Friday, January 27, 2012


FILMMAKERS in the region that converged in Kampala for the 8th Annual Congress on East African Cinema explored the possibility of exploiting the Internet, film training initiatives, alternative means of fundraising and distribution including the networks of the film pirates as some of the means to propel the industry forward.

The congress held during the Amakula Kampala Cinema Caravan Festival from December 14 – 17, 2011, focused on how to leverage the East African Common Market for cinema.

This is against the background that with a 130 million strong population East Africa not only offers a potential market for film consumption but also reveals the multitude of stories that can be told cinematically across the varied cultural tapestry of the five member nations; Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

Summarizing the current state of the industry, Prof. Martin R. Mhando, a Tanzanian filmmaker said: “Cinema is dead in Africa because no one goes to the theatre anymore. Maybe a few members of the elite class watch films in theatres, but the cinema market does not make much money like it did in the 1960s – 80s. We can’t sell in Africa and yet our market is here at home.”

“We need to identify our target audience. We may not get them in the cinema hall, but we should make the products that they actually want and these could be DVDs, television, makeshift video halls or via YouTube,” the chief executive officer and festival director of the Kenya International Film Festival, Charles Asiba, noted.

Asiba, who is also the director of the Kenya Film Commission, contends that: “Cinema should be the high end product of a filmmaker. If you can have a theatrical release that should be the ultimate – but it is only a selected few who turn up. The Nigerians have been producing home videos for the last 15 years it is only now that they are turning to theatrical productions because they have created audiences for their films.”

“We have witnessed a revival of pop music in East Africa by the new generation with the Bongo flavor rhythm, among others. And now the middle class is listening and appreciating local music in place of the once dominate Congolese music. The film industry should borrow a leaf from the music sector and target the video market and not the cinema market. We could also copy the Bibanda (video halls) in Uganda and develop our film structure around that kind of distribution pattern,” Mhando, a film professor at Murdoch University in Australia, said.

“We have observed that more people are watching DVDs in the comforts of their homes. So for us to claim to be doing film business we have to take our films to homes or even the makeshift video halls, as longer as we can generate income. We can’t claim to have a film industry if we are not making money,” Asiba added.

“My encouragement to the young filmmakers is that they should look at cinema as a business and not an art. As much as it is a creative industry let’s look at the business end of our productions. Why are we making these films? And can we live on them? And can they sustain our livelihoods?” Asiba argues.

According to the sales and marketing manager, Fast Track Productions Limited, Richard Geria, the emerging market for African film is online. “The online market is presenting an alternative channel for the distribution of film content. The regulation for this new outlet maybe nonexistent but it offers film producers an opportunity to make money.”

Fast Track Productions Limited has developed a platform called that is still on a test run will provide its customers with a variety of African content. It is a Voice on Demand (VoD) service where members will sign up to download television episodes and films. Payments will be by debit card, credit card or mobile money.

“We have noticed there is a huge demand for African films. We have uploaded all the 90 episodes of the first season of our television series ‘The Hostel’ on our platform and we have been overwhelmed by the demand for DVDs of the series. Our targets are the Ugandans in the Diaspora and the high enders in Uganda that can afford the latest gargets,” Geria revealed.

According to Geria the film producers will be entitled to 25 per cent of the revenue generated after sales. “We shall share the numbers with the producers as partners. In order to protect copyright infringement we have invested in a security system in which our customers will only be able to stream and not down load content,” he said.

According to the business development associate, Google Uganda, Elijah Kitaka, the launch of the Ugandan YouTube channel recently gives Ugandan filmmakers an opportunity to broadcast themselves to the world on world on the world’s largest online video community on a service that receives 3 billion hits a day.

Mhando highlights a completely different approach to the issue of piracy without necessarily condoning it, in his paper titled, “Leveraging Film for the East African Common Market: The Swahili Film Market.”

“The reason for that is to acknowledge the role that culture plays in diverse ways, which Swahili and other local language films could embrace in its journey towards profits and efficiency…,” he argues in the paper presented at the congress.

“While we have no figures to quantify the extent to which the Swahili film business functions and aids the economy of Tanzania, we can indeed see the number of people involved in the production and distribution of videos therefore acknowledging the job creation capacity of the industry. The distribution network that assists Steps to reach millions of customers is genuine job creation enterprise. The hundreds of machinga (street vendors) that survive on this business attest to the importance of the culture to their lives and therefore the country,” Mhando argues.

Mhando believes that piracy is not necessarily a negative aspect. “It can help us to improve the way we communicate. It provides employment and cuts down the crime rate. We can take advantage of the pirate’s distribution networks to make our sector profitable. Let’s think outside the box to leverage film for the East African Common Market,” he argues.

At the Swahili film level in the last decade, the means by which independent films, documentaries, and screenplays are financed, advertised, marketed and sold has undergone tremendous change. With more than 100 Swahili films being produced annually competing for distribution “deals,” independent filmmakers’ opportunities to have their scripts produced or films released into the marketplace have become increasingly difficult, Mhando observes.

Kenya continues to churn out many films in English and Swahili recognizing both the language factor in the marketing of films as well as its cultural efficacy and beneficence, Mhando adds in the paper that projects commercial and cultural conditions necessary for a viable and utilitarian film industry in the region.

However if we are to look at the market in general we find a much enlarged distribution circuit in the region. Steps Entertainment of Dar-es- Salaam has captured and controls the market of Swahili (Bongo) films around the region and have now opened offices in Rwanda, DR Congo and are looking at opening offices in Kenya and Burundi, Mhando adds.

“Indeed it is a well-known fact that the distribution of Swahili films in Tanzania and the region in general has eclipsed that of Nigerian films,” Mhando writes.

Steps Entertainment began its operations in 2005 with the mission of reaching the people through small outlets and agents spread countrywide offering affordable entertainment and education through films. They produce 6,000 DVD copies of a film and sell 4,000 copies on the day of release. The average cost of production is $10,000.

According to Mhando, “Notwithstanding the piracy factor, the company has indeed expanded to producing films cheaply in order to allow themselves a wide profit margin to undercut the film pirate. It has now achieved a modicum of respect despite it also being seen to undermine the growth of local filmmakers through their crass management system. It is well-known fact that producers for Steps are forced to pay miniscule rates to artist (except the stars) to just break even while affording Steps the margins necessary for profit making. With its vast distribution network in and outside Tanzania, it purchases movies and distributes them across the region.”

“What Steps has revealed however is that there is need for a link between producers and distributors. Steps works in both and in that way undercut the producer. If there was a link, an “advertising and marketing” link who would handle multiple projects,” Mhando observes.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The novel, “Cry, the Beloved Country" embedded in murder, prostitution and racial hatred

THE classic fictional novel “Cry, the Beloved Country” is about Rev. Stephen Kumalo seeking his delinquent and only child, Absalom in the city of Johannesburg - his search takes him through a labyrinth of land, murder, prostitution, racial hatred and, ultimately, reconciliation.

The story begins with Rev. Kumalo preparing to leave his rural area of Ndotsheni for Johannesburg after receiving an urgent letter from Rev. Theophilus Msimangu asking him to rush to the big city to rescue his ‘sick sister,’ Gertrude Kumalo.

Gertrude went to Johannesburg to look for her husband who was recruited for the mines. But when his time was up, he did not return, nor did he write at all. She did not know if he were dead perhaps. So she took her small child and went to look for him.

When she fails to find her husband she turns to selling liquor and sleeping with any man for their price. They gamble and drink and stab. A man is killed at her place in Claremont. She has been in prison more than once.

Absalom had left Ndotsheni in pursuit of his auntie, Gertrude, but never returned, nor after a while did he write to his parents any more.

“Cry, the Beloved Country” by Alan Paton that was first published in 1948, is a remarkable story for its contemporaneity; unforgettable for character and incident, the fictional novel is a classic work of love and hope, courage and endurance, born of the dignity of man.

In search of Absalom and Mathew Kumalo (the son of John Kumalo), Kumalo and Msimangu learn that the boys were buglers and robbers.

The parsons went to Shanty Town at the home of the Hlatshwayo’s. “He stayed with me, umfundisi. We took pity on him because he had no place to go. But I am sorry to tell you tell you that they took him away, and I heard that the Magistrate had sent him to the reformatory,” Mrs. Hlatshwayo informed them.

The head of the reformatory informed them that Absalom, who had left a month ago, was a good boy and had a promising future. Absalom was partly released because of his age, but mainly because there was a girl who was pregnant by him. He promised to work for his child and its mother.

Absalom together with Mathew and Johannes Pafuri are detained for the murder of a Whiteman, Arthur Trevelyan Jarvis and seriously injuring his male servant. It is Absalom who is found guilty of the murder and sentenced to death. His two accomplices are set free.

Arthur was well known for his interest in social problems, and for his efforts for the welfare of the non-European sections of the community. Condolence messages came in from Africans, coloured people, Indians and Jews. Arthur had learnt Afrikaans and Zulu, and he was talking of learning Sesuto.

He was the only son of Mr. James Jarvis of High Place, Carisbrooke. Jarvis owned a farm in the hills of Ndotsheni. Father and son did not see eye to eye on the native question. It was after reading some of his son’s essays on social justice that Jarvis changed his racist attitude towards non-whites.

In one such easy Arthur contended that: “…It is not permissible to add to one’s possessions if these things can only be done at the cost of other men. Such development has only one true name, and that is exploitation. It might have been permissible in the early days of our country, before we became aware of its costs, in the disintegration of native community life, in the deterioration of native family life, in poverty, slums, and crime. But now that the cost is known, it is no longer permissible.”

The church service was attended by people of all races – it was the first time that Jarvis and his wife, Margaret had sat in a church with people who were not white. Later he also shook hand with black people for the first time.

Kumalo, who was frail laments that his has been a sorrowful journey. “At first it was a search. I was anxious at first, but as the search went on, step by step, so did the anxiety turn to fear, and this fear grow deeper step by step. …When we heard of the murder, that my fear grew into something too great to be borne.”

In his comforting words, Father Vincent told Kumalo: “My friend, your anxiety turned to fear, and your fear turned to sorrow. But sorrow is better than fear. For fear impoverishes always, while sorrow may enrich.”

With his sister turned prostitute, his brother (John Kumalo) turned labour protestor and Absalom, arrested for the murder, Kumalo must grapple with how to bring his family back from the brink of destruction as the racial tension throughout Johannesburg hampers his attempts to protect his family.

A night before Kumalo returned home, Gertrude disappeared leaving behind her little boy. So he only went back with his daughter-in-law and nephew.

When Jarvis returned to Ndotsheni he hired an agricultural demonstrator to introduce better farming methods all in memory of Arthur. His farm also started supplying milk to pre-school children, some of whom were dying as a result of the long drought. The milk supply was to continue until the grass came and the area got mill again. A new church to replace the dirty old wood-and-iron, patched and forlorn one was to be built in memory of Margaret.

The film “Cry, the Beloved Country” directed by Darrel Roodt was released in 1995 in the USA. With James Earl Jones as Rev. Kumalo, Tsholofelo Wechoemang (child), Vusi Kunene (Theophilus Msimangu), Richard Harris (James Jarvis) and Charles S. Dutton (John Kumalo), among others.


Friday, January 13, 2012


GROUNDBREAKING research into perceptions of public libraries in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda shows libraries in Africa are “essential,” yet underutilized resources for technology and community development services.

Most people in the six African countries see libraries primarily for educational purposes but recognize potential for much more. They also believe that public libraries have the potential to contribute to community development in important areas such as health, employment, agriculture and closing the digital divide.

Public libraries are widely available in most of the six countries studied offering the traditional service of lending of books and offering a good environment for studying, for instance, where school pupils or even university students can complete homework and other classroom related reading, such as reading for examinations.

However, libraries are small and under-resourced, and most people associate them with traditional book lending and reference services rather than innovation and technology. In some cases they lack relevant books to meet the needs of users, the report titled “Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa,” notes.

Users and non-users were surveyed in Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Awareness of libraries is high even among those not using them. Users share information about their library experiences a lot, mainly with their friends. In addition to the high awareness a majority have very positive sentiments about libraries across all groups surveyed, for instance, from policy level all the way to users, including non-users.

“Libraries are perceived as offering academic related information and therefore an extension of academic study. Children’s exposure to libraries is limited and a lot more could be done to improve usage,” the report released in Kampala on November 12, 2011, recommends.

“Librarians are competent in the traditional roles of a librarian but have limitations in the technology related services. Low skill levels on technology services result from lacking the facilities that would enable them improve competency. A significant number of librarians admit to lacking the necessary skills for advocacy to generate additional funding,” it adds.

Libraries are seen as essential to the individual as well as communities in general by all groups surveyed. Libraries need to engage with the community at a more tangible level that goes beyond passively providing books and information only, for example, facilitating community interaction with service providers of health, agriculture and culture. Stakeholders recognise a role for libraries in these fields. “Funding for libraries is low, and donors (local or international) are expected to play a greater role in funding libraries,” the report suggests.

“Print media are currently doing more in promoting the library agenda than other media. Digital media like the internet are not properly exploited and with the growth of mobile telephony and data services in Africa, this could be an avenue to explore,” it adds.

According to the report, electronic media is the best way to reach the policy level target audience for libraries. TV and radio are the most frequently used sources of information and also the most trusted ones.

The findings demonstrate that awareness of public libraries is high and a majority view libraries as very important to both communities and individuals. Library users and non-users, librarians, library officials and government decision makers alike view public libraries primarily for educational purposes (90 per cent across all groups), however a range of other information services are emerging in libraries, including Information and Communications Technology (ICT), that have the potential to help meet community development needs.

The study found a significant majority of all respondents (80 per cent) believe the biggest benefit that public libraries offer is the opportunity to learn and to develop new skills. A growing number of people view libraries as a source for national and local news and information on important topics including agriculture, health and employment. Public library users and government officials view libraries as “essential to them personally and to the greater community.”

In addition to raising awareness of the information services libraries provide, the research shows that there is a strong demand for more technology resources. Among library users, only 14 per cent report using computers or the Internet at public libraries. A lack of computers is one of the primary reasons library users (37 per cent) and the local authorities that operate libraries (53 per cent) report being dissatisfied with library services.

Non-users say they would be motivated to use libraries if more access to online content was available (29 per cent) or if there were more computers in general (24 per cent). A significant majority of librarians (72 per cent) would like to see more funding invested in technologies to meet community needs.

Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL) commissioned the research under its Public Library Innovation Programme (PLIP) to deepen understanding of the role of public libraries in Africa and of the vision, aspirations and expectations of the general public, librarians and national and local government. The study was conducted by the social and marketing research company, TNS RMS East Africa Limited., from Januarury 2011 to April 2011.

EIFL is an international not-for-profit organization dedicated to enabling access to knowledge through libraries in more than 45 developing and transition countries in Africa, Asia and Europe. PLIP supports public libraries to implement innovative community development services.

In Kenya, education, local and national news and information were at the top of the list of public library services librarians reported providing. However, high numbers of librarians also reported that libraries are providing information on a wide variety of important issues, including health (65 per cent), use of electronic government services (60 per cent), information on agriculture (59 per cent), financial and investment news (63 per cent), employment searches (54 per cent) and information on starting a business (37 per cent).

“Sustainability of library services and funding is needed and should be enhanced to make sure that libraries meet existing community needs today and into the future,” said Silas Kobia, Kenya National Library Service (KNLS) board chairman. “Community leaders, government decision makers and other library stakeholders are needed to provide the policy and financial support libraries need for sustainability.”

The research also shows that ICT is a library service area with significant growth potential. Unprompted, few users and non-users in Uganda, associate libraries with ICT. Among library users, only 20 per cent report using computers or the Internet at public libraries. A lack of computers is one of the top reasons library users (36 per cent) and the local authorities that operate libraries (69 per cent) report being dissatisfied with library services. A significant majority of librarians (94 per cent) would like to see more funding invested in technologies to meet community needs.

In Uganda, the study looked at four regions: Kampala, Mbale, Masaka and Lira. More than 75 per cent of library users report visiting the library on a weekly or daily basis. The librarian is an important part of their library experience, with a majority (69 per cent) seeking advice or consultation from librarians. Users and non-users alike view the library as a place for study and a social place to meet people.

Among non-users in Uganda, a majority (58 per cent) report being “too busy” as the primary reason they do not use the library. However, if more libraries were able to offer broader selection of books, computer stations and more online content, a portion of non-users would be motivated to use the library.

Librarians report educational, health information and national news as the top three services libraries provide in Uganda. However, significant numbers of librarians indicate that libraries are providing information on a wide variety of other important community development issues, including agriculture (70 per cent), information on financial and investment news (38 per cent) and use of electronic government services (14 per cent).

Uganda has 26 public libraries and 80 libraries owned by communities and individuals.

Soon there will be a new library service introduced that will focus on helping young people find employment. The National Library of Uganda (NLU), working with Lira and Masindi public libraries and the National Youth Council, will train young people to use computers and the Internet — increasing their employability.

The new service, Electronic Information for Youth Employment (EIYE), will take advantage of the popularity of mobile phones among youth and send regular text messages to over 1,000 young jobseekers about vacant positions, education and training opportunities, business support and loan facilities. NLU was recently awarded a grant of Ushs39 million ($15,000) from EIFL to pilot the new service through PLIP.

“This is an exciting time for public libraries in Uganda,” said Gertrude Kayaga Mulindwa, director of the National Library of Uganda. “The perception research reinforces what we are already experiencing: public libraries are playing an important role in community development, especially when it comes to agriculture, health, social cohesion, local economic development and youth. And it will take all of us — community leaders, government decision makers and other library stakeholders — to provide the policy and financial support libraries need for long-term sustainability.”

According to Monika Elbert, senior policy advisor at EIFL and lead on the research project: “Everyone agrees that public libraries are essential. But more awareness and support is needed for library services that go beyond providing books and places for study.”

“Access to knowledge is critical for development and public libraries are uniquely positioned to provide ICT-enabled information services that will contribute to countries’ medium and long-term development plans. Libraries are a hub where, for example, at-risk youth can access computers and learn new technology skills for the 21st century, unemployed people can learn job-seeking skills and farmers can find valuable information about new farming methods — all of which are key strands of community development. We want this research to spark dialogue and create more interest in libraries as community development partners,” Elbert added.