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Cover Story,Opinion

Kenya’s Ksh. 100 Million Coronavirus Fund For Arts

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The Kenyan government has set up an emergency fund to cushion the art sector against Coronavirus. This announcement was met with mixed reactions. By now, the detrimental effects of this health pandemic have been felt in all sectors. Likewise, the entertainment industry is and will be particularly under pressure. Exhibitions and performances have been cancelled, gigs have been postponed and venues have closed their doors.

Nobody pays artists a fixed salary and hardly any entertainer has the financial means to survive even a few weeks without income. According to MCSK, there were 14,000 registered musicians as of 2019. They earned an average royalty-related income of about Ksh. 2,500 that year. If 100% of the Ksh. 100 million is shared among them each will get about Ksh 7,000.

Ksh 100 Million Coronavirus Fund

As the government struggles to contain the virus, cultural activities are more or less halted. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 4.2% of Kenyans work in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector. It is likely that this pandemic will leave most freelancers with a mountain of debt.

To cushion against this, Kenyan artists will be earning a total of Ksh. 200 million per month starting April 2020. The money will be paid through the system and other platforms. This fund is for a limited time and while it gives certain relief, it is simply not enough.

15,000 Kenyan musicians earned an average royalty-related income of about Ksh 2,500 in 2019, according to the MCSK.

Poor Timing

Because the citizenry is in a state of shock, President Kenyatta’s move to bail out the artist was poorly timed and misplaced. It was in bad taste and short-sighted to announce Ksh 100 million for arts when for instance there are not enough ICU beds. Kenyans want more demanding questions like that of rent and food answered.

Time and again, the government has failed to read the general mood and has embarrassed itself terribly. Take for example Uhuru announcing Google’s 4G Loon Balloons as a response to the pandemic. The parading of a Coronavirus recovery ended disastrously. Such moves, despite how well-intended reduce public trust. It shows that the government is flying blind.

The Coronavirus has caught many governments flat-footed. The Kenyan system is no different – the years of plunder and mismanagement are showing. The announcement ended up creating dissatisfaction in many corners. Most Kenyans wrongly directed their anger towards artists. They have insisted that art is not a priority at such times. Forget that music and movies are helping people cope being indoors during this curfew – over 22,000 of them tuned in live to watch Nyashinski live a few days later.

The Coronavirus calls to question the viability of our culture management structures.

Broken Systems

The intended beneficiaries do not seem to understand how the fund is supposed to work too. Willy Paul questioned the system that the monies were supposed to be paid through.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, you’ve just directed the money to the same people that have been paying us peanuts. What we want now is transparency, they should tell us how they intend to distribute the money…what system are these boards using to pay us? They should know that we have our eyes on them” said the musician.

As economist David Ndii argues, “the key challenge of responding to the COVID-19 economic shock is policy instruments, not funding.” Musicians and the copyright bodies have been at war for years, DJs have more than once been taken from their places of work cuffed. The system is broken and the artist has been getting the short end of the stick. People will not start believing in systems that have oppressed them for years.

The system has not shown goodwill to artists in a long time. The trend is going on even during these times of urgency. There’s still major misinformation about how the fund will be used thanks to poor communication. The government needs now more than ever to engage the artists. The artists need stronger lobby groups who will push hard. Coronavirus has called to question the viability of our culture management structures.

Keep creating

For a long time in human history, performance has been the main transmission of music. Vinyl, cassette and CD sales overtook it in the 20th century. In this era of streaming, artists have gone back to relying on performances as their main source of income. Unfortunately, both the live music space and the streams have fallen during the lockdown.

Nyashinski performing live
Nyashinski performing live

Even though the disease has had a negative impact on the entertainment industry, on the other hand, it has also produced new opportunities. Introduction of live concerts on social media is a game-changer. While many have gone live, the business savvy ones are making a killing out of it. Legendary artist Nyashinki went live on 8 April 2020 to an audience of over 22,000 viewers. Others are displaying Paybill numbers during their live sessions as well. All in all, as the artist awaits direction from the government it is imperative that they keep on creating, evolving and adapting.

This is precisely the time artists go to work. There’s no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no need for fear. We speak, we write, we do languages. This is how civilizations heal.

Toni Morrison



DJ Fita is a Kenyan DJ, music producer and music journalist. He is the founder of Sound Safari.

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