Friday, June 29, 2007

Gallery's vigango no longer for sale?

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A sign of the times?

A prominent Boston gallery has removed most indications that it's selling a collection of Vigango (Mijikenda memorial posts). The nine (out of an original twelve) posts were being sold for between $1000 and $4500 each. It will be interesting to see when the gallery judges the coast is clear once more to advertise them.

Meanwhile, it's down to Mijikenda communities themselves to decide whether they want to allow these objects to be sold out of their traditional context for a few hundred shillings, or maintained in situ for the benefit of the community. It might be a good idea to start carving and "aging" some replicas for sale as decorative items in Europe and the US. There's obviously a demand.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Mijikenda grave posts returned

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It's a tragedy how many of these vigango memorial posts have ended up in galleries and private collections in European and North American cities and a positive step that some are being returned.

Let's hope these posts were honestly acquired and properly paid for. The money involved isn't insignificant – the proceeds from any one of these sales would have a transformative impact on the future prospects of the Mijikenda family it came from. Unfortunately, without proper authentification and ownership papers, it's more likely that the original owners/guardians/relatives had nothing to do with the removal of what are the equivalent of cemetery headstones. Hard to believe owning one could bring anyone happiness. . .

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Kenya's only gay-friendly tour operator?

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Thanks to Henry Kahuki from Magical Africa, who wrote to me recently, describing his company thus:

"Gay-friendly comprehensive ground safari operators based in Nairobi. 40% of our clients are from the gay community. We offer professional service from meet and greet at the airport and escorted tours and safaris. We have been in operation for 4 years with staff experience of over 15 years on tailor-made holiday packages."

They may not be the longest-established or most experienced outfit in the business, but not all of those are wonderful. Magical Africa appears to be a professional, conscientious outfit, and it's certainly the first company in Kenya to publicly call itself gay-friendly. Magical Africa also describes itself as eco-friendly, a label which doesn't raise as many heckles in consevative Kenya. Whether you're gay, straight, mixed or on the rocks, by all means check them out. And tell us what you thought.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Would you run here?

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We didn't run at Il Ngwesi, but we were quite happy to walk here, through the thick bush, with our American friends, and our six kids aged 10 to 18. We knew about the Wendy Martin attack, and we saw elephants. We did have two armed guards with us, but we never worried at all about any danger. And if an enraged elephant had suddenly appeared, I don't think any of us would expected our guards to offer an absolute guarantee of protection. They've been going out daily for years, the Wendy Martin incident was a 1 in 3000 chance. Bad things do happen. And actually, if there was no risk at all, if walking through the bush in Africa was no more dangerous than sitting in your front room watching David Attenborough on the flat screen, then part of the thrill and excitement would be missing. Knowing there's a tiny chance, albeit very remote, that something like this might happen is part of the experience.

And that seems to be the overwhelming – surprisingly overwhelming – opinion of Scotsman readers, too. Nearly all of them are I think going too far in the other direction. The fact is, walking around Il Ngwesi genuinely isn't as dangerous as people who haven't been there might think. Accidents like Wendy Martin's are incredibly rare. Like swimming, horse-riding or cycling, walking in the bush in Kenya just isn't risk-free. But, again, it would be a tragedy for thousands of local Maasai if this court case closed down Il Ngwesi.

Do the Maasai have insurance against elephant attack?

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It was a terrible accident and I hope Lewa and its supporters have the funds to meet their legal responsibilities. But even if the final settlement is much less than the £800,000 that the Mail speculates might be paid in compensation for the terrible injuries suffered by Wendy Martin, a tourist gored by an elephant while out running at Il Ngwesi lodge (with no armed guard to accompany her) seven years ago. . . Even if the final settlement is half that, it must risk jeopardising the future of one of Kenya's – probably the world's – best examples of community conservation and eco-tourism working harmoniously and bringing huge benefits to a community of traditional herders numbering more than 5000 people in one of the poorest parts of Africa. I think Wendy Martin has a case – she should have been more carefully protected – but it would be a tragedy if it brought renewed suffering to people who have had very rough ride from drought and livestock rustling over the last few decades. Needless to say, nobody ever offers compensation to the local Maasai when somebody from their community is injured by a wild animal.

Monday, June 11, 2007

This certainly does. . .

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It's hard to imagine today's explosion had any connection with Mungiki. Some Islamic extremist cell seems more likely. Either way, in terms of Kenya's reputation and any impact on tourism, this morning's bomb is likely to be far more damaging. As is tacitly acknowledged by the FCO who had advice up very quickly. Sensibly, they haven't changed their overall level of advice for Kenya. Nobody should be dissuaded from visiting by this random blast.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Does this have an impact on tourism?

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The Mungiki murders and police shootings will leave a lot of people outside Kenya confused – these events are hardly headline news in Europe or North America. Yet.

Unlike an accident involving visitors, or the rare murder of a tourist, there's seen to be little of news value in killings of Africans by Africans. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice pages have nothing to say.

President Kibaki's typically clumsy warning to Mungiki sect members – "We will get you" – smacks of desperation. It's resulted in a chaotic bloodbath and, from the POV of the news agenda, is only a couple of quiet-Iraq days away from setting Kenya's tourist industry back once again.

That would be a disaster. These events shouldn't have any impact on tourists visiting the country and visitors shouldn't feel threatened. But for people who are perhaps thinking of going to Kenya for the first time, well, it doesn't look good, does it?

What the hell is going on in Mathare?

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Yet again, Kenya's police bring shame and scorn on the country, with the mass shootings of more than thirty "suspected members of Mungiki" in the tight-knit slum community of Mathare Valley to the northeast of the city centre. Nairobi police have lost colleagues in recent days, savagely murdered by these protectionist racketeers. But now they have lost control: their response, as so often, is out of all proportion and has inevitably included individuals who were at most peripheral and at worst just unlucky bystanders.

Mungiki's violent coercion and ritualistic beheadings have caused widespread terror in some of the poorest communities in the Nairobi area: when the police wade in and outdo them, blood for blood, with no respect for human rights or the badges they wear, they lose all credibility.

Police commissioner Ali should call off his trigger-happy rabble and conduct an immediate enquiry.