisine laced with very hot chilli peppers of international repute, are just some of the reasons why Nigeria and India have always been in my Dream Destinations.

I find myself headed to Nigeria about two weeks prior to my first planned two-week trip/work exchange program to Lagos. I am accompanying Sauti Sol (Winners Best African Group & Producer of the Year at AFRIMA) at the award ceremony as the group’s Publicist and Tour Manager.

Just the idea of being in Nigeria excites and thrills me so much that I hardly read my book in the flight. The four hours + flight time seems like forever. On arrival at Murtala Muhammed Airport, we realize that two of the Sauti Sol members’ visas aren’t valid even though they just came from Nigeria about a week ago. Turns out all foreigners have to get an Entry Visa at every new entry, even if it’s just a day after your last visit. At a special office, we are asked to pay 50 USD in cash for each. It’s surprising that the system at this office is down yet they won’t allow us to pay in Nairas or using a Visa Card. Across the jam-packed airport, we have to find an ATM and a bureau to exchange Nairas into USD – like why can’t your systems just be functional?

Just as we are about to finish the process, a policeman walks into the room holding a pen and paper. He calls out Chimano’s name, insisting: “Passengers who came in from Nairobi!?” His bag was left in Nairobi as flight was “over weight”. I start to laugh out loud thinking to myself – he is so fucked right now! The policeman calls my name next. That’s when I quickly stop laughing – everything starts to sink in. Out of all five of us, only one person receives their bags. The KQ official asks us to head over to their Ticketing Office for further explanation. We are furious because we are only in Lagos for two nights and to attend two events on each night. To tell us that our bags will only arrive 24 hours later is basically telling us that we came to a foreign country without half of what we needed for the full stay – senseless!

We’ve spent an hour getting the visas. It takes us another hour to get through to someone at the Ticketing Office. When they show up, their only explanation is that they received an email from Nairobi indicating that the flight was overweight so our bags had to stay behind. The officer suggests that we should call Nairobi. On calling Nairobi, the team says that we should get answers in Nigeria. Eventually Nairobi office assures us that we will receive our luggage tomorrow. It’s so disappointing to be in a new place, all sweaty and tired and with no single change of outfit. I quickly call our Nigerian Rep IBB on arrival at hotel. He hooks us up with a couple of designers and stylists to salvage the situation. My girlfriend Abi brings me an outfit and shoes that fit, saying, “Keep this dress – I know you will love it and it will fit perfectly.” It actually does :-) Together with my girls, I am off to DJ Spinall’s album house party at Oniru Estate. The rest of Sauti Sol decide to pass.

My first look at Lagos on our way to the hotel is like a film. We spot a woman walking on the road slapping a man on an Okada (motorbike) – just like in the Nigerian movies. I really wonder what he did. He must have grabbed her ass or something. We are staying in Victoria Island and so we pass through The Third Mainland Bridge – the longest of three connecting Lagos island to the mainland. At one point this was the longest bridge in Africa until the 6th October Bridge was erected in Cairo.

Finally blogging about my first time in Nigeria 😂 #BaptismByFire

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

I am extremely happy to see Jua Cali and Yemi Alade mash-up on the third season of Coke Studio Africa as the only billboard along The Third Mainland Bridge. Looking at the bridge and its surrounding, I am intrigued by the paradox that haunts most African countries. Here, on this road leading to some of the wealthiest hotels and estates in Nigeria, you can see first-hand disparity between the rich and poor. On two sides of the grandiose well-built bridge is the Makoko slum area with shanties elevated atop the Lagos Lagoon.

Picture via Bisola Bello

I am fascinated by the old public transport vehicles (most of which are VWs)—these are the Danfo, known for notorious drivers and conductors, just like Kenyan matatus. In some Danfos, the conductors and passengers are literally hanging outside – just like in some Nairobi and Dar mats. It’s such a homely welcome when I visit an African country and notice something that totally reminds me of Kenya – my own country. This is Africa – a continent rich in diversity just as much as in similarity.

Fore more juice on my Nigerian trip full of Wahala read To Nigeria and Back: Baptism By Fire (Part II)


Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 04.43.11As soon as I sit down with members of Dru Hill – the iconic American R&B music group that rose to fame in the late 90s – in Nairobi (Oct 2015), nostalgic memories cloud my mind. How can you accurately describe 90s music era without citing Dru Hill? Is that even possible? In My Bed, Never Make a Promise and How Deep Is Your Love include their seven Top 40 hits. Initially starting off under the name Legacy, the group later decided to go by the name Dru Hill – a move that would forever tie their legacy to the “the area where we used to rehearse,” Dru Hill founding member Nokio messages me, adding, “We got the name Dru Hill from Drui Park in Baltimore which is near where I grew up. We wanted to represent Baltimore wherever we went with no question.” As I am writing this article I realise that it was the one important question that I forgot to ask Dru Hill during my interview with them so I drop Nokio a message and he responds immediately.

Dru Hill is in Nairobi for their first concert in Kenya. Nokio says, “We didn’t know about all the love we had here until we got here. Hopefully we can spread more love through our music.” They are only doing two TV interviews while in Kenya including this one so I have to make it count – I tell myself. Sitting at the ebony-coloured Sankara Hotel meeting room with Dru Hill members: Nokio, Sisqó, Tao and Jazz – I quickly notice that all have such different personalities. I am surprised that Sisqó the lead singer of the group isn’t the most vocal. It is the founder Nokio who talks most and is most assertive. He’s also protective of Dru Hill, in a caring way. Tao and Jazz hardly speak but their body language says that they support everything the rest say.

Dru Hill’s 1996 debut eponymous, and sophomore album: Enter the Dru (1998) catapulted them into instant success. It wouldn’t be long till the 2000s came with the recession of R&B. By this time the group had also been affected by internal wrangles, tension and an identity crisis leading to temporary separation and some members pursuing solo careers. In 2002 however, Dru Hill decided to reunite and produced the album Dru World Order, which would be followed by the 2010 release InDRUpendence Day. Their 20-year long career has been a roller coaster filled with highs and lows, great memories, tours, travel and breakups to makeups. So what now? I am curious. Nokio says, “It’s a good time for us in music as a lot of generations listening to good music are still discovering us and those who sang with us when we were younger are still getting a chance to see us perform.”

I always wondered what went on in the minds of the 90s kings of R&B like Dru Hill, Jodeci, Silk, R Kelly and Kenny Lattimore. Was it always lovemaking, heartbreaks and songs about sex? I ask Dru Hill to expound on what really went down behind the music. Their story goes that they were signed to a label at a young age forcing their initial sound to sound mature even though they were actually not mature as individuals and as a group.

In My Bed

Written and produced by Daryl Simmons, Ralph Stacy and Raphael Brown, In My Bed was a song Dru Hill detested yet it would later become a number one platinum selling single – the second off their debut album. It spent three weeks at number one on the US R&B chart. Sisqó says, “I never wanted to sing that song initially because nobody was sleeping in my bed that I knew of and I kind of felt like a cheat singing about someone sleeping in my bed. I was like this is our second single and now I am looking like a sucker. I really had to figure out how to channel that aggression in the first opening line. The aggression actually worked out to my benefit because it took away the venom of the words I had to sing.”

That explains why I remember watching In My Bed back in the day and feeling the pain of someone cheating on me even though I was barely 10 years old and couldn’t have known what it really meant to be cheated on. That was the beauty of the baby making music era – singers sold feelings and tales, more than just sex.

Dru Hill suddenly look at each other and burst out laughing at an inside joke. They are mumbling about having had two or three girls in their beds soon after the song’s triumph… Men will be men.

Never Make a Promise

The number one single followed In My Bed and was also written and produced by the American R&B singer/songwriter and record producer Daryl Simmons. Daryl went to high school with future legendary R&B music maker Babyface. Their life-long alliance would flourish into friendship as they joined and formed several music groups and bands from their teen days. Nokio says, “When Daryl presented to us Never Make a Promise we were like – are you sure? A lot of people never understood Daryl and his history in music – him, Babyface and L.A Reid have been together playing in bands and making music since the 70s and he was just the one who was doing his own thing when the rest started LaFace.”

‘How We Found Ourselves’

When Babyface teamed up with L.A Reid to start LaFace Records, Daryl went his separate way yet still maintained his ties with the duo. The trio together discovered, signed and produced artistes as Toni Braxton, Usher, TLC and Outkast. Dru Hill recalls the glitches and perks of having worked with Daryl at an early stage of their career, “We were fresh out of college with ideas in music. He was the first major producer to come to us with mature music. We didn’t understand it totally and one time we sat down with him to learn vocal dynamics because before we were just singing.”

Sisqo interjects.

He says, “[Before Daryl] our demos did not sell. That was when we learnt at a very young age at the very beginning of our careers [the secret of] working with other writers and producer—they already have their money and notoriety and if they bring you a song that they feel people will like – that’s when you’re artistry comes in. When I was singing in the lead in songs like In My Bed I told myself – Yo! If I can make this song hot then that means that I become a commodity.” From then onwards Dru Hill would always stamp their twist in every project. Nokio says, “Short of it being a record that we love so much, we always make sure we go in and make a record totally ours. 112 liked In My Bed but it ended up being ours. Who knows what it would have been if someone else did it?”

How Deep is Your Love

Any music lover knows too well that every generation comes with its movers and shakers. Dru Hill says that the new skool cats they are digging include Trey Songz, Chris Brown, NE-YO, The Weeknd, Bryson Tiller and Fetty Wap – “the foundation of new R&B” – they describe the collective. Nokio tells me of Dru Hill’s golden years, “To pioneer a genre and set the foundation and still be able to be around now for the younger generation to get us is a blessing,” before digressing thanks to my puzzled star-struck face, “Look she’s sitting looking at y’all like – what?”

The rest start to laugh at me.

At this moment I am here but I am not. I can’t help but think of my growing up in a small town (Molo). Watching MTV was such a luxury so we would record MTV shows with our favourite artists (and Dru Hill would never miss) then we would play it over and over. One of my best Dru Hill jams was How Deep is Your Love.

“See you are talking but I can’t believe you’re here,” I tell them.

“I am not though,” jests Nokio.

We all burst into laugher.

“I gotta keep pinching myself; you can see my expression. I am here wondering were these guys in the video of How Deep is Your Love? On top of that building?”

Nokio jumps off his seat and pinches me as we laugh more. He says, “You know how crazy it is that you mention that. We left South Africa at a Nelson Mandela Celebration event and got a phone call that the director of [the 1998 movie] Rush Hour was finishing to film and wants to shoot the video of How Deep is Your Love with us and we were like – Okay! We went to shoot the video in Hong Kong [but events leading to it make us remember] great memories from Africa.”

Solo Careers | Dru’s New Order

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 9.57.31 PMAt certain times the group decided to take breaks for members to pursue their solo careers. It has been reported that Dru Hill had made an agreement with the mother of Woody, one of the original members of Dru Hill, that they would let him pursue a solo career in gospel music after their success. Woody recorded a solo album under Kirk Franklin’s label before reuniting with Dru Hill for their third and last album with him as member. By the time Dru Hill released their last album, InDRUpendence, Woody had been replaced by new member Tao.

It always seemed like lead singer Sisqó was also head of Dru Hill or always wanted to pursue a solo career. He responds, “It was a misconception. Initially I never wanted to be a solo artist but I ended up exploring that out of necessity because of different things that we had to work out as a group. I always wanted to be the best group member that I could be.” Sisqó’s debut album, Unleash the Dragon (1999), birthed the hit single Thong Song marking the onset of his successful solo career that also saw him release the album, Return of Dragon in 2001. Little is known about his 2015 released, Last Dragon, album.

Nokio on the other hand says that he would never have been at the forefront of Dru Hill or even sang at all if he had his way from the start. “I sang because that’s the only way I knew how to get into the business. In the beginning I didn’t even want to be an artist. I wanted to be a record man or a producer but I couldn’t figure out that at 14. One of my mother’s friends had a friend who was in the music industry. They came to our house one day and I sang Baby Hold On To Me and they were like, we’re gonna take you out to of school and move you to Philly. Later I started Dru Hill and then I just never left,” adding “Once I saw Jodeci I thought I could be that cool, write and produce. All I wanted was to be the sexiest background singer there ever was.”

I don’t even know what he is talking about – he made it! :-)

Sisqó says that he’s worked with Nokio on most of his solo projects. Nokio also sings in a rock band called Black Angel Down. Both Jaaz and Tao have their solo music too. Having this in-depth conversation with Dru Hill leaves off a feeling of eternal camaraderie between them, whatever the case. I wonder if Dru Hill still has their synergy during the live performances of their songs like in the video of We’re Not Making Love No More. “We’ve got the classic moves and a couple of new ones,” says Sisqó – who has a hood over his head. He refuses to show his hair till show time.

Their concert has a Dru Hill and Sisqó set. It’s not what I expected but it’s still memorable. “Music is never gonna be the same from generation to generation. Even before we came out people were trying to get deals but couldn’t but we just kept going. There is no balance so you either get all of it or nothing,” says Nokio. I wonder if this is his way of accepting the different facets of their career’s circle. However, I really love their dance moves and different renditions of most of their songs at the concert.

Yaaaas to that jump!! #Tellme #DruHillKE @DruHill4Real

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

Nokio dishes new plans, “Right now we are working on our twentieth anniversary project. It’s not going to be just music but we have a lot of different components that we are putting together collectively, and individually. Thank you for all the love.” I once read a great detailed Dru Hill feature story (but can’t remember where) and told myself that one day I would do the same myself – so grateful to catch up with Dru Hill right when the  dragon is planning to awaken 20 years later.

BONUS: Thanks Della, HBR, PRC LTD and Dru Hill. Another cherry on top of my already awesome cake of a year

12202158_10153568249707559_59896028_nI have a serious love affair with Rwanda and the city of Kigali. I’ve been there three times already only this year. Spending a week in Kigali in October opened my eyes to the peace, calm, order and beauty that this city has to offer. I compiled a list of things you must do when in Kigali. Thank me later.

  1. Visit the Genocide Memorial Centre

Here you will learn in detail about the history and detail of the 1994 Genocide. Remember to carry flowers to place in the garden. Carry a handkerchief as you might end up sobbing like a baby, but even more importantly carry your head up high, no need to sob—this is an experience that will make you understand the power of redemption. The memorial centre opens even on Sunday so there’s no excuse for missing out on this. Look out for my friend Bonheur – Chief Historian who works there.

I wrote about the Kigali Genocide Centre

2. Visit Nyamirambo

Many have described Kigali’s most vibrant and oldest township – Nyamirambio – as the equivalent of Nairobi’s Eastleigh. This is where to get the cheapest food and motels in Kigali. The motels will not be top notch but the food – you will never forget it! This area has a large population of Muslims. For this reason you will easily find Swahili delicacies here. Try Chap Chap, they have some great Pilau and Fried Meat in onions and curry.

Make sure you try the Akabanga Chilli Oil – it’s so so hot! Chap Chap also has the best Ginger Tea and Lemonade I have ever drank. Check out the names of the tiny shops here. Hilarious! From KFC (Kigali Fried Chicken), to Feedback Shop :-)  I really enjoyed my nights in Nyamirambo with Danny, Christian, Bruce, Patrique, Eric and Nelson. Thanks guys! While there you can also check out Nyamirambo Regional Stadium, it has some beautiful coloured stairs. Kigali’s hot music group: Urban Boyz shot one of their videos here. Check it out!

3. Visit the National Museum

12197167_10153568256402559_176978646_oMost people think that Rwanda’s history is synonymous to the genocide. That’s an unforgettable past and as Rwandese people find a way forward into a brighter future, discover the other side of their history. Danny and I took a two-hour bus ride to Huye (formerly known as Butare) to visit the institute of National Museums of Rwanda.

12204913_10153568252812559_103483428_nThe architecture of the museum and organisation is impressive. Going through the five galleries will present you through Rwanda’s history, from the geographical formation and composition of the country; tradition, culture, the pre-colonial and post-colonial eras, and trade. I really loved to see their traditional attires. The Ishabure (a ripped loin skirt) is something I can wear today. The King’s other wives wore crowns that had two horns. These and many other futuristic African regalia make me wonder why African ornamental expression has receded in progression of years. The king’s babies on the other hand were so fat my God!

4. Take a Moto (motorbike)

12204050_10153568259227559_58150090_oYou haven’t really been to Rwanda if you haven’t taken a Moto. It’s cheaper than taking a taxi. The cheapest Moto within town should cost you around 300 Rwandan Francs and the most expensive shouldn’t be more than 1,500 Rwandan Francs. They are also a safer option in comparison with the madness that comes with bodaboda riders in Nairobi. While in Huye Danny and I hop onto Motos to find the small lovely café Nehemiah. There we hid from the rain and shared the best burger and chips I’ve heard since I could remember.

5. Check out Kimihurura Street

12190485_10153568263407559_1234832017_oThis street is the life of the party. Several clubs including Trattoria, Envy, Papyrus, Chapter One, Mama Club and Sundowner are based here. During the day you can grab good some great food at Trattoria or the restaurant African Bites right on the street. The food at African Bites is boring-looking but I thought them presenting the food in African pots was really cool. They serve Rwandese specialties like Isombe and some Ugandan treats like the Beef or Fish in Peanut Sauce. Shokola is a restaurant and café along the same street that is just the best for you if you are like me – I love gourmet food, peace, calm, books and time to myself to think about my life and get work done. Thanks Eric for introducing me to this cool spot.

6. Attend the Kigaliup Festival

This is Rwanda’s biggest music festival and comes every July. Its organisers also hold workshops and tiny events around the main two-day festival every year, so check this out. This is one of the platforms bringing to Rwandans quality live performances. It’s held at Amahoro Stadium – a historic venue. In 1994 it was temporarily hosted up to 12,000 refugees. A Lucky Dube Rwanda peace concert held in 2000 here hosted 20,000 people. While on that tip, check out Hotel des Mille Collines – this is the hotel where 1994 Genocide events inspired the Hollywood blockbuster Hotel Rwanda.

Yesterday at the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda ✌ #Huye #Butare #TravelTales #ILoveArt

A photo posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

I wrote about Hotel Rwanda here

I wrote about Kigaliup here

As I keep going back to Rwanda I will discover more things to do so I can share with you all. Cheers!

BONUS: Thanking my good people at Positive Productions, Afrogroov and Rock Events and Promotion for hosting me in Rwanda and making sure my time there was awesome. Murakoze! I wrote about Stromae for Daily Nation, the article will be published soon.

IMG_0195 (1)With Kenya athletes emerging top for the first time in the IAAF World Championships this year, there couldn’t have been a better time to make a film on the runners. A new film titled, Chep, is already in the works. The film has been directed and written by Jinna Mutune. She also directed and produced the 2012 film ‘Leo’, a story about a young Maasai boy with dreams of becoming a superhero.

Jinna says of her new project: “Chep is a film covering the journey of a female athlete in her effort to become a world marathoner. The film explores themes like redemption, love, power and family.”

Set in the 1970s, the fictional drama will capture the history of Kenyan running, from the early beginnings of the long distance running supremacy. Being a time when female runners were almost unheard of, a young aspiring runner Chebet — the lead character of the film — triumphs over prejudice and hardship to challenge a tough environment and become a female world marathoner.

Jinna says: “I needed the 1970s time period because I love pan-African culture and I’ve noted that African films aren’t themed as much. It also allows me to experiment with different sets, fashion and style.”

While the film is set to capture Kenya’s rich culture before the dilution that came with modernisation, its score celebrates the woman and the impact she is making in the society today.


‘Ebu Njoo’, featuring Sauti Sol, composed by Jaaz Odongo and written by Fena Gitu, has already been released as a “tactic of using music to introduce the film to the public.”

Jinna says: “The song’s message applauds men in the society, who see women for more than just housewives or cooks. However, there is nothing wrong with those who see women differently — we are just challenging stereotypes in a holistic manner without being too direct. “Additional to cutting across to a global audience in a poetic way, the song’s message also has a CSR campaign agenda supporting maternal health.”

The film is currently in its first phase of production and should be launched early next year. Jinna has developed the script with the expert help of a team of African writers, including Samba Yonga, Kaizer Mastumunye and Rodgers Gold. She confirms that she has locked down her main cast members and scouted film locations, including Iten and Iveti Hills in Machakos County. She will also be collaborating with various professionals in the Kenyan and Hollywood film industry in the production.

‘Chep’ is a story about the African woman, courage, and the power of a dream. The film will capture the rich cultural heritage of Kenyan communities while telling a riveting story of how Chebet triumphs over cultural norms. She must eventually fight and overcome her own fears to find her voice.

As audiences wait on ‘Chep’ — what promises to be yet another unique Kenyan film — Jinna concludes: “Kenya’s film industry is sprouting and at a better place.

There is a lot of talent and people are starting to see the commercial viability. Ripple effects include Kenyan actress Lupita Nyongo’s Oscar win, and freedom of speech. All these things make me hopeful.

“However, I am not doing art for art’s sake, it has to make money sense, this is a business. I am producing Chep for the mainstream market and aiming for Cannes Festival among box office and mass distribution.”

‘Chep’ will be released in May next year.


  • ‘Chep’ is a story about the African woman, courage, and the power of a dream. The film will capture the rich cultural heritage of Kenyan communities while telling a riveting story of how Chebet triumphs over cultural norms. She must eventually fight and overcome her own fears to find her voice.
  • Set in the 1970s, the fictional drama will capture the history of Kenyan running, from the early beginnings of the long distance running supremacy.
  • Being a time when female runners were almost unheard of, a young aspiring runner Chebet — the lead character of the film — triumphs over prejudice and hardship to challenge a tough environment and become a female world marathoner.

BONUS: This article was originally written for Daily Nation, and edited by my amazing Editor of Saturday Nation Arts & Culture. It was also published by Nation Online.

You might also like my article on the annual International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR): Project takes African film to the world published by Daily Nation.

12071680_10153519387597559_69402108_nI always have a dream—for all artists irrespective of their calibre, status or nationality – to be treated equally, and to be granted same opportunities to enhance collaboration and dialogue. In September, I birthed an idea – to produce an Artist Talk Back Event featuring South African rapper K.O and Kenya’s very own Octopizzo, on the topic: music’s role in shaping the African narrative.

K.O has come to East Africa for his first media and tour showcase and being the manager of his Kenyan phase I take it upon myself to make this happen.

Read my article on why ‘collabos’ are the future of African music, published by Saturday Nation.

On a chill Friday, we make our way to the lush Nairobi Arboretum grounds – home of 2015 Storymoja Festival. The good people here are hosting the Artist Talk Back event powered by WhatsGoodLive. I choose Octopizzo because just like K.O he comes from a small background, for the kind of personalities they’ve both become. The two are inspiring pillars in African hip hop and have both remained true to their wit, swag, attitude, local slang and originality. I wanted them to share their story with a youthful audience and inspire them with their stories of starting empires of sorts; from nothing to something.

From Grass to Grace

By the time K.O arrives at Arboretum, he’s already heard a lot about Octopizzo. My hommie on the other hand didn’t wait a second to confirm that he’d do the session with K.O when I asked him. At the talk he confesses,” I feel K.O’s music even though he might think I don’t. People like him doing it big in their native language are the people who make me proud to rap in Sheng’.”

12071658_10153519387422559_287495735_nA table elevated by a platform, two seats, two mics, a moderator (me) and a crowd of about fifty guests – the setting for two rappers in an intimate setting. They are like two peas in a pod. The way they first greet each other before entering the dome feels like they are friends reuniting.

When I remember the shit hole where Octo came from in relation to his success, it puts me back to an extent that words can’t describe my pride for the hommie. Back in the day, he took me to his shanty, right by bursting sewers and broken pipes, deep in the heart of Kibera slum, where he was born and raised, “a place where I still go to write real shit, that’s where I can be inspired,” Octo says.

K.O recently made history with his music video: Caracara becoming South Africa’s first hip hop video to reach a Million Youtube Views. The official celebration of the video’s 2 Million Views was held in Kenya at Mseto’s Afrobeat Wednesdays at K1. He says, “It hasn’t been easy coming from a South African small town miles away from Johannesburg. If you were to see my environment, my hometown, you won’t even believe that I am this guy sitting here with all this swag. It’s all about self-belief, putting God first and chasing your dreams.” K.O recalls how he started out, “I moved out to the big city and made a few friends. We were all interested in music so after we graduated we decided to do music professionally despite not having enough money to start our career. To cut the long story short that’s how Teargas was started.”

Both rappers, like most of us, experience challenges, criticism or negativity. K.O says, “A lot of people meet hurdles and change their minds and want to give up. When I had challenges they were not deterring enough for me to decide on a different career path – the dream was always there. Even when Teargas wasn’t happening and sometimes I found myself with no income, zero in my account—it made me work harder and smarter. That’s why I am here and pray that God will bless me with the brains to do better and be smarter to reach my fullest potential. If you have a vision, despite your line of career, believe in yourself and want to change the world. Follow your path.”

Octo says, “If you’re an artist know that this is a marathon, you can start today and have a hit song but what will be next?” adding, ”I’ve been a lucky guy. I started back in 2008 and kept going despite people loving me then hating me. I was told change that ghetto stuff. People will always talk about you. It’s a circle. But I never changed. I stay focused.”

 Nairobi to Jozi: Building Empires

12077270_10153519387467559_1588056011_nK.O is also a record producer. He was the first artist to be signed to Cashtime Life, which he also co-owns. His debut album Skhanda Republic has surpassed gold sales and counting into platinum. Among other awards and accolades the album has won three awards: Record Of The Year – Best Rap Album and Best Collaboration at the South Africa Music Awards (SAMAs XXI). He says, “I was blessed with a vision of setting up my own company and being able to give back to the industry and create opportunities for other people – how the idea of the label Cashtime Life (co-owned with my manager Thabiso) – came about.”

Octo is currently in Europe for a tour. Most of his songs are produced by producers from other countries, “to avoid the monotony of Kenyan beats and stay fresh”, he says, advising all artists, “You have to be business minded”. Around 2009, Octo started his company Chocolate City with a group of friends who acted as bouncers and security for tourists who wanted to tour Kibera. “We were idle and I saw an opportunity for us to make money while showing local and international tourists all sides of Kibera. It’s not just about drugs and theft or bad things but there is talent and I am show for it,” says Octo. His company now specialises in making merchandise, well-organised Kibera tours and funding youth projects in the slum.

Music’s role in shaping the African Narrative

“As of last year Teargas members decided to explore our solo careers and that’s how you guys got to know of Caracara. I was lucky enough to see what Caracara did beyond South Africa. My music is in Zulu. It’s not a coincidence that you know Caracara—music is a universal language that’s why people jam to it,” says K.O.

The song Caracara is K.O’s ode to the legendary vehicle and how it featured in the South African township lifestyle of the 90s.

K.O’s successful hit single Caracara has changed the landscape of South African urban youth music, ushering a new era. It become the first song to ever top all 5 EMA charts – SA Local Music Top 40 Playlist, SA Local Music Top 40 RAMS, SA Television Top 40 Playlist, SA Top 100 Playlist and SA Top 100 RAMS at the same time. He says, “I am glad that I am still relevant enough to come here and interact with you guys and have real relations with fellow artists and get my name popping. Africans need to remain content and proud of our culture as the world wants to see fresh and new culture.”

12053185_10153519387372559_586764573_nOcto’s music style has remained true to Sheng’ and his hood, to an extent his a.k.a is his hood’s route number 8. He says, “My Africa is Sheng’ as there is no Sheng’ elsewhere. The Kanyes are now putting Swahili in their rap because it’s cool. If they knew where they came from they’d be rapping to it, even Luo. We have an advantage because we know our roots but we don’t embrace it. We try to be western nowadays – we have to stand out as Africans. When I first rapped in English in Berlin, the crowd didn’t get me till I started rapping in Sheng’. I respect that about K.O he kept it Zulu – that’s gangsta. K.O’s response, “Take your sheng’ to the world for they understand the mentality and attitude and they wanna buy into that.”

Octo is celebrated for his debut breakout hit: On Top. In the song Octo cleverly strings the connotation of buying fly shoes when you get stash with the theory of faking it till you make it. Octo is the success story of a hustler using street cred to camouflage his way into getting full status in the entertainment world. He says that following up the hit song was a nightmare. “When I did Hivo Hivo people didn’t think I’d have another hit song out.”

12048694_10153519387697559_659744886_nK.O has been to TZ too during his first East Africa tour. He says, “We decided on this trip as a business decision so next up is the West. That’s our main strategy. If you have music inspirations, make sure that you have a broad enough world view for you to do the things you want to do in the country,” concluding, “As Anyiko said – it is very important for African artists to not necessarily get into the music with an [alienated approach]. Don’t focus on serving your country only, as Africa is a big continent. [As artists] we need to make sure that we engage beyond our own nationalities; we need to export our talent, culture and heritage.”

BONUS: Thank you Alan Mola for the photography and 2015 Storymoja Festival for hosting us. Thank you WhatsGoodLive for co-producing and powering the K.O x Octo Artist Talk Back Event. Thanks Nairobi Rapsody for being partners. Thanks Thabiso, Tsholo, K.O and Octo for being the trillest :-) 


IMG_20150920_141923The last time I was in Rwanda I only spent 24 hours there yet it felt like a good three days so when I actually returned to Kigali this September for a good three days it felt like a great week – I will try explain why.

After a busy week coordinating and managing three events as part of South African rapper K.O’s first media tour in Kenya, I have attended the wedding of the year on Saturday and two parties on the same night before catching my flight to Kigali on Sunday morning.

I arrive in Kigali and head straight to the Amahoro Stadium to meet my colleagues at Coke Studio Africa (CSA) in a press conference. We are in Rwanda in preparation for the launch of the song ONE – a peace anthem. As the Publicist of CSA, my work here is to assist in managing media interviews and all PR opportunities. My other duty is to enjoy myself, and this place to the fullest! It’s awesome to be reuniting with all the artistes and their entourage. Had really missed them all since the end of filming the third season of CSA in Nairobi.

Hotel Rwanda

We are staying at the historic Hotel des Milles Collines Kempinski – the film Hotel Rwanda was based on the actual events that happened in this very hotel in 1994. At this serene and neat hotel 1,268 people took refuge during the genocide as the manager at the time, Paul Rusesabagina, acted to save lives by granting them shelter. I discover later that the film Hotel Rwanda starring Don Cheadle wasn’t actually filmed here but the fact that I am staying at the hotel where thousands found refuge is such a special thing for me. The rooms are pretty simple and classy. I love that the hotel has paintings all over – it provides a sense of homeliness. Their outdoor patio – where we always have breakfast – is like heaven.


A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

As soon as I arrive at hotel I am met by Ishimwe (a young Rwandan visual artist) who I had prior met at Kigali UP Festival during my first trip here. He’s brought me a painting of myself. He says he made it because he likes my pictures and writing. Despite the fact that it does look like me in the next 20 years, I am in such awe. It’s so touching when someone who doesn’t know you to do this kind of thing. We talk about his career, constantly switching between English and French. His English is as terrible as my French and vice versa, so we find a middle ground. Ishimwe will be finishing art school in a few months and would like to embark on his first solo exhibition, take up photography and find a resident program at an art centre. We vow to join forces to make all these happen.

Finally Watching Mafikizolo Live in Concert

After finally settling in, I call over my Rwandese friend – Bruce. He’s the most legit person in the entertainment scene here, his latest project being the first-ever Mafikizolo concert in Kigali, happening tonight. From about 4:00 p.m. we start to hang out. He even takes me to the airport to pick up ice Prince and Alikiba after which he scoops me for a 25 minute-ride out of town to the venue where Mafikizolo are playing in Rwanda for the first time ever tonight. I have never seen Mafikizolo in concert so I am more than excited.

When we arrive it’s cool to see the festival packed. Bruce leads me straight to the backstage VIP area where I meet Mafikizolo. I remind them that we met in Nairobi last year and I was the last to interview them. They seem to remember me but I am not too sure. Nevertheless, we have a great conversation with Nhlanhla. I am quick to tell her that she’s one of my biggest role models and style icons, and that her ways truly inspire many young African women. Her smile is worth a thousand words. Being backstage with Mafikizolo observing them prepare for their show is like watching a movie. Theo doesn’t speak much. He keeps throwing dance moves and fixing his lovely Maasai regalia, which he says he purchased in Tanzania. Nhlanhla wants her lady dancers to shorten their half coats. She literally pulls out a thread and a needle and starts stitching up.

When it’s finally show time, they are playing half live—it’s a cocktail of colour, dance, classic songs and synchrony between the dynamic duo. I enjoy the show so much I can’t even describe how awesome it was. Anyone who hasn’t seen Mafikizolo in concert must make a point. Through their performance, you can see maturity and experience – and years and years of investment. None of their band members sounds greater than another; it’s a balanced mix. The performances of Khona and Happiness make me so happy.

After the concert, I sit in the backstage watching Bruce coordinating Mafikizolo interviews and selfies with fans – it takes Forever. By this time, I have hardly slept two hours straight in the past 48 hours. I just want to go home. But I have to wait for Bruce to finish the job. It becomes so crazy that I am so tempted to put on my Publicist boots and yell, “Everybody Order! Now leave!” I don’t.

Kigali nights out are like nights out in Europe. Concerts don’t go over 1:00 a.m. and people leave for home soon after events, unlike in Kenya where there’s always an after party. Bruce drives me to the hotel alongside Makeda, the loveliest lady I’ve met in Kigali. She’s also a radio presenter and DJ. We enjoy conversation about the music industry in East Africa and the fact that Stromae is half Rwandese, and almost played in Kigali. Bruce was bringing him in until he fell sick… He hopes to bring him in before year ends, can’t wait!

_20150929_143500On the next day, we enjoy an awesome celebration of the Peace One Day at the Petit Stade at the launch of our Coke Studio Africa produced peace anthem – ONE, written by Zwai Bala and performed by Coke Studio Africa artists: Maurice Kirya, Ice Prince, Dama Do Bling, Alikiba and Wangechi.

At night we’ve got a low key after party at the hotel. Bruce and some new friends from Rwanda come over to our hotel. Most of them are industry players and recognise me from the Mafikizolo concert. “You looked so serious though,” they note. Lol. It’s so great to talk challenges in our music industries and many are similar. Makes me realise why Africans need to unite more.

By Tuesday morning, I am sad and disturbed beyond what words could describe. First of all, I don’t understand what has been happening to me in Rwanda. The time just seemed to not move (in a good way). It seemed and felt as if I was able to use only about 10 hours in achieving productivity I could generally achieve in two days. When I napped or slept, I would always woke up feeling like I was late to work or something, only to realise it was always around 5:00 a.m.

I don’t need to blog again about the cleanliness in Rwanda. It’s impeccable. Read my previous blog post on Rwanda here. The only stray thing I see is a bottle of water left at the airport counter by one of my colleagues. Wonder who that was, either way I dispose it for them. I miss to see my other Rwandese buddies: Nelson and Bonheur who are away on business. However, I really enjoy my time in Rwanda this time.

As I am heading to the airport, this time there are no hard feelings. I have slept enough, seen enough, been gifted with a painting of myself and just about done everything I wanted to do over the trip.

Thank you to each and every person who made my trip in Rwanda amazing. I feel so blessed.

BONUS: Check out the song ONE below:

Behind the R&B/Pop sensation: NE-YO on Coke Studio Africa, Empire & Songwriting

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 10.36.53 PM“Let your passion be your focal point –that’s my secret to success,” NE-YO tells me. I am the last to interview him in Kenya and thankful that I didn’t run out of time. If I did, I’d still probably interview him. As the Entertainment/Music Publicist of his hosts Coke Studio Africa (CSA), I am working in collaboration with his Publicist Afrika and so far we’ve had a successful day managing NE-YO’s first press conference and interview spree in Nairobi.

Meeting and closely interacting with NE-YO has been a dream come true for me. Earlier on in the day, right after my first meeting with him, I tell him how much of a fan I go way back. “When In My Own Words came out in 2006, it was around my gap year before starting university and that was everything I was jamming to,” I tell him. He seems genuinely impressed. We talk more about work. I introduce myself to him better and explain the concept of Coke Studio Africa and what’s expected of him at the press conference.

While sitting across him at CSA’s cozy Behind the Music studio space for the interview, I can’t help but feel like he’s jumped right out of YouTube. From So Sick, Hate that I Love You, When You’re Mad, Sexy Love, She Knows, Coming with You and Lazy Love – I am such a die-hard NE-YO fan. I hope I don’t fuck up. Thankfully I end up with a sweet interview.

Home Away from Home

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 10.39.22 PMNE-YO’s first time in Nairobi, Kenya is memorable. He says, “Everybody I’ve come in contact with has been head over heels with the friendliness, love and niceness. I feel loved.” The American superstar is Coke Studio Africa season three’s main guest star. “I’ve been put in the presence of five [Maurice Kirya, Wangechi, Ice Prince, Dama Do Bling and Alikiba] amazing artists representing five countries [Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Mozambique and Tanzania, respectively] to create an amazing song. We’ve done just that. I honestly feel like I’ve known them all my life because we share the same passion. I look forward to the performance of this song later on in the season,” he says, adding “This is my first time in this part of the continent but I definitely plan to come back. I want to see what Kenya really has to offer and get acquainted with more artists from here.”

The third season of Coke Studio Africa premieres October 21st

Music + Art + TV = Art at its Best

“Don’t do visual arts or sing for money. Those things need to be done with a passion. In anything that you love and do – you need to enjoy doing it. If you do it well someone will enjoy it too and pay you for it. Do what you do from your heart,” says NE-YO. The accomplished musician has to date produced six studio albums and featured in several blockbuster films. NE-YO has won three Grammies including Best Contemporary R&B Album for his 2008 album: Because of You. He’s since founded his imprint company: Compound Entertainment, which he speaks highly of at the press conference. As my moderation comes to a close, he crashes my vote of thanks message adding, “And shout out to Compound – without them I wouldn’t be here.”

He’s got fans in anticipation of his new role as music producer of the second season of Empire. “I can’t give away too much but I’ve definitely been a fan of the show from the very beginning,” he says, revealing, “Really excited to be working with just about everybody that does music on the show this season. I am working mostly with Jamal and Hakeem. I love to be part of the machine and what the show is doing for music.”

The second season of Empire premieres September 23rd

NE-YO seems to be living the celebrity life – what many artists are chasing at if not the money. But sitting with him and connecting makes me realise the more that even superstars can be such ordinary people. He says, “When people meet me they are like you’re so down to earth but for real the celebrity thing is just a title. Don’t do anything for money. Making ends meet shouldn’t be the motivating factor of why you’re doing what you’re doing. There are a multitude of things that you can do in this planet but art should never be in that category.”

Songwriting – Let me Love You

 Every song that I’ve written in the realm of love be it the good or the bad side have all come from specific people and relationships that I screwed up or that other people screwed up. The unfortunate thing is songwriters will always explore the negative side of relationships. I keep it in that realm because everybody goes through it. It doesn’t matter if you’re the richest person in the world or have a ballad to your name, there is that special person to you and it’s gonna go good or bad – that’s just the reality of life.”

Even before NE-YO’s 2006 debut album – In My Own Words – birthed an R&B game changer, he had already built a name for himself as a masterful songwriter of the new R&B era – post 90s writers like R. Kelly and Babyface. NE-YO has written mega R&B hit records like Marquez Houston’s That Girl (2003), Mario’s Let me Love You (2004), Beyonce’s Irreplaceable (2006) and Rihanna’s Russian Roulette (2009). He’s written several songs for other artistes too, even for Michael Jackson before his passing. And now he’s held onto the songs so as not to be disrespectful to the memory of the King of Pop.

NE-YO says, “Let me love you is one of the very few co-writes I’ve ever done. Shout out to [the Australian singer/songwriter] Sia – the incredible artist and songwriter. The initial premise of the song came from her personal experience and things she was going through, in regards to self – love. She was going through a period where ‘let me love you until you learn to love yourself’ tagline dealt with some of her dealings with the people who helped her get to a better place.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 10.41.23 PMI am amazed by the chance and opportunity to meet NE-YO. It’s really so inspiring. I grew up in a small town, watching MTV videos and listening to good music but never did I ever even imagine meeting NE-YO, let alone having to work closely with him and his team. He tells me, “I am a person who gives people the respect that I expect to get back and just live my life.” Thank you Coke Studio Africa for the chance.

As I wrap up the interview, I want to know what kind of things NE-YO likes to do when he’s not around the world working and touring. “When I am not all over the place, my typical day is with my kids Madeline (4) and Mason (3). I spend a lot of my free time with them. They are not old enough to move around with me yet but as soon as they are, I will take them with me. If I am not with them, I go to the studio, movies or restaurants—I am a person first.”

NE-YO says that he has plans to work with Coke Studio Africa’s 5 artists past the song recording. He’s now eyeing the Coke Studio Africa season premiere, his stint on Empire and his seventh album – “coming very soon.” As for die-hard NE-YO fans, he left you a message: “From the bottom of my heart I just wanna thank y’all for being real and regular people. The celebrity thing is cool but I just thank you all for appreciating the music and letting me be who I am and letting me live my dream. Thanks for the support. I will keep delivering quality entertainment to the world.”

BONUS: Watch my interview with NE-YO for KBC’s Grapevine :-)





11912977_10153422834902559_300575038_nJust one visit to the memorial will be the best history class you’ve had in a long time. During the Rwandan Genocide, “Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines was used to incite hatred, to give instructions and justify the killings” – writes the memorial. In this post, I dissect the roles played by media and church in the propagation of the genocide, and a peaceful way forward.

Role of the Media

Media propaganda played a big role in shaping the events that led to the genocide. While at the memorial we see archives of sample newspaper cuttings over a span of a decade. They are all spreading malicious lies, hatred and implicating one tribe against the other. This is what served as a backbone of fuelling genocide.

We also see the 10 Commandments of Hutus drafted by a certain bishop. Everybody was expected to act on the 10 commandments just like they did to the ones in the bible. So ridiculous. Bonheur narrates of how the propaganda conditioned people’s minds. “If you take life from someone even before you kill him [it means] the killer is not a human being but a killing machine. A young man could attack a whole group [of people] without resistance because they had already killed in their minds. They were successful in killing and wiping out families – why women and children were largely attacked.”

11894832_10153426890767559_604674739_oThe international media also played a big role in the wrong definition of the genocide. They largely reported that genocide was an outbreak of African war against different African tribes. Very few accurately reported the real cause of the genocide. However, many were accurate in reporting on the kind of preparation and training for the genocide. The international community was warned about the impending massacre but they never ran to Rwanda’s rescue or responded positively. Bonheur says, “1,700 militias had already been trained and 300 more were supposed to be trained each week, with a capacity of killing around 1000 people in 20 minutes, revealed Jean Pierre (coded name for his security)  one of the trainers from the ruling party.”

By the time we are done with this part of the history lessons, one thing is clear. The genocide’s wrath left many scathed. Those who set out to kill others were highly effective as successful. Many families had Tutsi and Hutu members in one household. The segregation between a people ran down into families, ending up separating siblings – making them arch enemies. Bonheur remembers his father’s survival tale. Militias had confused him for another man and missed to kill him. – “even though he was killed later.”

We also visit a space designed like a darkroom. There are hundreds of pictures of those killed, hanging on walls and on strings across walls. They were retrieved and protected here as memorabilia. There are also some personal effects like ID cards, shoes, bracelets and dresses put here.

Role of the church

More than 80% of Rwandans were Christians. 35% of all the people who were killed during the genocide died in or around church.I am very disappointed by the Catholic Church when I learn that they did not fight to save lives during Rwandan Genocide. Instead some priests ordered killings, and at times the church was in collaboration with a biased government. “The churches were no longer sacred,” says, Nelson – our other host. A lot of people ran to church for refuge – the safest place anyone can think of when in danger. Because they had a majority, the church’s role to “fight the genocide would have been more effective than any other institution,” notes Bonheur.

This part of the memorial has blue cathedral windows. It feels likes I am in church.

The Road Travelled Vs a Peaceful Future

80 % of Rwandan children experienced death in their families. 75% witnessed it and 90% believed that they would die. They are today the majority of Rwandan grownups. The memorial writes, “The international Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), based in Arusha, Tanzania, was established by the UN Security Council in its resolution 955 of November 8, 1994 to prosecute high-level organisers of the genocide. After nineteen years the Tribunal had completed 75 cases with 12 acquittals and 16 cases pending appeal.”

Not all Hutus were killing others. Some worked tirelessly to save lives. After the war, many refuges fled to Congo and other parts of the world. Survivors were left devastated and traumatised. They had to start a new life. They had to find their people’s remains or identify where they were killed so as to start the mourning process. Today the government gives 5% of its budget to survivors’ care – this includes psychological healing.

Despite all these efforts, Bonheur says that the genocide is still being denied. “We (Rwandans) are still fighting against the denial,” he says. However, “We are trying to build a peace that can never be broken,” he asserts, adding that it’s all in line with rebuilding the country’s socio-economical cloth. The memorial also runs several peace programs that have since started similar projects in Kenya and South Sudan.

I am very proud of Rwanda’s heritage and their motivation to remember the genocide. I wish international media as well as Africa media would sensitive people on the genocide more to avoid its recurrence or a replica. Visiting the memorial reminds me of Kenya’s post election violence. I don’t think Kenyans would even dare fight if they really understood the loss, and depths at which the genocide has taken Rwanda, to date.

11914235_10153422835517559_1673735365_oAs we leave the memorial, Bonheur bids us farewell and everyone immediately walks into the car. I remain behind to chat with Bonheur, thanking him for his time and taking us though their history. I ask him about his experience during the genocide. He lost his mother and five siblings in the terror. His voice trembles, making me start to balance tears. “I can’t talk about it now. I am so glad to have survived,” adding, “I owe my life to the woman who saved me.” I want to hug him so tight and reassure him that I feel him. But I am afraid because we just met today and I don’t know him like that. I don’t know what to say, other than, “I am sorry about your family, glad you are here today, and thank you.” There is power in this man, standing here in total belief in redemption. I am inspired.

As we drive out of the genocide memorial towards town for dinner – my heart is heavy. I watch my surrounding. I see happy people, children playing, beautiful streetlights and just normalcy. It’s unbelievable to imagine the massacre that was on these cool streets some decades ago. I wouldn’t have been here then. But I am here now, wondering whether the Rwandan obsession with cleanliness is to sanitize themselves from the deep scar.

Whatever the case. It shall be well.

Read the first part of my tales about Visiting Kigali Memorial here.

BONUS: My condolences and love to all the lost souls and survivors. Thanks Bonheur, Bruce and Nelson for the trip.  Guys check out the memorial’s website

11873171_10153422857597559_847123258_oNo matter which part of the world you come from, this is the one place you must visit in your lifetime – to be reminded and re-educated of life’s fragility and the danger of the human vulnerability.

In 100 days, an estimated 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed in the genocide. Imagine what the world would be if we actually spent 100 days making love, and not war. I was just a kid during the Rwanda Genocide but I was conscious of what was going on, and since vowed to visit the memorial at my first chance in Kigali.

I am in Kigali for only 24 hours. As soon as I arrive in Rwanda, I ask our hosts right at the airport about how far the Genocide Memorial is and if it opens on Sundays. Thankfully, they open on Sundays too.

Read about my 24 hours in Kigali

Accompanied by Sauti Sol and some of their band members, we head over to the memorial on Sunday afternoon. I am so touched that the management stayed open past working hours, for us. We are met and welcomed by the best historian and guide I’ve met in my history of visiting museums and places – Bonheur Pacifique. Quite the name!

11894729_10153422863502559_843035090_o (2)The remains of over 250,000 have been buried here at the Genocide Memorial, set up to prevent mass atrocity and genocide through education. I am impressed by the structural prowess behind it and the neatness and cleanliness of the memorial. Nestled above one of Rwanda’s many hills, overlooking the beautiful picturesque view of Kigali city, this has become Rwandans place of reuniting with the ones they lost in the genocide. I am embraced by a feeling of serenity, peace and purity soon after walking in. I am suddenly empowered to be strong-minded and brave. I am ready to learn about the genocide atrocity. Something tells me that I won’t sob here, today.

Honouring Rwanda’s Lost Souls

We start the visit by watching a short film at a small and intimate film room with wooden benches. The film is about survivors of the genocide, recalling the events that lead to losing their families, and how they have since found closure at the memorial. I am very touched by the story of a middle-aged man recounting how his whole family was slaughtered in a stadium, where they had been seeking refuge. “I looked over and saw my mother bleeding. She raised her dress to show me my small brother lying beneath her – dead. When I started to cry, she told me to shut up. And if I were to die, then I’d rather do it with grace. I ran off and never looked back. That was the last time I saw my family alive.” I am crying writing this because it pains me. At the memorial, however, I only shed one tear because there was a big voice of reason that asked me to remain strong for these poor people. Another woman recounts how her family’s beloved neighbours turned against them during the genocide, ending up murdering her siblings and parents, retorting that she will never trust a friend. At the end of the film, all the survivors praise the memorial as the place where they unite with the loved ones they lost.

11909735_10153422837432559_398114512_nWe then head over to the mass grave, situated in the garden area, to lay a wreath of flowers – the first thing done for anyone who comes here, states Bonheur. I haven’t even gone into the memorial yet I am so overwhelmed by the spirits here. I deeply empathise with their families and hope that they have found rest. The black and white colours on top of the wooden coffins represent “mourning and commemoration designed to reflect where the country has been and the brighter future that we are working towards,” says Bonheur. We all hold hands as Bien leads us in prayer.

Rwandan Genocide history | Role of Colonialists

We then head inside the building into the memorial’s archive where Bonheur takes us through Rwanda’s history before the wahala. It is eye-opening to peak into pre-colonial Rwanda when Rwandese people had no tribe and spoke only one language: sharing peace, love, unity, collaboration and one culture. Trouble began when the white man came to divide to rule. German and Belgian colonialists wearing anthropology masks in disguise were on a mission to split Rwandans. “Colonialists used social and economic stratification as their strong points of dividing Rwandans.” By 1932, the first Rwandese ID cards were introduced. Identification was based on physical features including height, length of nose, colours of the eyes, and wealth. “If you had more than 10 cows, then you were a Tutsi and it meant that you were rich. Hutus had less cows. Long noses indicated that you were a Tutsi and the short ones made one a Hutu.”

What this means is that you could be in a family with siblings who were half Tutsi or Hutu.

Over the next couple of decades, Rwandans go through a series of fascist governments and propaganda filled media to an extent that social revolution becomes a basic need. By the time the French colonisers take over Rwanda from the Belgians, there was already distinct animosity between the two tribes. From the 50s, Tutsis were singled out from the country’s system – it was total segregation. By the early 90s many Tutsis had fled the country and were ready to start a civil war against the country. Anything and everything that went wrong in the country would be blamed on Tutsis. “You are a Tutsi, you are a cockroach and you are a snake ” –Tutsis had to be reminded. “If you were Rwandan and you didn’t attack the Tutsi, then you were going against nationalism. This is the process that led to the institutionalism of the Genocide of Rwanda,” says Bonheur, adding, “This was taught in schools and every level of the country.”

The Genocide

“The country smelled of death, dogs were [mauling human remains]. Everything was dead, physical or otherwise.” – Bonheur sets the scene. “Families were completely wiped out without anything to document them. The country smelled like death, it was total turmoil and chaos. For 100 days, that’s what we woke up to – killing people. People looked for hiding places.” We are taken through the tools and weapons that were used to kill people. They included machetes, clubs, chains, bricks, stones and classic guns. Rwanda’s ministry of agriculture then imported clubs from China to facilitate the war. In schools, children were given assignments to make tools to facilitate the genocide, unbeknownst to them.

Mass raping of women was prevalent during the genocide. The chosen men to rape had been prior identified as HIV+ This was to ensure that women were left permanently scared had they survived the genocide, and the ordeal. “The genocidaires had been more successful in their evil aims than anyone would have dared to believe. Rwanda was dead”– writes the memorial.

Pictures in this part of the memorial are very graphic.

BONUS: My condolences and love to all the lost souls and survivors. A huge thanks to my Kigali connect: Bruce, Bonheur and Nelson. For more, read the Genocide Memorial’s site

Read last part of my tales on Visiting Kigali Memorial Centre here.

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