A running city in words and pics

The marathon begun earlier than we had anticipated. Well, 30 minutes earlier than the scheduled time and we got there 1 minute after the elite runners had exited thanks to all roads closed. Stunned! Lagos City keeps time.



Walkers, runners and in-betweens. ©Frida Okutoyi


Keeping hydrated. Streets were cleaned up immediately after this. First image ©Frida Okutoyi.

Lagos Crowds – na mask una wear no fumes go meet um’

Paralympians. #GoForth

Abraham Kiptum crosses the 39Km mark. We raced past the sands at Eko Atlantic City (It’s Huge) and because of burly policemen wanting to show they are working, we missed him crossing the finish line.

Such a sad state of affairs the photo ops were. Not sure any of the big media – well except Supersport – got a clean photo finish at the end.

These beautiful ladies from the Kenyan highlands gave us a 1-2-3 finish. Rodah Chepkorir cuts the tape to win the Women’s marathon, Fridah Lodepa (2nd) is wheeled out in a wheelchair to regain her strength and last year’s winner Alice Timbilili (3rd) gets some refreshing. Alice, who won last year, had told me the day before “It’s a marathon. It is anyone’s race. We have all trained and are good so anyone can carry the day.” And Rodah did.

Winner takes it all.

The City and Its Bosses.

This is THE’ Eko Atlantic City,  the finishing point for the race. When I came to Lagos 4 years ago, all this was water with people regularly using the beach front for weekends and late night parties. It has now all been reclaimed and very much looking like a mini-Dubai city, without the bling buildings.

Finally, the Paps who ensured you had these memories live. For whichever media they work.

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Ever heard the saying ‘Ukulima sio ushamba?’ This article proves it…


Africa’s next crop of entrepreneurs is turning to the soil for business. At least, that is what was revealed at an auditorium filled with aspiring business folk gathering for the second cohort of the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) entrepreneurs’ boot camp in Lagos, Nigeria on 29th October.

Statistics from the TEF website show that agriculture was the leading sector with 304 of the 1000 entrepreneurs representing 54 African countries engaging in this business.

“We must glamorize agriculture,” Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo said at the event. He further urged the government to include policies that would favour the sector as a business.


The passion for agribusiness was seen in one attendee’s plea to have the Nigerian government give more consideration to support start up farmers particularly in locations prone to flooding, which destroys harvests.

Against an economy negatively affected by low oil prices, the government has been forced to rethink its dependency on the commodity and is now seeking to diversify its source of finance.

Nigeria’s Minister for Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed stated that the government is now targeting agriculture, solid minerals and creative industries as new streams of revenue for the government.

He also reiterated the Administration’s commitment to improve the ease of doing business thereby attracting investors into the country. Nigeria is ranked 169 out of 190 countries according to the World Bank’s ease of doing business index for 2017.

Of the 75 Kenyans chosen to take part in this year’s program, 18 are in the field of Agribusiness. Another 10 are in the ICT business, which remains a favourite choice for entrepreneurs across the continent.

A study released in February by the TEF titled Unleashing Africa’s Agricultural Entrepreneurs focused on the challenges facing them and the need for solutions to help improve their competitiveness. The recommendations included offering training; access to finance, strengthening value chains and having governments invest in the sector.

In many ways, the boot camp spoke to the recommendations tabled by the report. It featured a mix of plenary sessions, workshops and master classes facilitated by some of Nigeria’s foremost business leaders.


The highlight came when businessman and TEF visionary Tony Elumelu hosted a couple of African leaders to charge the entrepreneurs.

In attendance was the President of Sierra Leone, His Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, former Prime Minister of Benin Lionel Zinsou and Ms. Clare Amakazi of the Rwanda Development Board.

Africa’s richest woman Folorunsho Alakija shared her journey to wealth including some of the challenges she faced urging the participants never to give up.

This is the second year TEF is hosting entrepreneurs as part of its commitment to drive economic growth within the continent.

In 2015, 167 Kenyans were chosen for the inaugural program, which includes 12 weeks of online training and pairing with mentors to support their growth. The ultimate reward is the $5000 seed money that goes towards their business development.

Many of those describe the experience with TEF as critical for the development of their businesses in so many ways.

Notable start-ups like Amanda Gicharu of Amanda’s Kitchen, David Otieno’s City Rydes and James Kariuki who works in the energy sector are all alumni of the inaugural entrepreneurship class.

Chris Mutandi states that he was able to develop his Montreal Medical Clinics operating in rural Kenya with the seed money he received. The clinics aim to increase access to affordable health care in marginalized communities.

Tapuwa Ndogwe notes that the experience offered huge social capital for him, a testimony echoed by many others from all over the continent. It further allowed him to develop his ideas in renewable energy with the seed capital he received.

“Our company Greennovations was able to create the kind of prototype we needed and move our idea from paper to the place where we are now comfortable to present it for testing,” he noted. Greennovations turns waste from tyres and plastics into renewable energy and is looking to be an alternative supplier to the national grid in future.

One participant however feels he is owed an explanation by the Foundation on why he is yet to receive his seed money. Njalalle Baraza an agricultural entrepreneur was listed as one of the successful 2015 entrepreneurial candidates. He cites the experience at TEF as great, particularly because it afforded the chance to network with others from Mozambique, Benin, Angola and Guinea in one room.


He is however pained that despite numerous communication follow-ups, even reaching out on social media, he is yet to understand why he did not receive the $5000 seed money. He adds, “I am especially crestfallen because it took me an expensive business trip to Kenya to meet their requirements of a business account only for me to be met with silence.”

TEF’s Communication Manager Bolanle Omisore confirmed that 978 people got seed funding from the foundation in 2015. TEF lists in detail the requirements that entrepreneurs must go through to finally access the seed money promised.

In Baraza’s case, she noted that an incomplete submission based on the online training module and a written business plan may be the reason his disbursement was delayed. The foundation’s alumni manager has however reached out to him to settle this.

One thing that is clear Is that Africa’s next entrepreneurs will be a connected lot across the globe with great stories of opportunity that opened up because of their participation in TEF. The energy and excitement around the room was testament enough to that.

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It is Africa’s decade of Worship and Kenya needs to go beyond borders.

Two cities. Two worship concerts. One night. One theme: Africa Let’s worship.

At the 18,000 seater Winners Chapel in Nairobi, worshippers gathered on Friday 26th September for the annual AFLEWO concert. On a parallel stage in Lagos, the City of David Parish of RCCG held the 4th edition of the Alabanza concert. Themed Sounds of Africa, it featured South Africa’s Loyiso Bala, Ghana’s Joe Mettle and Chioma Jesus as well as a host of Nigerian gospel leaders. The only East African act was Emmy Kosgey and chances are high that her inclusion at the concert was that she also resides in Lagos.

AFLEWO, started in 1996 as a simple event in Daystar University has grown over the years to become a must-attend on the Christian calendar for many enthusiasts. Timothy Kaberia who started the movement is recognized in Kenya’s Christian circles as a respected worship leader and has shared the stage locally and abroad with several high profile singers.

It is the decade in which African worship reigns but does Kenya have the exposure it needs to share the stage with other worship leaders within the continent?

Emmy readily acknowledges that does not know many Kenyan gospel artistes who have visited Nigeria for performances since she moved to the country.

“We’ve invited Eunice Njeri and Lucy Kitonga as guest ministers to our church but I am not aware of other musicians from home performing in Lagos,” she says.

At the Alabanza concert, it was easy to see how seriously Nigeria takes worship. There’s a distinct aura around the event that was far from hype; it was hands raised in the air, almost perfect coordination on stage and an audience that came to do business with God. Although it poured heavily all night with sections of the overflow outside dripping, the sounds from the stage were crisp and clear with a band, which evidently put in hours at work, accompanying the musicians beautifully.

Solly Mahlangu’s Wahamba Nathi arguably takes the crown for the most decorated worship song. Rated as the most viewed gospel video on YouTube, the song has received airplay on Christian stations and is sang in worship services almost every week. Joyous Celebration’s Tambira Jehovah follows in popularity as does Uche Agu’s My God is good O’.

Grace Mandela, a lawyer and worship leader at the Green Pastures Tabernacle in Nairobi believes that the African worship genre has come of age, which is why many churches are now borrowing heavily from the continent.

“For the longest time we haven’t had indigenous and relevant worship music. We were influenced by Integrity music then Hillsong music. Why we now gravitate towards African music is because that music has come of age. It’s no longer choruses or repetition of a single sentence. It’s worship music born from a history of devotion by African worshippers,” she says.

Grace believes that the continents songwriters have mastered the craft and art of worship and are ready to take music in the church to the next level.

She is right. In the last two months Kenya has invited notable acts like Nathaniel Bassey better known for his songs Imela, Casting Crowns and Elohim. Sonny Badu and his Midnight Band quickly followed spending the week at a convention organized by the Jubilee Christian Church. Badu is a well-known Ghanaian worship minister whose popular songs include Baba O’ and Covenant Keeping God.

Sinach who has sang I know who God says I am and Way Maker emerged the best West African artist of the year at the Groove Awards ceremony held in June this year. Indeed, a campaign was held on Facebook requesting her to follow with a performance in the country but organizers are unclear whether the event publicized for November, then cancelled, will still hold.

Many African songs that find their way on our pulpits have their origins in South Africa, Nigeria and Rwanda. Many of the acoustic tunes are without a doubt originally from DR Congo.

Kosgey recalls a moment when she was recording with the group Joyous Celebration and the leader played a tune that he qualified as East African. “I listened to it and told him this was not a Kenyan tune, this was lingala. He then asked me what constitutes the East African tune? In truth, we do not have that identity yet,” she adds.

Why haven’t Kenyan worship leaders made inroads into the continent while they have the same gifting and passion as the rest? The ‘balance of trade’ between ours and other nations is wanting.

On Friday evening, it was pleasantly surprising to listen to the audience join in a Swahili song at the tail end of Kosgey’s performance. It is rare, however to find a Kenyan song on the airwaves in Nigeria let alone a gospel one in churches.

If we take AFLEWO alone, which filled Winners Chapel to capacity, this is massive influence. Pete Odera, Kenya’s godfather of worship holds concerts that are well attended, as does Jack & Joyce Odongo.

Mwanga, a local worship group has performed in several churches locally and was in the US for concerts a while back. Reuben Kigame who has dabbled in politics and is now a radio entrepreneur has composed timeless songs, which are performed all over the country.

Rwanda’s Ambassadors of Christ choir enjoys massive following with more than one million hits, as do Tanzania’s artistes like Christina Shusho.

In 2013 Nairobi Chapel’s Pastor Nikko Ochieng led a live recording session of the album ‘Call to Worship’ with more than 1000 people in attendance. The album’s initial sales have been good within the country and across the churches they have visited.

“We’ve sold most of the DvDs we carried to Germany, Australia and the United States where we have performed over five times,” he mentions. His team is lucky to have a buy-in from the churches’ senior Pastor. They travel overseas at least once a year for concerts in the areas where the ministers are preaching.

“When you watch One Gospel, you realize a lot of the music showing is from worship concerts not necessarily solo gospel acts. It takes a huge investment in Kenya to get this kind of buy-in from churches because the worship leaders cannot pull off recordings of this magnitude without funds.”

However, Nikko believes the gift is there and Kenyan worship acts are ready for export, given the right support from home and beyond.

“We’ve done our own songs in Swahili in each of the churches we were invited to, and they linger on with the congregation for many months,” emphasizes Nikko. “But this is a small market because for our music to go global, it has to be played on radio in all these countries. That is where we pull off audiences, and that is why all these acts can come to Kenya easily and influence us, because we heard them first on the airwaves,” he concludes.

Emmy Kosgey believes there is also the place of appreciating our local language when it comes to delivery of the music. “Wherever I sing in churches in Nigeria people love it because it is different,” she states. We must embrace our own creative style of worship different from that of the West we have copied for so long.

In July this year, legendary gospel artist Don Moen concluded recording with Nigerian act Frank Edwards on their first work together titled Grace. Moen sings in Edwards’ Igbo language in one of the songs, a telling example of the growing influence of the use of local languages in the music space today.

The United States Navy Band’s rendition of the song Baba Yetu recorded at their memorial in 2015 is a great pointer that our music is well loved and can influence beyond the continent. Incidentally, it has also been performed by British born Alex Boye who has a huge following in the West.

One other thing needed to grow the industry is time allocated to artistes. “In Kenya you are invited to minister and given five to ten minutes on the pulpit which is hardly enough to make an impact,” says Emmy. “It is different here because you get about 30 minutes for worship – not just to entertain or hype the audience.”

It is this hype that Grace Mandela says worshippers need to be wary of. “Would I be wrong to say that we still thrive on the hype and pay little attention to the heart of the Father?” she asks.

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Afolayan’s The CEO seeks to bring Africa together

By the time Disney’s Queen of Katwe opens in September this year, Nigerian movie producer Kunle Afolayan should be basking in the glory of his latest movie The CEO. These are the two movies set to define the African screenscape in 2016 for different reasons.

Queen of Katwe, based on Tim Crothers book is a true story and features big name actors and one newcomer. Afolayan’s The CEO is a work of fiction scripted by legendary writer Tunde Babalola and features several well-known actors from five parts of the continent. One focuses on Uganda as a site of its narrative the other pulls several actors from different parts of the continent and brings their story together.

It is Afolayan’s  5th production as a filmmaker but one that will show that African producers have come of age and why we should be putting our money in telling our own stories.


40 minutes of a sneak preview of The CEO to select sponsors, friends and media in Lagos this week were enough to whet anyone’s appetite over the remaining parts. The CEO is a well-crafted movie with a definite commercial angle to it.

The official premier will take place 35,000 feet above sea level on an Air France voyage from Lagos to Paris on June 1st and will subsequently headline at Nollywood week Paris from the 2nd to 5th.

Afolayan, who refuses to be moulded to fit the Nollywood producers’ stereotype, is that filmmaker who has an eye on both the craft and the business. On this one, they solidly come together. In a country that makes a movie on average every day, waiting for two years to get onto the screen again may seem a waste of time but as he says, it is worth the wait..

Movie making is a costly venture and Afolayan decided to go big or go home. His partnerships with Africa Magic, Air France, and financial backing from the Bank of Industry through its Nollyfund have enabled him to complete a successful project.The CEO is rumoured to have a budget of $1 million, which for independent producers is difficult to come by.

It should not be difficult for the movie to gain acceptance. The script may seem conventional but nothing is far from the truth. Five top executives of a telecommunications firm gather together at a weeklong leadership course to determine which of them will take up the coveted position of the CEO of their Nigeria office. One by one they begin to die in mysterious circumstances until only two of them are left. Is it sheer coincidence or does someone want the position so badly he eliminates his colleagues to get the corner office?

Grammy award singer Anjelique Kidjo plays Dr. Zimmerman, the course tutor assisted by Lisa (Kemi Lala Akindoju). Kola, played by Nigerian consummate actor Wale Ojo, Riikard (Nico Panagiotopoulos) and Jomo (Peter King Nzioki) are the male executives going for the job. They are pitted against Eloise played by French-Ivorian actress Aurelie Eliam, and Yasmin featuring Moroccan Star Fatim Layachi.

Artistic Director

The film was shot in multiple locations and uses authentic language speakers for the intonations in it. The Pan-African cast was deliberately handpicked to reflect each corner of the continent without your cliché’ big name actors.

“I was not looking for big African Hollywood names, I was simply seeking great actors known in their countries whom I could work with.” Said Afolayan. “Also, we didn’t want to use outsiders whose intonations of our language would come off completely wrong,” he adds in reference to Hollywood’s casting of American actors for native African speaker-accents.

In Kenya he spoke to ten actors before settling on Peter King who incidentally was the last one to audition. It was chemistry that sealed the deal. “I had a chat with him and immediately knew that we could work together,” he says.

Each actor takes an equal place at the table.  Scriptwriter Tunde Babalola builds a storyline that allows each of them to showcase the richness of their languages and nations without losing the plot of the story. The language is all part of this narrative, beautifully woven around the strengths and foibles of the characters who play them.

Babalola says of the film, “We tried to make an elevated movie that will pass a message across and get people to appreciate a great pan-African film.”

Commercially, one cannot ignore the feeling of ownership that would come from countries represented by the actors.

From Morocco to South Africa, Kenya and Ivory Coast, audiences will appreciate seeing someone they know on the big screen eventually pulling in viewers outside Nigeria.

Nairobi city makes a minor appearance and it is hard to ignore the choice of location – a parking lot in the central business district.It was also where they wrapped up shooting for the film even though the city doesn’t get a chance to glorify itself, unlike the Lagos shoot at La Campagne Tropicana.

The director admits that Nairobi was by far the most difficult place to shoot even though it had the fewest scenes in the movie. “Kenya follows the Hollywood, or book way of filming. One has too many licenses to pay for. Nigerians are used to shortcuts – just get it done in the cheapest way possible – so that was a bit of a challenge for us,” he admits.

Afolayan’s 2013 release October 1 won multiple honors including three awards at the 2015 African Movie Academy Awards in South Africa. It also bagged 9 others taking best film 2014 at the African Magic Viewers Choice Awards the same year.

In many ways Africa will be proud of this movie for several reasons. With so many of its cultures elevated in one script, it is easy to see the thought that went behind each scene. On cinematography, there were no amateurs. Camera angles, the lighting, framing and different colours all come seamlessly together in the final product.

Although the director’s best filming moment was the extract shot at the Charles de Gaulle airport, it is the scenes in Abidjan that come alive. Blame it on the French accents and the stoic character of Haitian Jimmy-Jean Louis as Jean Marc, husband to Eloise.

Afolayan’s ability to network sees him get the best. It is his fearless attitude and unwavering commitment that got him past Angelique Kidjo’s red tape to feature on this move. The partnership with Air France allowed them access to film at the Charles de Gaulle airport, a feat previously unachieved, according to the airlines commercial director Arthur Dieffenthaler.

The movie will open to audiences in Lagos from July 15th with a run expected across African movie theatres later in the year.

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Exploit Huge West African potential, diplomat tells Kenyans


This interview first appeared in the Saturday Nation on 23/4/2016.

Ambassador Tom Amolo leaves Nigeria after 3 years in what will be the shortest stint of his 33-year diplomatic career. He speaks here on ties between the two nations, and the need to adopt a Know Your Customer (KYC) attitude with regard to the Nigerian people. He carries back home the honorary title -UGO NDIGBO – bestowed on him by the Igbo community, which means ‘The eagle that looks after the interests of the Igbo people’.

KL: What are the 3 things that would summarize your time in Nigeria?

A: Very short, very rewarding and challenging.

There are many good things about Nigeria and its people, which mark them as the true leaders of Africa. In every engagement where African issues are being discussed, Nigeria always stands out. However there are the infrastructural challenges of water, electricity and petrol going on for many months. In many ways you wish Nigeria could better organize its homestead so it can better project and push Africa’s agenda.

IMG-20160421-WA0002KL: What is Nigeria’s perception towards Kenya?

AA: Very positive. When I began my mission in 2013, President Kenyatta had just been elected into office. Nigeria was one of the first countries to come out and congratulate us. Thereafter, when we needed their support on ICC issues they were ready to help us achieve our objectives. Former President Goodluck Jonathan once stated that he sees our relations as a fulcrum for the continent – Kenya in the East and Nigeria in the West.

President Buhari’s recent visit to Kenya was successful in many areas. He embraced us in our time of need after El Adde and shared a commitment to work towards a common cause in the fight against terrorism. Their body language towards us has always been warm.

KL: What can you say about the balance of trade between the two nations?

AA: The volume of trade is negligible; it doesn’t inspire us to say much. Our investment profile is mixed with large Nigerian institutions like GT Bank and United Bank of Africa (UBA) setting up shop in Kenya. Middle level businesses have also found openings to invest at home whether by sheer presence or in service oriented sectors, as is the case of Cellulant, a Nigerian/Kenyan business. The Dangote Group also seeks to invest $400 M in a cement plant but environment impact issues have slowed them down.

In my time we saw Kenya Airways launch its first direct flight to Abuja and we now have daily flights to this country. The national carrier has been in talks with Wakanow, Nigeria’s leading online travel portal but they are yet to conclude this.

We are working to overcome the political and economic challenges that inhibit increased trade. Our larger exports – tea, coffee and flowers have been challenged in that they appear on the list of things banned from forex in Nigeria. We had some negotiations during the Jonathan years but the new Finance Minister came in when I was already on my way out, so that dialogue needs to be reopened.

KL: Kenya has not really benefitted significantly from the partnership between the two. Why is this?

I would subscribe the lack of trade to the nervousness of Kenyan businesses as regards this country; they are too comfortable in East and Southern Africa, DRC and Rwanda. When I was coming to Nigeria my mother organized prayers for me because I was coming to work here. The prevailing psychology is that Nigeria is this hole where you go in and never come out. Our inherent cautiousness as regards West Africa impedes our ability to do business here. We need to ask why Nakumatt does not have presence here or why Bidco has not come up with a palm oil strategy for West Africa.

When President Buhari was in Kenya he urged us to make the agreements we have signed work. He wasn’t speaking to technocrats but to our businessmen and offered that we must have a special status certificate that allows us to do ease of business.

However, our business people need to be hungry and understand the Nigerian context. Our fresh flowers could bring us a lot of money if we sold even a quarter of them here. These flowers will however not be received with the same open arms as they are in the Netherlands; we have to push for and market them here. We must imbibe the business context here to survive and be more aggressive rather than retreat when faced with challenges.

KL: Nigeria has a rich, vibrant cultural heritage showcased through their art, music and more popularly, Nollywood. How can we increase and celebrate our cultural knowledge where they have succeeded?

AA: There are existing agreements with both Ministries of Culture where Nollywood is ready to help evolve content and train our people. It requires a huge dollop of faith and energy from our actors and actresses. They need to be asking where they can interface with the Nigerian actors guild to get into their programs on their own initiative. Where there is a problem we can ask the government to intervene. The creative angle needs to be enhanced to a level that works outside of government and attracts the support of business and other cultural entities. South Africa does this very well.

KL: How can we better create an interest for Kenya as a tourist destination among their big spenders?

AA: We must work on our KYC – Know Your Customer – because we have a real faulty perception of who the Nigerian tourist is. Nigerians don’t want to come to look at animals, they want a place where they can relax, have fun, shop or go to the beach. Our planes leave here full of passengers going to Zanzibar which is the’ premier choice for destination weddings today. Brand Kenya, which is in charge of this needs to engage those on the ground so we can conquer the West African market. We must also ensure Kenya Airways offers competitive advantage in terms of pricing and quality of the flights we bring.

KL: What will you miss most about Nigeria?

AA: Definitely the people and their openness, they say it like it is and you never second-guess their intentions towards you. I will miss their ability to share openly about their ambitions and energy to surmount challenges without the help of government. Here, there is no ‘serikali saidia’. Finally, their large and diverse diaspora that has been in the forefront of breaking barriers.

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2016-04-30 13.45.45


The Open House concept reads like a hop on, hop off Red Bus tour, only that it comes nowhere close to a vacationers ride. The idea behind it is to allow residents to spend a weekend visiting various architectural spaces within their city and appreciate the value of a well-built environment.

Last week, the British Council Nigeria hosted the inaugural tour designed to showcase the city’s architecture, culture and buildings. Offered free of charge, it featured many of Lagos’ historical buildings as well as some modern creatively designed spaces.

Since its inception in 1992, Open House has exhibited in 30 countries with Milan being the latest to join the fray. Nigeria is the first African country to come on board, a great feat by any account.

From the refurbished Her Majesty’s Prison at Freedom Park to the museum it now hosts as a memory, to living it large on the rooftop at Maison Fahrenheit, guests were taken through the history of these locations.

Doors were open at the Radisson Blu in Victoria Island and the Bogobiri House off Awolowo Road, rendering stark contrasts of lodging. One is modernist in style and sp2016-04-30 14.27.02ace, another antique full of African aesthetics and spirit.

The Shitta-Bey Mosque on Martin Street in Lagos Island offered a study in religious architecture. Built in 1892 by Joas Baptista da Costa and financed by the powerful Creole businessman Mohammed Shitta Bey, its walls whispered hallowed tales of all who passed by the Island in that time.

Almost a century later, the contrasting allure of the Rock Cathedral off the Lekki Epe Expressway shows how contemporary church buildings have become and the multiple purposes for which they serve.

I missed what would have been the highlight of this tour – the Eko Legacy tour taking off from the Lagos Island Walkaway to the Nigerian Railway compound in Ebute Metta. I highly doubt there is a better way to sum up the city than through some of the historical buildings shown on this route and the initiatives being taken to preserve them.

Victoria Thornton, Director of Open House London and the one who birthed this concept states that the idea behind it is to allow the locals to get inspired by the story behind the city’s architecture and spaces.

“The whole reason for Open House is to answer the question – Why. It is not simply about a beautiful building but how did it come about? What inspired it and how does it fit into the general fabric of its surroundings?”

One consideration for every country hosting the tours is they have to be absolutely free. “The British Council has brought in great partners for this project but my hope is that in the end it will have many more local partners who will ultimately own the idea themselves,” noted Victoria.

On the whole, the tours were well received. The audience was a mix-mash of ages and interests.

A student out to get a feel of Lagos in a nutshell, an upcoming interior designer who resonated with BogoBiri’s African themed spaces and two little girls accompanying their parents on the tour. There was the businessman and lanky socialite out to see what the concept holds for the city. Selfies were all the rage. For some, it would be the only time they could come close to getting into a luxury store like Alara or seeing the city’s skyline from the NestOil tower.

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British Council Offices – Ikoyi

Open House offers much promise for any city in general. Even the Lagos State Government through Mrs. Yetunde Onabule, Special Advisor on Urban development reiterated the Governors commitment to lift the standards and make this Africa’s city of choice.

Just like the Green Shoots Tour, sustainability of the project is central in creating an event worth speaking about year after year. The great thing is that many of the city’s architects are already sold on to this project given that several places were designed and built by their contemporaries.

But to make Open House really successful will take the goodwill of many more partners to open up their doors to those seeking to get the WHY behind the spaces they walk into every day.


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To find ourselves a bride – The Baganda wedding experience


My brother found himself a kneeling bride. I suspect all the Kenyan brothers we had travelled with to Kampala were a wee bit envious that he got a woman who was raised to show honor on her knees. That’s a story for another day.  His 14plus years in Uganda yielded a companion for a lifetime and I wish them God’s blessings along their journey.

The Ugandan wedding ceremony is an elaborate expensive affair in which no costs are spared, particularly for the Baganda tribe. After you are done wooing your bride and have put a ring on it,  you have the task of showing your face before her parents and community and proving in some way that you are up to the task of taking care of their girl. I have read of some instances where love alone doesn’t cut it, neither does potential mean anything. Potential is that word  where people say – this dude has the makings of someone great in future and if we stick together, we can make something out of our marriage. Michelle saw potential in Obama. I hear potential doesn’t cut it in Uganda though I could be wrong.

The process of marriage begins with a letter of intent written by the man to the girls family – usually an uncle. The letter is sent through the girls auntie, the Ssenga who passes the letter on to the family. Our family was then invited to the girls home for Kukyala – a first visit to make our intentions known to them.  This is when the man officially asks for the girls hand in marriage and the response from her family sets the tone for subsequent visits for both sides.

As is with the Meru community, this visit is often paternal uncle heavy as the uncles in our community are the ones who do most of the talking for the groom. The Kukyala, held in October last year, was positive. Details of dowry were shared and dates set for the next ceremony.

20160407_184224The Kwanjula

The traditional wedding ceremony or Kwanjula is the high priest of the marriage ceremonies. The white wedding or church ceremony pales in comparison to this even though it bears its own significance depending on the couples faith. In some families it is considered the wedding and the rest is merely legal stuff to comply with the laws of the land. I equate the Ugandan Kwanjula with the Nigerian traditional ceremony for its cultural importance, the costumes (read clothes) worn at the ceremony and the meaning attached to it.

A day before the Kwanjula was held, we were briefed on what to expect. As an inlaw, there were many ‘don’t’s to anticipate. For starters, the grooms immediate family members had to dress in traditional Ugandan attire. That meant coats and Kanzus for the men and gomesis for the girls. If you come from Western Uganda, you get away with the Mushanana, a simpler sexier outfit which has its roots and influence from neighboring Rwanda. In fact, many of my brothers friends opted for this . We were warned that any small incidents would attract fines; lateness to the ceremony, talking, wrong choice of clothes, laughing etc. I could feel we would be in for a sombre day. Oh and instructions on when we were supposed to kneel and how they would signal us when that time comes.

On the morning of the Kwanjula one of our younger cousins showed up in trousers and we were quickly requested to have her change into a dress. The Ugandan traditional dress , the gomesi requires quite an elaborate dressing ritual – top and bottom heavy but it works once you get used to the stiffness around it. No one had warned us to wear lighter trousers inside as the gomesis would require not only the custom shuka they wear it with (to puff up the lower body) but something underneath. In the end we had to make do with our jeans neatly folded – more for my eldest sister who had to sit with our brother at the high table according to tradition. (Mum didn’t make it for this ceremony due to her illness. However, I hear she wore her Sunday best and was in such a jolly mood, possibly interceding for the success of her only son’s day. God bless you mama).

The real ceremony turned out to be a colourful ceremony with much to cheer about. Let me give my definition of the Kwanjula: A ceremony in which two spokesmen try to out-do each other for the sake of the families they represent. Other than the hot sun, the great Baganda meal we were served at 4 pm and the bride’s arrival with pomp later on, the only memory I have were of these spokesmen. They exchanged jokes, they bantered, they teased, they enjoyed themselves. Then imagine you don’t speak Luganda and you have to go through this a whole afternoon. I figured that it has to be a Bantu language as we could make sense of one or two words said through out the day. It can be quite tedious, but hey this is culture and we’re here to find ourselves a bride. Nothing is too much.

The Ssenga or bride’s aunt is really the second most important person on this day, after the bride. This is her ceremony. Her arrival is preceded by rows of girls coming in kneeling down and engaging the spokesman in turn. There’s a method to this ritual though, they are asked whether they know the people who are visiting and what their mission is. Most times they respond in the negative after which they are showered with gifts by the  grooms entourage.20160407_160136

The Ssenga’s come in and the senior one is introduced. She is asked if she knows the family that is here and why they have come and whether she can identify the gentleman who brought them. Once the groom was identified there was lots of rejoicing and he was finally given his place at the table. Before the Ssenga identifies the groom to be, he is tucked away incognito in a section of the tent where his family is seated and not allowed to say anything at all.

After this there is much jubilation for the girl can finally make her entrance. With song, dance, her ’10’ girls accompany her 4 dress changes later.  She is then asked whether the family should accept the gifts brought before them – the answer is usually Yes.

The elaborately wrapped gifts meant for family members are then presented by the grooms side. This is another laborious task but an interesting one – given the number of gifts that have to be presented. It is also a show of might for the groom towards his in-laws when the gift to the family is presented. His sisters also gift the bride a suitcase filled with things she will need in her marriage – our collection was toilet, kitchen, bathroom themed.

There is a formal giving of the ring again – a public proposal follows – and then cake is cut and we were out. Incidentally, our ceremony ended late in the evening. We had been warned that the hosts don’t like their in-laws in the compound after 6pm. The Kwanjula is also a farewell ceremony for them to their daughter so they take the time to celebrate her well through the night.

In the morning we were up early before cock-crow for the Kasuze-katya, to pick the bride. This is similar to ‘picking up the sanduku or suitcase’ in Kenya which used to be done the night before the wedding but is now done on two or three days before. Our bride’s amazing mother gave her to us through tears and we were off.

Wishing you Paul and Susan a happy married life. Paul, you have found a good thing may favor be continually yours.

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