When President Uhuru Kenyatta announced his news cabinet his renamed the Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts as Ministry of Sports and Heritage nominating Rashid Echesa Mohammed as its new Cabinet Secretary.
Whilst that change of name has elicited fears of a downplay of Arts and the Creative in the new dispensation the C.S nominee who has already gone through the vetting last Friday is quick to reassure artistes that all is well.
In an interview with The Standard, Mr Echesa said he has great plans for the creatives including musicians, actors, filmmakers, painters, as well as other performing artistes that he will initiate steps in close collaboration with stakeholders, to make the creative economy robust.
“We will look into artistic spaces and see whether it will be viable to create at least a performing theatre in each county so that our talented artistes can have room to explore their trade across the country,” he said.
Yet Mr Echesa is livid to the fact that there are crucial policies touching on the Arts and Creative industries still pending and awaiting Cabinet approval.
“I will in my powers if confirmed by Parliament push for a quick passing of the Culture Policy as well as the Film Policy at Cabinet so that we have a policy environment for artistes to work,” he emphasized.
During the interview in parliament Echesa said he comes from a rich heritage of the Wanga Kingdom where the role of culture and tradition is resp0ected.
“I will for sure, have a meeting with artistes and we talk issues and together move forward as a people,” he projected noting that funding is a major gap for the arts in the country.
Mr Echesa said he shall mobilise funds from both the treasury and corporates to subsidize, the arts in the country.
Many countries in the world have their private sector supporting the arts and I will make efforts to create incentives for corporates who fund the arts so as we create new jobs in that area.
Mr Echesa notes that for the four action plans put in place by the President to succeed, youth employment will play a big role in its achievement.
“As you know the creative arts and sports area a great opportunity to create employment and if we get it right and have this sector thriving then we will create thousands of jobs,” he said citing countries such as the United States that have a thriving entertainment industry.
The C.S appointee who is a former boxer recognizes that many artistes and sportsmen and women have had to lead a life of squalor because of the many challenges around managing their affairs.
“It pains to see such people who have made our country great to live in such demeaning circumstances and that’s why I want to have talks on how to organize our artiste around SACCOS, and have them afford the basic insurance ,” said Mr Echesa.
He has hailed Kenyan artistes involved n the Oscar nominated film Watu Wote and has promised to address the issue of big films form Hollywood being shot outside Kenya yet they are Kenyan stories.
“I wish them well and I hope they will win and take the good footsteps of Lupita Nyong’o, and this is highly possible since the film had already won the Students category of the Oscars last year,” he noted.
He said whilst subsidizing films form Hollywood is a great idea, there must be ways to make sure that the country does not lose out in such arrangements.
“When we give them incentives, it is important they also reciprocate by making sure Kenyan crews work in the movies and they also hire our equipment and other related services,” he said.
On the music scene, the C.S nominee has said he shall work with the relevant bodies to crack down on piracy and to have musicians earn from the sweat of their brow by making sure agencies collecting royalties share an equal share to the deserving artistes.
“We can’t have a country where musicians do a good job, they have their music played all over radio, matatus, restaurants and yet they go home empty handed,” he insisted.
Yet he urged all artistes to work even harder and make sure whatever they present to the audience is of high quality.
This he noted will sustain the market for their products and this market could well extend beyond the borders of Kenya.
He also asked Kenyans to buy original product and cease to copy music without permission because that is not only unpatriotic but also illegal.
“Issues of copyright infringement are central to our goals and the Kenyan people must start buying not only Kenyan, they must buy original works. It is the only way to honestly sustain the industry.” he said.