Kisumu to become the centre and heart of Africa, for a week

Prof PLO Lumumba.

Prof PLO Lumumba. He will give a keynote lecture at FESTAC 2024 Festival of African Arts and Culture.

Photo credit: Pool

Let me report this simply and plainly. In just over ten days from now, on October 18, 2023, Kisumu City, will be declared the host city for the FESTAC 2024 Festival of African Arts and Culture.

Reliable information from the Lakeside City indicates that on October 18, a high-powered delegation from the FESTAC headquarters will make a courtesy call on the Governor, and then embark on a tour of the city’s landmarks and prospective festival venues.

Action will then move to the Kisumu Central Square Park, where there will be a media briefing, followed by the formal Declaration and Endorsement of Kisumu as the FESTAC2024 Host City, by the FESTAC Chairman, Engineer Yinka Abioye.

Then there will be a few speeches by various FESTAC representatives, including one by Prof PLO Lumumba. The Governor, Prof Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, is also expected to address the gathering.

The afternoon action, at the Mama Grace Onyango Cultural and Social Centre, will comprise performances and shows, including modelling, dances, poetry and drama, featuring the city’s well-known Misango Arts Ensemble.

The culmination of the afternoon proceedings will be a keynote lecture by our illustrious orator, Prof PLO Lumumba. His lecture, I understand, will be headed, “The Role of the Youth in Shaping Africa’s Future”. I need not tell you that Prof Lumumba never fails to impress.

I hear that there will be a beach dinner or reception for the FESTAC delegates and their hosts. But I do not know if you and I will be invited to that. Otherwise, I have the impression that the admission to the other events will be open and free.

Anyway, October 18 will, thus, be the kick-off date for Kisumu City’s preparations to host next year’s Festival of African Arts and Culture. The Festival itself is slated for May 20-26, 2024. This, the organisers point out, is to mark the Africa Month of May, and especially the last week of the month, during which the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), precursor to present-day African Union (AU), was formed. The very date, May 25, when the OAU was launched in Addis Ababa in 1963, is known as Africa Day. As you can see, it will fall within the proposed FESTAC week.

The celebration of Africa, of our African-ness or “Africanicity” has, indeed, been at the heart of this festival since its inception in 1966. I noted a striking slogan on some of the FESTAC stationery: “My Africa, your Africa, our Africa”. Some cavalier (over-colonised) Africans may try to dismiss this self-assertion as mere “negritudist sentimentality”, but the fact remains that we have to keep reflecting on what it means to be an African in this globalised and globalising world.

Is our future, as a continent, as a people, as a culture and a civilisation, assured? Is the security, the happiness, the prosperity, the freedom and the democracy of our people a done deal? Or are we still, in many ways, a supine and impotent giant, still struggling to throw off the shackles of centuries of slavery, colonial and neo-colonial exploitation and degradation? Isn’t there even a danger that many of our people may give up the struggle and resign themselves to wallowing in poverty, ignorance, disease and oppression, or desperately wander off to coasts and climes where they will never be welcome?

Enterprises like FESTAC might have started off as joyful celebrations of the newly-won political uhuru (independence) of the early 1960s. But, over the years, the realities of intractable deprivation, fratricidal conflicts, diabolic dictators, failed states and continued external domination have dawned on us. Now we know we have to “sing yet another song”, a song of tough, realistic self-examination and exploration of how we can dig ourselves out of the abyss of being forever “the wretched of the earth”.

Yes, we can sing our melodious songs, dance our graceful dances, tell our heroic tales and recite our nostalgic poetry. We will display our dazzling jewellery, our scintillating kente and lubugo (barkcloth) textiles, our intricate basketry and tantalising pottery and incomparable smithery. But at the end of the day, the mwananchi (common person) in Kondele, Mathare or Kampala’s Kivulu will be entitled to ask us how that helps them to eradicate malaria from their mtaa, put affordable ugali on their metal plates, to get fair and caring governance, educate their child or to enjoy genuine rule of law.

This, I think, is the reason why the designers and executives of the new-look FESTAC, which is apparently headed for becoming an annual event, are casting their net quite wide. The proposed theme for the Kisumu FESTAC, for example is “Sustainable growth trajectory for Africa through culture, trade, travel and tourism”. This is, in other words, “bread and butter culture”. Little wonder, then, that the clarion call for the Kisumu FESTAC should not come from an artist, but from a jurist, Prof PLO Lumumba.

I noted from the circulating information that next year’s proposed festival programme includes business exhibitions and conferences as well as workshops and discussions on sustainable growth strategies, alongside the conventional aesthetic and creative activities. But Kisumu of course already has a rich experience in these matters, having successfully hosted the memorable Africities Summit in May 2022, amid a host of challenges

But back to PLO Lumumba, there is another reason why the Prof and, indeed, Kisumu are at the forefront of the FESTAC 2024. This, I think, is his sterling appearance at the Arusha FESTAC this year, where Kenya was also strikingly represented by the Misango Arts Ensemble in their brilliant performance of Humphrey Ojwang’s “Okot p’Bitek on Trial” and other artistic pieces. My friend Obat Masira, Misango Arts Founder Director, who is also the CEO of the Mama Grace Onyango Cultural and Social Centre in Kisumu, also presented an impressively high profile of himself and his City in Arusha.

So, come May 2024, all roads from Africa and the Diaspora will lead to Kisumu.

- Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and [email protected]