Kwani? At The Nairobi International Book Fair

September 22, 2009

Kwani trust would like to invite you to it’s two literary events at the Nairobi Book Fair to be held between 23rd-27th September.

1.Writers In Conversation: Richard Onyango and Mzee Ondego event from two of its recently launched titles; ‘The Life & Times of Richard Onyango’, by Richard Onyango, ‘The Life of Mzee Ondego’, by Enock Ondego. This event will be held on Saturday, 26th September.

2.Kwani? Short Story Competition Event: Kwani Trust will also hold a showcase reading of material received so far from the Kwani? short story competition, ‘The Kenya I Live In’. This event will be held on Thursday, 24th September, 2009.

This Kwani-ni? edition tells a street-to-canvas bildunsroman of one of Kenya ’s most successful artists, inspired by a great love of his life. Richard Onyango tells his coming of age story; from his beginnings as a musical apprentice at the Coast, to lover of Drossie, to his emergence as a force in the international art world.


Mzee Ondego, Kenya ’s greatest choirmaster and Kenyatta confidante tells the story of his relationship with Kenya ’s founding father. Unknown as the man behind one of Kenya’s most influential songs - the haunting dirge that played on during those fateful days after the death of Kenya’s first president, Mzee Ondego remembers a time that has become part of our living memory.

All Kwani? products will be available at our stand.


Kwani? @ The Storymoja Hay Festival, July 31st- August 2nd

July 30, 2009

From Friday 31st July – Sunday 2nd August, Kwani? will be holding a series of book readings and discussions at the Storymoja Hay Festival including; A Kenya Sketchbook – A New Generation’s Imagination, inspired by the short story competition, a Whistleblower’s Narrative discussion moderated by Parselelo Kantai and featuring Billy Kahora’s newly-released book on David Munyakei, the Goldenberg Whistleblower, City Images and Texts– A 24 Hour Cycle , an exhibition of Nairobi photographs to be published as a coffee-table book by Kwani Trust in September 2009, and many others.

For further details on the over 120 events taking place at the Storymoja Hay Festival this weekend, please visit the festival website or refer to the Festival programme attached.

* Festival Venue : Impala Grounds
* Season Tickets (3 days) Ksh 1000. One-day tickets : Ksh 500 ( Available from bookshops and Silverbird Cinemas, or call 020 208 9595)

We hope to see you at the Festival.

Revisioning Kenya - not your problem? by Arno Kopecky

August 10, 2008

“Revisioning Kenya,” hosted by RaMoMA gallery on a sunny Friday afternoon and billed as the highlight of Kwani Litfest 2008 (with stiff competition from the cocktail party at US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger’s house), was a climax of highs and lows. We arrived to find organizers Dipesh Pabari and Shalini Gidoomal scuttling around with a hunted look in their eyes, as though this were January 2008 all over again and we were in Kibera, not Parklands. But they sorted out the electrical snafus that threatened to nix the whole show at the last minute, and about seventy of us crammed into the presenting room to listen to fifteen ‘visionaries’ from every field of endeavor talk about the future.

(The idea came from Bill Gates, who a while back invited the most innovative thinkers on earth to Arusha to give him an eight-minute presentation about their next big idea.)

Unlike the previous day’s event at the University of Nairobi, almost nobody stuck to their time limit. Sometimes we didn’t notice, like with Judy Kibinge’s movie Coming of Age, which took us on a moody romp through post-independence Kenya – starting with the early Kenyatta days, “when a carjack was a thing you used to change a tire”; through post-coup Moi, when Kenyans learned what it was like to live under a dictatorship: “at night, people drew the curtains shut and whispered rumors about rumors in the dark”; following the euphoric “second liberation” of Kibaki’s election in 2002, and finishing with his stolen victory last year, when “Kenya began to burn, and we wondered, what is democracy? Do we even want it anymore?”

Same kind of roller coaster that characterized our little event. I hate to hate, but in the spirit of constructive criticism I can’t help wondering why Alfred Omenya, who actually is a visionary architect, felt it necessary to talk about himself for eight minutes before getting round to the subject at hand. By then, moderator Wambui Mwangi had no choice but to yank the mic on him. And John Kiarie, the former Redyculass comedian who these days is trying to prove Beth Mugo rigged him out of victory in the race for Dagoretti’s parliamentary seat – great speech, John, we laughed and cried, but where were the new ideas?

Rob Barnett, Kwani?’s first sponsor back in the day (thanks Rob) gave an interesting talk about Diffusion Theory, basically, how do bright ideas take root in society and become widespread? I’m all for spreading the love, but can’t help wondering about the NGO-esque philosophy underpinning the concept: ‘we know what’s good for you, now LISTEN.’

But that’s what Revisioning Kenya was all about after all – if more of us listened to the good ideas stored in the minds inside that room, maybe Kenya and the world would be a better place. For instance why is it, as former Olympian Ole Munyai asked us, that Kenya’s pyrethrum farmers are only earning $16 million in a world market that is making $600 million off their harvest? Why don’t we set up a distribution company in the US, where most of the global trading takes place, and channel Kenyan pyrethrum through that? As Ole said, “we could pay our farmers five times what they currently earn and still make a profit.”

Now that’s what we came to hear. More good stuff came from Kevit Desai, who talked about the potential for ICT to improve just about everything, and Dr. Moses Musaazi, who broke down the alternative technologies we have at our fingertips (ranging from solar water heaters, which everyone’s heard of, to papyrus sanitary pads, which I bet you haven’t). Tony Mochama represented the poetic outlook, and though I’m not sure exactly what it was he said, I know it wasn’t bad.

The best came last. Ishmael Beah, the child soldier from Sierra Leone, stirred us up with some of the lessons learned by his country’s civil war. He finished by describing a village tree where he and his fellow soldiers used to kill prisoners. Back then, its bark had been hacked up by overzealous machetes and blackened by the blood of so many victims; but when Beah recently revisited the spot, he found “the tree had healed completely and now bloomed a bright, clean green.”

Tough act to follow, but Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat did so tremendously. Looking like a 70-year-old version of Ishmael Beah, Kiplagat is the kind of fellow whose dignity fills the whole room. So does his deep bass of a voice. He described for us the battles he’s fought not just for Kenya, but all of Africa over the course of his illustrious career. “I realized one day that all these problems this continent suffers are not just political, they are my own personal problems,” he said, leading up to an admonishment against reliance on foreign aid. “Don’t ever let anyone take your problems away from you, because then you will not devote every last minute and mobilize every resource you have to solving it.”

In 1984, Kiplagat became Kenya’s Permanent Secretary to the department of Foreign Affairs. “I looked around the region and the continent, and I decided then that I would do what I could to bring peace to our neighbors.” There’s a long ways yet to go, but as Kiplagat pointed out, some signs of hope have bloomed amidst the rubble. Take, for instance, the fact that only two African nations are left in the hands of a military regime, quite an improvement from the time Kiplagat entered Foreign Affairs. “That was 1984,” he said, and although he’s held various positions in government since, he’s still working at the same goal of peace. Twenty four long years, good people, “and do you think I’m going to give up?”

Arno Kopecky is a Kwani? editor.

Kwani? Special Session - July 24

July 13, 2008

Kwani Trust invites you to
Celebrating Kenyan Stories

An interactive session of poetry performances, prose readings and story telling.
Kwani? Writers
Kwani? Poetry Open Mic Poets

2 -4pm, Thursday 24th July
Kenya National Library Services – Nairobi

Speakers will be announced shortly


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