On Jama Fest 2017

Two years ago, as part of my initial assignment after taking up a full-time role at Writivism, I was sent to Nairobi (I say “sent” because the email came hours to the day we were supposed to travel) to represent but also sell Writivism merchandise at Jamafest.

I joined a group of other Ugandan artists and performers for the nearly week-long festival in Nairobi. While there, I took some notes on the event organization (the Kenyans were lukewarm about it, for reasons I really couldn’t understand), the participants and coverage of the whole thing.

Nairobi did a good job hosting us. They couldn’t have found a better venue than the KICC – with its conference facilities, proximity to town and large exhibition space. The exhibiting countries also did a good job, with some exceptional cases like Rwanda which had exhibition space (and therefore a number of exhibitors) larger than all the other countries except the hosts Kenya. Burundi didn’t show up.

When at the close of the festival in 2015 it was announced that Uganda would host the next one in two years, there was excitement in the Ugandan group that had made the trip to Nairobi. Our ambassador, Mrs. Wapakhabulo, flanked by officials from Ministry of Gender was there to affirm Uganda’s readiness to take on the mantle of hosting East Africa’s largest arts and cultural festival.

And two years passed. 2017 came and it was Uganda’s turn. The festival happened in three venues: Kololo airstrip, Hotel Africana and National theatre. Like any festival host will tell you (and like how we had to learn the hard way at Writivism years ago), spreading a festival over several venues can be a logistical nightmare, made worse if you lack prior preparations.

Not to bias the reader, ask any attendee of Jamafest what happened at Kololo and the two other venues and we compare notes.

In closing: it might be hard to put up appearances but it’s high time we Ugandans took ourselves more seriously. If we are going to do something let’s do it to our best abilities because in the end national reputation is at stake. Uganda will not be transformed by doing “big” things – fly overs, railways, or sending people to the moon – but through the discipline of doing “small” things and doing them well. You cannot light up a 2-acre square in the middle of the city, and yet dream of building cable cars?


Written by Kwezi Tabaro

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