Monday, 18 March 2019

On Ubongo being nominated for EdTech Prize'19 with Doreen Kessy

By Caroline Uliwa

We’re cozying up with Doreen Kessy-30, chief business officer of Ubongo Learning, a social enterprise based in Tanzania. Now five years old the organization has made significant progress on the continent through edutainment.

Doreen Kessy CBO of Ubongo Learning
This by providing fun localized content to children through multi-platform educational media, that so far reaches over 10,000,000 million households, in 31 African countries monthly; including Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. This by using Television, Radio, the internet and interactive cell phone services to engage their audience.

Their programs include educational cartoons such as Akili and Me and Ubongo Kids, these animated shows feature African stories, songs and characters. Akili and Me teaches early literacy, numeracy, English as a second language and motor skills to 3-6 year olds, while Ubongo Kids teaches 7-14 year olds, Math, Science and life skills through fun animated songs & oration.

“We really believe that it is critical to invest in children’s minds, equipping them with life skills that will help them become successful in life.” Doreen passionately reiterates.

Ubongo Learning is enabled by partners like HDIF-Human Development Innovation Fund, Omidyar Network, The Grant Challenges Canada, the Goodal Foundation and DLi-Data for Local Impact innovation challenge to name a few.

It’s an organization with women at the helm including the CEO & co-founder Nisha Ligon. Currently it’s been nominated among 30 organizations from all over the world, to compete in the Next Billion EdTech Prize that recognizes the most innovative use of technology; which has the potential to radically impact education in low income and emerging economies.

African students watching Ubongo Kids 

“For us it’s beyond winning the 25,000USD for the top 3, the fact that we are recognized as one of the organizations having a big impact in education. With the potential to transform learning for millions of Kids in Africa is incredible and quite frankly, encouraging.

It’ll be great to be in the midst of this huge education conference that brings a lot of education ministers, funders, educators, innovators, investors & all kinds of stakeholders of education in one room. As a lot of opportunities can come up, I think it’ll open more doors for us to meet new partners and other stakeholders with interest in our work, we’re always looking to collaborate that’s how we’ve gotten this far.”Doreen shares more on this EdTech prize which will take place from the 22nd to the 24th of this month.
Maasai parents amused by the Hippo character in
Akili & Me who is wearing a maasai necklace

Doreen is a role model for many young women in Tanzania we thought to give you sneaks of her everyday life.

What’s your off duty passion?

That’s a good question. I am passionate about a lot of things. First of all what drives me is to help kids and young people achieve their potential and thrive, get rid of those ‘predators of dreams’ if you will. That is what drives me every morning when I wake up!

I also love working out, I love exercising because for me it says. I love me and I am willing to invest in me, I always say I am committed to Doreen first because if I take care of myself, then I can take care of other people. 

I as well love pretty spaces, I’m into interior design (her office can attest, its minimal chic with touches of African fabrics in pillows and ceiling board material that look sublime). I think energy is a currency and you need to be in an environment that really helps you thrive & flourish as a human being.

What would you do if weren’t a Business Manager?

I have an aspiration to become a life coach, I like to motivate others let them know they can be the best version of themselves. I also love to travel, travelling for me is like a classroom, I go there to learn!

What notes your personal style?

I think for me hair is a big statement actually before this I never did (motioning to her current hairstyle, an afro kink looking weave. She currently swims and prefers the weave as it makes managing her natural mane easier) weaves or whatever because I really like to make a statement with my natural hair. My hair doesn’t match what I do in so many people’s eyes.

They always say are you a musician, are you an artist? And I am like, no I actually am a business professional. I always show up with my own hair all out in this unruly afro. In that I don’t fit in the box of that typical corporate look. I like for my work to speak for itself not my image. 

While in East Africa where do you most likely spend your Saturday afternoon?

At home, meeting up with friends for lunch or perhaps at a good beach hotel reading a good book while in Dar es Salaam.

Best destination yet in East Africa?

Oh wowe that’s really a good question, so it depends I like different places for different reasons, I’ve been to many spots in East African at this point. Zanzibar is an all time favorite I’d go on Safari blue, I would do island hoping just be on a boat all day playing music, eating good food and going to the island just chilling and coming back in the evening. That to me is like Ah-mazing.

Doreen far left with a red top, is with her colleagues at their
head office in Msasani, DSM. Their CEO is the one sitting
at the table Mme Nisha
If I’m not doing that I’d be in Nairobi on a Saturday. It has to be a Saturday I would go to Karura forest, rent a bicycle and go cycling. Then I’d go to a 2hr yoga class at the Africa Yoga Project for me that’s like a perfect day in Nairobi. It’s crazy but I literary plan my trips to Nairobi around these activities, she laughs.

Do you have a must visit list?

I consider myself a global citizen and have a lot of travels planned during the year. One on the list is Madagascar and Thailand. I visited Seychelles last year, that trip was life changing. I would love to go back again soon.

In your opinion what is East Africa’s strength?

It’s very interconnected, all you need is an East African passport and you can get through all these countries without a Visa. Our diverse yet merging cultures aided by Kiswahili that is spoken widely in most countries; make it very easy for us to communicate and understand each other which is great.

Do you have a collection?

I’m not sure if I would call it collecting, but I have a lot mugs from different countries. So if I visit a new country, I usually buy a mug and a fridge magnet from that locale. I try to make sure it’s very particular to the culture, either it says Uganda or Barcelona or something. I always want to remember the places I have visited and this helps me do that.

Most thoughtful gift you’ve received?

Mhmm so I just recently received a recorder as a gift because the person knew I wanted to start a podcast. I thought that was so lovely and thoughtful. I also just love it when people give me a massage gift or just pay for my spa as I’m all about feeling good in my body. I’ve had this gift a couple of times, I’d hear ‘Hey I’ve paid for your spa just go to this and they’ll take care of you..,” I’m like yes, yes, how about that!

Most thoughtful gift you’ve given? 

Children watching Akili & Me in rural Tanzania
My twenties while I was in the U.S.A had no rest days, I worked really hard I went to college but I didn’t do it like a normal person. I went to college whilst taking care of 5 siblings.

 I think this is the most notable gift I’ve ever given, helping to take care of my siblings-attending parent teacher meetings or dropping them at soccer practice. All awhile working part time, doing community service and taking a full load of classes. This was not only a gift to my siblings and parents but also to me. I’m stronger today because of it.

A big book you have read recently?

Michelle Obama-Becoming It’s amazing I am so glad she wrote that book because a lot of women and girls look up to her. She really showed us real life; she helped me answer a lot of my own questions.

Like when she talks about earlier in her career practicing law and hating it wanting to do something else. I could resonate with that cause after I graduated from University I worked in a bank in the U.S and I hated it.

I’d be told ‘…but you have a business major and an M.B.A, if you don’t want to work at a bank where do you want to work, it’s the closest thing to the stuff you studied’. And I’m like no, whose life are we changing, I want to have impact are we just making the same old white guy richer, isn’t he rich enough by now (she jokes).

I loved the book it was very real and human she shared all the experiences we’ve wondered about, cause when you see successful people like that you think. They’ve always been great; they’ve always been this way taraa taraa taraa, no! Actually they’ve put work and all these pieces came together one after the other overtime.

A film that has most impacted you?

So when I was working in Washington, DC, my mother stumbled upon the first episode of Ubongo Kids and shared it with me. I was like yo! This is exactly what I needed when I was growing up and never had. So I decided to quit my job and come back home and make sure this quality educational content, gets out to more kids and that’s how I ended up here. The video changed my life.

How do you stay informed in this fast paced tech lifestyle?

I read the news and articles on CNN, BBC, New York Times, Business Insider and many others. But I also read books and other education focused media channels..

What doesn’t miss in your fridge?

Kids from Njeula village in Morogoro show their
appreciation after being visited by Ubongo Learnin
Oh Cacao powder, which I buy from Ghana the real stuff and I put it in the fridge because I don’t want it to ever go bad. So it’s a bag of cacao powder in my fridge (she laughs). I protect that so much it’s part of my morning smoothie which I don’t go without. Also I always have a few choices of hot sauce in my fridge.

Ubongo programs are broadcasted in RTV in Rwanda from Mon-Friday at 4:30pm, on TBC and TBC taifa in Tanzania from Mon-Fri in the 2:30/3pm slots as well the weekend from 9am. They also show in NTV in Uganda on Saturdays from 9am, as well on Citizen TV in Kenya on Sat from 9:20am and Azam 2 TV from Mon –Friday at 5:30pm in Tanzania.

Monday, 25 February 2019

My Sampling of ACF & Segou’Art in Mali

On African Culture Fund (ACF) procuring its first call winners 

The river niger and it's inhabitants with the fresh
vegetables grown by the locals on its banks as seen in Segou, Mali
It was mud coloured walls with jutting arrow like edges at the centre culturel Kôrè, it was home baked scones for breakfast, it was French sentences waking from a comma of my o’ level classes finding sound on my tongue. It was meeting the Kora, djembe sounds at every corner. It was my first time in Mali.

After landing in Bamako in the late afternoon, we passed a bit of wilderness before meeting the bustling city of Bamako. Inside the minivan I soaked in this new landscape, looking out into the semi desert expanse, I noticed its sparse human population. The lorry like minivans acting as public transport; the open table stalls by the road with green leafy vegetables that looked to defy the encroaching caramel dust. There was the regal stride of men and women clad in the fabrics of boulan, vitenge, western batik or the occasional expensive ‘bazee’. We were heading to the smaller city Segou, about 3 hours away by car from Bamako. 

Centre Culture Kore, where ACF offices are in Segou
is located and where we did our work inside the fund
In late January this year till earlier this month, I was invited by the African Culture Fund-ACF as a member of its jury for their first call of admissions. ACF was launched in June 2017 in Seychelles by African visual artists, it’s a pan-African organisation officially registered in the Republic of Mali. The particularity of the Fund is that African artists, all disciplines combined are its first contributors, guaranteeing the necessary autonomy to professionalise and develop the cultural and creative African sector. Last year ACF launched its first call admitting culture projects within the visual arts, offering no more than 10,000USD per project with around 100,000USD in its basket for the same.

During the day 'Light Art installation part of the exhibit by
Wadi Mhiri, Houda Ghorbel,
Bettina Pelz & Aymen Gharbi inside Segou'Art 19'
Arriving in Segou I also met Joseph Gaylard (South Africa) and Vitshous Mwilambwe Bondo (Democratic Republic of Congo) both notable culture stakeholders from the continent. Together we were handed the proposals from applicants who had passed the guidelines. Based on the criteria of innovation, creativity, financial accuracy, technical consistency and relevance we were tasked to grade the same. Afterwards with meaty debates we ended up giving our independent recommendations on those projects we thought deserved the available funds from this call.

At Night 'Light Art installation part of
the exhbit by Wadi Mhiri, Houda Ghorbel,
Bettina Pelz & Aymen Gharbi inside Segou'Art 19'
It was riveting to read the varied entrenched efforts of various creatives on the continent hailing from Ethiopia, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Morrocco, Egypt, Tanzania, Kenya, Congo, and various other countries. This garnered from the proposals which included animation film making, teaching of fine art and other disciplines to youths, textile workshops, artist collaborations and moving exhibitions all exploring such relevant topics like insular post colonial perspectives, support of mentally disabled persons, aquatic pollution and so much more.

“Indeed, the absence of adapted mechanisms with adequate resources to fund projects of African artists and cultural entrepreneurs. Is one of the major challenges undermining the development of the cultural sector across the continent?” Mamou Daffe chairman of ACF, highlights on the core inspiration of this fund, which has its core contributors being successful African artists working within and outside the continent.

ACF has now announced its winners from their first call. You can find the list here I am happy to report that the fund ensured that gender equity and diversity in terms of geographical location was central in its decision making.

Inspring diverse artworks inside Segou’Art 2019

Part of the installation by Cheick Diallo inside
Segou'Art 2019 festival notice the circles by the white walls.
This trip as well allowed me to bump into a visual arts festival going on at the same time (the 31st of Jan till the 9th of Feb), namely Segou’Art. Art does have a way of allowing the imagination to soar and give voice to natural emotions in a healthy facet. I was so honored to see this translation by fresh artworks. The bulk of the artworks in this festival were held at this art center, which used to be a cotton factory that Mamou Daffe and other stakeholders transformed into an arts center. It’s located near the river banks of the Niger River that runs alongside the city of Segou.

Inside the festival this installation by Cheick Diallo had my mouth agape. Cheick Diallo who now lives in Mali but has worked most of his career in France and Europe, is a design visual artist. An architect by training, he is the president of the Association of African Designers (ADA). For this festival he was giving a master class as well showcasing.

Part of the installation by Chieck Diallo, inside Segou'Art festival
2019 in Mali this month

I better understood his installation after speaking to his brother (Cheick speaks French and mine is rusty) who speaks English. “These circles are an indication of our globalised context today, how we scramble to belong to clicks no matter we rank on the social ladder. Though the clicks get smaller as you’re higher up or at the bottom of the ladder; this desire to belong it seems is a unifying human factor.” Cheick’s brother was pointing me to a 3d artwork on the wall, understanding now that it was a representation of globalization. I could read more into it, the homogenous circles depicted the characteristic of globalization that have us drumming to the same beat.

One of the women photographs inside the exhbition
'creations for women' she is from Mali and is
public bus driver
The installation also took on heavier topics relating to home, the chair like dress hats were representative of the local tribal conflicts between the Dogon and the Fulani currently afflicting the country. Here Cheick showcased the tribes differences, depicting the hats of the Fulani tribe and the Dogon ‘stools/chairs’ in sculptures as embodied characters. He shows their individual beauty in parallel then in one artwork with wings he merged the symbols to signify peace.

I was also lucky to bump into an East African artist in this festival by the name Pamela Enyonu from Uganda. Her work was part of a mini exhibition ‘creations for women’ with other female artists. “In this festival through Arts Collaboratory and Centre du soleil d’Afrique, I was invited here from Kampala to lead a workshop of female creators. The theme of our workshop was Africa is a future and the future is the woman. So they were three Malian artist one Ugandan artist and one Columbian artist, we tasked ourselves to sort of interpret this from that point of departure as female creatives’ of African descent. We have two photo exhbits and one video and then I made an installation and we made a painting.” Pamela kindly explains to me.

Pamela Enyonu staring in an artwork inside the 'creations for women'
exhibit inside Segou'Art festival 2019

The video she speaks of was playing a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack in mouthed acoustics, showing an African woman washing clothes, then picking rice pellets from one mound to another. Juxtaposed to the video were photographs which I later learned are of Malian women except for one with Pamela herself as the subject. The photographs show them doing jobs you wouldn’t see women doing everyday from Taxi to ‘daladala/matatu’ drivers; to a Balafon player (normally the instrument is allowed to be played by men forbidden for women).

The Video installation inside the exhibit
by Pamela Enyonu at the Segou'Art 2019 festival
“We’re imagining a future where women are more in charge, obviously we’re more empathetic, we’re more socialistic. So I’m imagining what world problems would look like. If they were solved from a female perspective.” Pamela goes to share more of what their exhibit means highlighting to me that though females on the continent find themselves doing chores that aren’t valued monetarily by society they still are the bedrock of their community.

I as well met art collector Ekiko Ita Nyang from Nigeria I asked him on what he thought of the festival “Yes uhmn I think Segou Art is getting to be one of the emerging market platforms for artists to showcase their work, coming from West Africa. We have a culture of the biennale spring up in West African cities, these are meeting points are not only for collectors to engage with the artists. But it’s also very important transaction points for collector enthusiasts.” Ekiko shared, on asking him whether his industry is growing and what role it had in raising African visual art to the international market he had this to say.  

Sculpture by Siriki Ky from Burkina Faso inside Segou'Art Festival 2019
First of all it doesn’t matter how the world sees African art, what matters is how Africa sees African art because how we want the global community to view African art. Is the way we present African art, the way we preserve the way we try to disseminate its information which is very key. I think we’re moving towards the right direction a lot still has to be done, it’s important that we have these initiatives.”

Light Art installation part of the exhibit by Wadi Mhiri, \
Houda Ghorbel, Bettina Pelz & Aymen Gharbi inside Segou'Art 19
Meeting Barthelemy Toguo’s artwork from Cameroon at the festival was also a treat to see, the man is another great visual artist from the region. Working between Bandjoun and Paris he is a Knight of Arts and Letters in the French republic and is founder of Bandjoun Station a place of residence and artistic exchange located in western Cameroon. He like Cheick gave master classes to participating artists; he also presented artworks in this festival. Using water colors, ink and acrylic his series of paintings went to highlight the integration of man and nature, her equality not supremacy to the environment. You can follow more of this festival and its works

Artwork by Amaliguere Doho from Mali inside Segou'Art festival 2019

 Article by Caroline Anande Uliwa, first published here

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Mangi Meli Remains touchs down in TZ

Mangi Meli in the middle
with his close officials
(c) SLUB  Deutsche Fotothek

By +Caroline Anande Uliwa

The rhythm of their efforts is forgotten yet the skeletons of their song live on. Not so many Tanzanians choose to reflect on their own history, particularly that of during and before its colonisation period. Perhaps because too many history records of this time have an imperial Eurocentric point of view, with a demoralising storyline of our ancestors so we’d rather not look.

“For my part as a curator, what I believe can be done are cultural endeavours...which raise awareness and regularly call to remembrance, the often forgotten stories that occurred as a result of active and fierce resistance to colonial rule. So we can examine how they shape our understanding of contemporary society and citizenship today. A philosophical way if you may, of asking "how have you come to be the person that you are?" and "what do you stand for?" as a member of civil society.” Sarita Mamseri, Heritage educator & Curator from the U.K with Tanzanian roots.
Isaria Meli on seeing the
video sculpture for the first time in Berlin-
photo from Flinn Works archives.

Isaria Anael Meli-87 hasn’t allowed himself to be passive about his history. A grandson of Chief Mangi Meli who ruled one of the most powerful chieftains in the Chagga tribe of Old Moshi, Tanzania; this during the 1890’s for a little under a decade. Mangi Meli was murdered in March 1900 by being hung for hours at a public piazza in Old Moshi and then beheaded. This was done by a German led army unit his head was then presumably sent to Germany. Isaria for 50 years has been pleading the Tanzanian and German governments to look into the return of his grandfather’s skull to no avail.

In November last year Isaria’s quest reached a significant milestone, in part due to the awareness the German government received through efforts led by Konradin Kunze and Sarita Mamseri. In their work towards the exhibition ‘Mangi Meli Remains’ that they debuted this month in Berlin as part of a four chapter exhibition titled ‘The Dead as far as [] can remember’. Present at the launch was also present the ambassador to Germany from Tanzania H.E Dr. Abdallah Possi.

This exhibition shares the story of Mangi Meli with footage never before released to the Tanzanian public, in terms of photographs of the Chagga people including those of Chief Mangi Meli, taken during the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s by Germans. At the centre of this exhibition is a video sculpture, an innovative short film animation conveyed in three languages-Kiswahili, German & English. It tells the story of Mangi Meli during the time of his rule, his links with other chiefs in relationship to German colonial rule and the events leading to his death.

Amani Abeid among the illustrators of this video sculpture,
working on this exhibitoin animation film-
photo Flinn Works
Isaria was present at the debut of this exhibition and it was during this visit that he took a DNA test, after being invited by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation-SPK. Currently in Germany there’s over 5000 skulls belonging to natives of German colonies including 200 skulls from Tanzania. Among these six skulls were identified in Isaria's visit, which could be from Moshi and could date the time of Mangi Meli’s death, some of them have the inscription ‘Dschagga/Wadschagga’. Results of this test are expected to be in before end of June this year.

‘Mangi Meli Remains’ is currently showing in Dar es Salaam since the 5th of February till the 22nd of this month. It’s conception all began with Konradin’s surprise at learning of German colonial history. 

Sarita Mamseri  during an interview with
Isaria the grandson of Mangi Meli,
in Old Moshi Tanzania
“When I came first to Tanzania 8 years ago, I was shocked to learn about the German colonial history only in Tanzania. I didn’t learn it in school which would have been the proper way I think, but in school of course we were taught a little bit just maybe one hour about that ‘yes Germany had some colonies but it was a short period.” Konradin shares of the early inspiration which has allowed him to uncover and share in depth stories around German colonial rule in Tanzania. 

In these eight years he has worked several projects with the theatre company Flinn Works surrounding this topic, to include a theatre production called ‘Maji Maji Flava’.
Mangi Meli Remains, has taken a little under a year to prepare, among the persons involved in the project are renowned Tanzanian illustrators Cloud Chatanda and Amani Abeid.

Konradin Kunze with Sarita Mamseri
in the background during
the earlier stages of this
exhibition's work in Tanzania
In acquiring the research for the video installation, Konradin together with Sarita made several trips to Kilimanjaro. Where they met Isaria and other members of the Old Moshi community including Gabby Mzei, an experienced local guide of the Old Moshi cultural tourism centre. All who provided relevant information of the period during Mangi Meli’s lifetime from the locals’ perspective. Konradin came to access journals in Germany from the army generals who ruled at the time of Mangi Meli’s rein. This shed further insight in creating the script for the video sculpture used in this exhibition.

“I found most of the pictures in the archive of the Ethnological museum, others in other archives mainly online. It took me quite a while to find them more or less accidental sometimes...” Konradin shares of the collection of photographs he uncovered that show vivid images of the Chagga people during the late 19th C to the early 20th C as never seen before in any Tanzanian museum.
Mangi Meli (c) SLUB  Deutsche Fotothek

“He was so gentle…look at the quality of the photo” Amani Abeid explains to me on an earlier visit last year, while he was working on the video sculpture. He together with Cloud Chatanda had learned of Mangi Meli in their schooling years but had never seen his photo till then. They shared how humbling it was to see the photos Konradin had dug up and the rich information they were given.

“So the main goal for this project is definitely education yeah, this story should not be forgotten and on the other hand it was to give something back to the community...To permanently install something in Old Moshi, although it is not the skull which we’re still trying to find which is very, very difficult to find. But instead of bringing back the skull at least I can bring back the information that I have gathered back in Germany.” Konradin adds as to why he has been passionate about this project. 

The Video Sculpture as shown first in Germany
late last year, it is now in Dar es Salaam
He is of the view that the photographs he uncovered as well the archives from this time now in Germany, should be readily available in Tanzania as it is a relevant part of their history.
“You get the picture that these Europeans saw us savages it was their clear perspective. They were actually trying to prove that we aren’t real human beings. 

Did you know that Mangi Meli’s father Mangi Rindi actually sent his best soldiers to meet the Kaiser in Berlin. He gave his two best soldiers ivory, minerals and leather to give the Kaiser, asking in return for military for a few weapons. The Kaiser sent the soldiers back with a music box and a sewing machine!” Cloud Chatanda shared with me what he was uncovering in working on this project. Including the truth that scientists in Europe were spreading the theory that Africans had smaller brains and such were inferior humans hence the sending of the skulls for investigation. 

Photos of community leaders
in Old Moshi upon Konradin and Sarita's visits
 “I disagree that any project we do will provide 'closure'. The atrocities, tragedies and theft/looting/"acquiring" of personal items of significance, of human remains, cannot be undone or indeed forgotten when still so much is to be (politically) acknowledged and then repatriated... It also continues to amaze me how much of Tanzania's history can be found in foreign collections, both private and state. It just reinforces my opinion that efforts to counter balance the influencing role of colonial archives and collections on European-located peoples' understanding of Africa must in part be re-addressed through the collecting and presenting of Tanzanian oral histories.”—Sarita Mamseri.

The exhibition will finally come to Old Moshi on 2nd March this year, where it will remain there permanently. I was asking Sarita if she felt this was at least some closure for Isaria and his community, to which she answered me above. I can tell you as a native Tanzanian just looking at the photographs Konradin had uncovered was eerily humbling. 

Illustrator Cloud Chatanda working on the video
sculpture for this exhibition ealier last year in Bagamoyo
Mangi Meli Remains is a collaborative project between Flinn Works (DE), BSS Projects (TZ/UK), Old Moshi Cultural Tourism (TZ), ArtEver (TZ) supported by Ethnological Museum Berlin and TA T at Humboldt University Berlin; funded by the Goethe-Institut Tanzania, the Berlin Senate Department of Culture and Between Bridges.

Isaria Anaeli Meli © Konradin Kunze
 I urge every Tanzania/African to visit the exhibition if in Dar or Old Moshi during the mentioned dates.

The tree where Mangi Meli was hung
now over a 100 years still in Old Moshi

This article was first published in 'The East African Newspaper' with this link below

Monday, 14 January 2019

High Fine Art visits Mlimani City Mall in DSM

'My Dream' by upcoming fine artists Happy Robert
exhibited inside Mlimani City Mall last month in DSM

The skin takes on different shades perfumed by moods from the analysis of thought; I am looking at a painting by Happy Robert titled ‘the dream’. It’s captivating though simple a portrait of a modern African woman, this painting glides past cheesy with its realist tailored chaos of acrylic on canvas.
This end of year new year season, there was a riot of orchestrated colors inside one of the biggest shopping centers in Dar es Salaam, namely Mlimani City Mall.

“The country still doesn’t give enough support for fine artists; we don’t have enough galleries and or museums that regularly allow fine artists to showcase their works to the public. 

We then thought to join forces, ‘14 artists +’ was established early last year as a band of more than 14 Tanzanian fine artists, ranging from veterans with over 25 years experience like Raza Mohammed to new comers like Happy Robert. We’ve been to Kenya and other parts of Africa, in these two days we’re bringing our artworks to a bigger Tanzanian audience. So far the response has been good, audiences are asking questions on how we do it, where they can find us, they are even commissioning for new artworks.”

 mixed media on canvas the 'origami like birds'
by Masoud Kibwana shown at Mlimani City Mall
exhibited by 14 Artists + recently
Lutengano Mwakisopile shares, as chairman of ‘14 Artists +’, which hosted this Art Fair that saw more than 10 artists from Tanzania showcase their works.

Walking down the mid isle of the mall you’re stopped mid stride, as you keep noticing scintillating pieces on canvas. Among these was the origami like birds shown on canvas by Masoud Kibwana. This man’s star has been rising, currently having showcased his works in the Comoros, Seychelles, China, Kenya among others with artworks sold in the US through the UN. I was taken by the painting of birds in this exhibit, they looked to be flying out of the canvas.

Artwork by Muzu Sulemanji
exhbited inside Mlimani City Mall recently
His use of mixed media to include glue, canvas paper, acrylics was very clever. The painting has great contrast nuanced expertly in texture and color. Talking with him he added You know much of our work don’t end up with the local market, as our citizens don’t have the habit of seeing artworks in public spaces for appreciation analysis or critique. This was becoming a challenge, so we saw it’s necessary to combat this by trying to penetrate the local market...”

One can attest to his views as much of the local fine art exhibitions in the city are held inside cultural foreign embassy spaces, ensuring many of the consumers are foreign expatriates.

Painting by Evarist Chiakawe exhbited at
Mlimani City this month under
the '14 Artists +' exhibit in DSM
It looks like 14 Artists + intention of reaching more of Tanzania’s local audience was working as according to this Tanzanian man, “It’s a strategic move; I can see how they will attract the attention of millennials like me. Who often frequent M City and have never seen this. I am amazed by the extensive use of color and detail in these paintings. Like this one (pointing to a Vita Malulu), it looks like this guy hasn’t sold fish since morning.” adds Stefan Mgina.

Another onlooker going about her business had this to say “It’s exciting to see actually people very interested in these paintings. I can see people thinking, mmmh maybe I can put this in the new house I am moving into, I can see people thinking maybe if I move my furniture this will dad a da. It’s always great to meet the artists themselves like the legendary Raza Mohammed who I just bumped into.” Miss Tunu.

Realist paintings by Johnson Mnjindo
exhibited inside Mlimani City Mall in DSM
“It’s not like something we’re used to but art has always been here in the country, we have incredible artists. It was a coincidence for me to be here today, I normally don’t come to Mlimani City but I’m glad to just pop up here and find this amazing art. I have a great passion for art so I am very inspired we should encourage more of stuff like this… My favorite has been an artwork done by Haji chilonga, it’s a painting of a lady and a man called ‘zawadi’...” Brian Mushi another local onlooker shared his thoughts on this exhibition.

Artwork by Haji Chilonga exhibited inside
Mlimani City Mall under 14 artists +'recently
Johnson Mnjndo was another artist whose works caught my eye, his realist depicts are of an experts hand, exuding a grace that stains your memory. Another painter whose works gave off that gravitas which keeps you looking on, were pieces fine artist Evarist Chikawe. He has been in the industry since the mid 90’ s an apprentice of ‘Nyumba ya Sanaa’. In this exhibit his artwork of a woman seated on her limbs was a favorite of mine, true to his style of African abstract cubism if at all you can pin it. The harmony in color and sentiment sang off the canvas keeping me glued.

It’s commendable that these artists are forging a market on their own, still they’re challenges they should consider tackling like ensuring gender balance. There was only one female fine artist in this exhibit. Another challenge is the qualm of ‘artist becoming curator’, for instance the pricing for these artworks averaged 600,000 Tshs, with a few in the thousand dollar range.

'Expectations' by Happy Robert exhibited inside
Mlimani City Mall in DSM recently by '14 artists +'

Now some paintings were underpriced and some priced due to the name but not necessarily worthy in standard. You see if we had competent curators and the sponsors behind the business of art exhibiting properly incentivizing and critiquing these artists. Well perhaps we would have seen a theme explored by all the artworks present, which would further aid the audience in appreciating fine art by seeing a subject explored so diversely.

Painting by fine artist Thobias Minzi, \
mixed media on canvas with acrylic in his cubist realist style
as shown at Mlimani City Mall recently
Second we wouldn’t be met with the subtle but in my opinion real tragedy of having great experienced fine artists, showcasing artworks that are rushed or just short of the artists afore records. We also may not have seen repetitive now glaring off points in some artworks with tremendous effort given the scale of the paintings; a factor that a curator could have stopped midway. Well overall this was a super showcase given the circumstances, this exhibit was for two days 14th-15th Dec you can find out more from the 14 artists + by visiting

A realist impressionist artwork by 
Moses Luhanga exhibited inside
Mlimani City Mall recently

Picha hizi ni za kazi za wasanii na vivyo zina hatimiliki ya wasanii wa kazi hizo kama zilivyoandkwa kwenye maelezo. ALl these photos are of artworks which are copyrighted

Andika na Soma calls for its 2019 manuscripts

Among the top 10 Andika na Soma 2018 entrants
Ayubu Mashaka Eid reading a book in the workshop
As Adam Shafi met them awe read in their eyes, “Meeting Adam Shafi was just surreal. I’m taking HGK so his book ‘Vuta N’ kuvute’ is in my syllabus, reading it wasn’t tedious as you’d expect from assigned books, I totally enjoyed it. Meeting him in person as he shared his journey in becoming a writer, how it hadn’t always been easy. He has been thrown in jail for his work and yet he never gave up. This really inspired me.”

Ayubu Mashaka Eid among the top ten student winners of the ‘andika na soma’ literary short story competition for 2018, shares highlights of his journey in this competition.

Facilitator Elias Mutani, inside the
Andika na Soma workshop 2018, coacing the top 10
At the beginning of the 2018 calls were placed in various secondary schools in Tanzania, so students could send their short stories to the theme ‘poverty’ for the ‘Andika na Soma’ literary competition. Last year marked 10 years since the competition began, ran by E&D Readership and Development Agency popularly known as Soma.
It’s had five annual rounds working with donor sponsors who haven’t always been easy to come by. For instance in thisround the Irish Embassy supported half of the budget for running this competition, the rest was on Soma a local NGO advocating for literature for development in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The Top 10 contenstants for Andika na Soma 2018,
pose with famous author Adam Shafi-front row 3rd from left
“I think just literature in any country is so monumental, as it speaks truth to power, points out key issues in a relatable manner, portrays the locale. It’s also an art form that people enjoy. I really think if we don’t produce good literature, then who knows you? I remember every place I’ve gone to abroad and I’m the only Tanzanian. People will be like you guys have literature, it will be such a shock for them to see a Tanzanian there…” Neema Komba shares her thoughts on the importance of literature in a country. In 2018 she was among the facilitators that provided a week long workshop, awarded to the top ten contestants of this competition.

From left Demere Kitunga Director of SOMA,
Miss Neema Komba and Otilia Haule
receiving her present of books worth 500,000Tshs
Neema Komba is a budding writer in Tanzania, she was the 2014 winner of the Etisalat Prize for Literature in the Flash Fiction category, an award she received in Nigeria. She has worked with notable editors like Ellah Wakatama Allfrey. With her work appearing in international Short Story anthologies, including ‘The Search for Magical Mbuji’; ‘Then & Now’ as well this year’s ‘Payback and other stories’.
Another facilitator who accompanied her in running the week long workshop for the top ten contestants-Cecilia Mugimbila, Emmanuel Minja, Ayubu Mashaka Eid, Irene Severin Magayane, Otilia Angela Haule, Thandi Bahati Mtema, Raphael Robert Mwijonge, Alpheji J. Diamon, Aidan Justin Mtungi na Mashaka Said. Was Elias Mutani, this is his third time participating as either judge or facilitator in the ‘andika na soma’ competition.

The top ten contesntants pose for photo
with their hosts from SOMA team in Dec last year
A mentor for the youth, he is the author of several books mostly in the young adult genre, including three which have won the Burt Award for African Literature. These titles include ‘The little missionary with a Golden paper knife’ and ‘Human Poachers’; he is a psychotherapist and an entrepreneur. 
“I think they have been missing storytelling skills, you can find one short story with ten characters but out of these only two or three are really important. Or you can find in one short story three conflicts, yet a short story many times benefits from one conflict..” Elias Mutani explains the challenges he faced in working with the manuscripts by the students handed in for the 2018 competition.

Top 10 Andika na Soma 2018 contesntants
visit E&D Vision Publishers Ltd in Dar es Salaam
The judges in this latest round included Godfrey Nishomari an editor & an author, Janet Namara Gabone an English teacher at Loyola Sec School and Elias Mutani. The manuscripts received tallied to 250 entries, these were sent to Soma headquarters. Who then scrubbed off the names and left only index numbers, so the judges would have no bias while marking the manuscripts. They also disqualified 100 entries giving the judges 150 entries, as these didn’t follow the basic guidelines like word count and sticking to the theme.

The top ten 2018 andika na soma finalists as in previous years, arrived in Dar es Salaam. They were inside Soma’s residence on the 3rd of December, ready to participate in their literary workshop. They met authors, visited publishing houses and all of them re-wrote or edited their works based on the new skills they gained from the workshop.

The top 10 inside Andika na Soma 2018 workshop hosted at Soma Offices
On the 7th of Dec, a small prize giving ceremony was held at Soma’s residence in Ada Estate in Dar es Salaam for their honor. Performers like Vitali Maembe serenaded the crowd and then the top five were announced.

In third position for girls was Louisa Mapunda but as she was prohibited by her parent to participate in this workshop; she was replaced by Cecilia Mugimbila. Cecilia received 100,000 Tshs as well books to the same worth for herself. In third position for boys the was Emmanuel Minja who also received 100,000Tshs as well books worth the same amount for himself.

The 1st runner up for girls was Irene Severin Magayane, she was awarded 250,000Tshs as well books worth the same amount for herself. The same prize was given to the 1st runner up for boys namely Ayubu Mashaka Eid.

The winner for the 2018 Andika na Soma literary competition is Otilia Angela Haule, she had also participated in last year’s competition and got into the top 10. However she didn’t win anything so she tried again and lo behold she won.

Winner of Andika na Soma 2018 Miss Otilia Haule,
inside the top 10 workshop held for the contestants last week at SOMA
“It’s something I didn’t expect or think much about but I trusted that I had written something good. Though after my name was called I was really happy, I felt such peace it’s hard to explain.” Otilia shares, she received 500,000Tshs including books for herself worth the same amount, she was also given books worth 500,000Tshs to give to her school library of St Luis in Songea.

Andika na Soma literary competition is taking entries for 2019, the theme is ‘death and other disasters caused by outdated customs in society' the language is Kiswahili. The deadline is March 30, 2019 and entrants must be secondary school students or youths under 19, stories can be sent to SOMA P.O.Box 4460 DSM. On the front page is where entrants can write their names with phone no's of their head teacher or parent, this page should be separate from the story. The word count is for at least 1000 words and not beyond 3000 words.

Photos taken by Jackson Fute

This article was first published in the Daily News Tanzania newspaper.