As part of its global partnership with Hay Festival, Commonwealth Writers attended the 2013 Storymoja Festival in Nairobi from 19 – 22 September for a four day celebration of stories and contemporary culture.
New Year’s Eve screening and Queer Life Stories panel discussion
In partnership with the Canadian High Commission, Nairobi Introduced by Jamie Bell, the political counsellor of the Canadian High Commission, the session began with a minute’s silence for the victims of the Westgate attack, followed by the screening of the Commonwealth Short ‘New Year’s Eve’ by the Kenyan filmmaker Wanjiru Kairu.
Wanjiru was joined by the moderater Anthony Oluoch, Regional Director of Kaleidoscope Trust, and Qat Kathambi, musician and founder member of Artists for Recognition and Acceptance (AFRA). After the screening Wanjiru talked about the making of the film and her aim to sensitise people to LGBTI issues and to make them less homophobic. The response to the film was extremely positive. Those present spoke of the pressures from family to conform which leads to many gays getting married to conform to society’s expectations. It was felt that, in the African context having a married man with two children shown as gay, is like opening a Pandora’s Box.
In Kenya issues are usually framed in heterosexual relationships and marriage and Anthony commended the film as depicting a true relationship, and demonstrating that there’s a lot more to gay men and women than their sexuality, they have love in their hearts. ‘We needed something like this. To talk, to go deeper into relationships.’
At the end of the event it was felt that an important conversation about LGBTI issues in Kenya had started, sparked by the showing of the film.
Chair: Anthony Oluoch
Anthony Oluoch holds a Bachelor of Laws degree from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi. He is currently the Regional Director for Africa at Kaleidoscope Trust based in Nairobi, a position he has held since March 2013. The main responsibility in this position is to co-ordinate the Trust’s projects in Africa. He previously worked as Executive Director at Gay Kenya Trust from December 2011 to February 2013 where he managed all of the organization’s day to day activities. He also worked as Legal and Human Rights Officer at The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya from August 2011 to August 2012 where he participated in the production and initial implementation of the movement’s decriminalization strategy dubbed the Multiple Tier Approach towards Equality and Non-discrimination for All.
Wanjiru Kairu is a Kenyan filmmaker interested in creating captivating films that promote dialogue on social issues. An alumnus of the Berlinale Talent Campus in 2006 and the Maisha Film Lab 2007, Wanjiru’s short films have been official selections at festivals such as the Pan African Film Festival, Durban International Film Festival, ION Film Festival, and the New York African Film Festival among numerous others. Wanjiru currently writes and directs for different TV drama series and is also adapting Martin Njaga’s short novel, “The Brethren of Ng’ondu” into a feature.
Catherine (Qat) Kathambi is the Programme Coordinator, Sex Worker Leadership Initiative (SWLI), Fahamu Trust. She is a feminist, activist, blogger and artist. She has previously worked with the queer rights movement in Kenya and is a founder member of Artists For Recognition and Acceptance (AFRA-Kenya) which is a group of Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender women artists who express themselves through art.