Celebrating Africa: Africa to Converge in Kisumu for FESTAC 2024, a Festival of Arts and Culture

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Article by: bird story agency

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Africa's historic arts and cultural festival, FESTAC, will return to the lakeside town of Kisumu for its 5th edition between August 25th and 1st September. FESTAC Africa Chairperson, Yinka Abioye, and CEO Grace Mumo offered bird a peek into the details of the festival, which aims to celebrate the continent's rich arts and culture.

Delegates who attended FESTAC '77 held in Nigeria. Photo courtesy: FESTAC Africa

Bonface Orucho, bird story agency

After a hiatus of more than 45 years, the Festival of African Arts and Culture (FESTAC), hailed by organisers as 'Africa’s biggest cultural celebration', is gearing up for its 5th edition.

Following successful comebacks in 2022 in Zanzibar and 2023 in Arusha, the 2024 edition will be hosted in Kisumu, Kenya from August 25 to September 1. This pan-African festival promises to illuminate the enduring spirit of the African continent, showcasing its rich tapestry of culture and artistry to a global audience.

In a virtual interview with bird, Yinka Abioye, the chairperson of FESTAC Africa, explained that the choice of Kisumu is, in itself, a strategic choice to celebrate African culture.

“Kisumu stood out for several reasons. Its vibrant cultural scene, proximity to neighbouring East African countries, and enthusiastic support from local authorities were pivotal factors in our decision-making process,” he explained.

FESTAC is one of the biggest pan-African art and culture events in Africa, with roots that stretch back nearly six decades. FESTAC's inception dates back to 1966 when Dakar played host to its inaugural edition.

However, according to Abioye, the greatest benchmark is the 1977 edition, hosted in Lagos, Nigeria.

“The 1977 festival attracted participants from over 60 countries, with approximately 16,000 individuals contributing to its success,” Abioye explained.

As Grace Mumo, the CEO of FESTAC Africa, shares, the 2024 edition aims to emulate the 1977 legacy while simultaneously crafting unique experiences for attendees. The festival has undergone immense evolution, particularly in the desired impact it seeks to create, promising to illuminate the enduring spirit of the African continent and showcase its rich tapestry of culture and artistry to a global audience.

“FESTAC 2024 is an impact and life-changing festival. Our message is to advocate for change for Africans and equal rights,” she explained to bird.

Some of the planned impact programs include health screening, tree planting, and workshops focused on enhancing mental wellness.

“Mental wellness, especially in the creative industry, is another area of focus, with sessions aimed at raising awareness and providing support. We're determined to elevate the arts and culture sector, urging policymakers to recognize its economic potential and treat it with the respect it deserves.”

With a diversified program that captures participants of all ages and backgrounds including programs for children and youth, including art workshops, storytelling sessions, and sports tournaments, the festival promises to be a dynamic and inclusive platform that fosters creativity, innovation, and cross-cultural exchange.

Already, organisers are brimming with optimism about the anticipated surge in participant numbers this year. Abioye predicts an uptick in attendance, foreseeing a three to five-fold increase compared to the turnout at the previous two editions.

FESTAC Africa Chairperson, Yinka Abioye. Photo courtesy: FESTAC Africa

“East Africa is expected to have the most delegates; in the Southern African region, South Africa and Botswana are also expected to have many delegates attending,” he explained.

Other countries that have shown strong interest include Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Egypt and Morocco.

Outside the continent, FESTAC 2024 will also feature groups and individual delegates from the African diaspora and beyond, in a bid to foster a global celebration of African heritage.

“We've got a big contingency coming from India, the US, and the UAE. We've got some people coming out of the UK as well as France,” Abioye revealed.

“FESTAC is an African festival, but we are all over the world. So the door is open to all of our friends globally to also come and participate as we look at bringing Africa to the world and the world to Africa and growing the continent,” he added.

Unique cultural elements ranging from African cuisines to fashion and linguistic art forms will be on full display at the week-long festival.

In addition to arts and culture, attendees will listen in on panel discussions on social and economic issues and business forums that focus on building the spirit of pan-Africanism while living up to this year’s theme, “The Africa we want to see.”

Mumo highlights a significant increase in gender consideration in this year’s festival with the program featuring tailored programs aimed at empowering women entrepreneurs and fostering gender-inclusive dialogue.

“In every aspect, you can think of, the first talk Africa Festival as evolved to increase its visibility and embrace to promote gender inclusivity. Whether through the planned cultural activities, the exhibitions, we have ensured we have a balanced gender equation,” she explained.

“We have quite a number of programs that are very gender-focused, especially a women's summit that we are putting together on SME Women Entrepreneurship,” she added.

Some of the prominent women expected at the festival include Akinyi Odongo, a fashionista from Kenya; Maya Pradeep from India; luxury businesslady Carol Bouwer from South Africa, businesswoman and FESTAC Africa ambassador for Women and Family Fun Fair, Mercy Wamato, she is also the founder and CEO Elgon Group, an events and consulting services company among others.

“This way, the festival is creating safe spaces for women to feel free and that they can be included and their voices can be heard in the continent’s arts and cultural economy…,” Mumo shared.

“Already we have seen a lot of progress in recent years… we are seeing the acceptance, the journey is slow, but it's surely not being neglected,” she added.

Beyond indoor discussions and conversations, this year’s edition will incorporate lots of active events, such as sports activities ranging from soccer, hockey to indoor games such as tennis and chess.

A partnership between FESTAC Africa 2024 and the East African Community resulted in an agreement to incorporate the East African Games sporting events throughout the FESTAC 2024 week.

As anticipation builds on, social media platforms buzz with endorsements from luminaries across diverse spheres, from esteemed pan-Africanist PLO Lumumba to political figures like Raila Odinga and culture and art icons such as Benny Willis and Euzhan Palcy.

Beyond its cultural and intellectual dimensions, FESTAC 2024 is poised to deliver substantial economic dividends, particularly for the local tourism and hospitality sectors.

According to Obat Masira, CEO of the Mama Grace Onyango Cultural Centre in Kisumu, visitors to the festival are encouraged to explore the city's rich cultural heritage, including must-visit sites like the Kisumu Museum, Kisumu Impala Sanctuary, Nyanza Golf Club, Dunga Beach and Wetlands Conservancy, and the Commonwealth War Memorial Cemetery.

Leading up to the festival's grand opening on May 19th, a flurry of build-up events, including film screenings, dialogues, art residencies, live music performances, exhibitions, and community initiatives like a lake cleanup, promise to set the stage for an unforgettable celebration starting on May 14 at the Dunga Hill Camp.

Heavy rains in Kenya and the region forced a postponement of the festival earlier planned for May 20-26.

Tickets to the festival range between US$5 (500KSH) for regular one-day access tickets and US$20 (2,000KSH) for regular 7-day tickets.  

“Through initiatives that promote sustainable development and community engagement, such as tree-planting we aspire to leave a lasting legacy that extends beyond the duration of the festival,” Abioye added.

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