2020 started with a lot of promise for a lot of people in Kenya. It started with the hope that it would be a better year after the disaster that was 2019. According to many people I have talked to, especially in the business world, the expectation was that this would be the year to recover from the previous one.
It was not to be. The COVID-19 pandemic officially arrived in Kenya on 13th March and it brought forth a healthcare crisis which changed the entire economic landscape. This new dispensation, which people are calling the new normal, means working from home while in other cases, whole companies have closed. This has led to reduced revenue for companies which has resulted to layoffs and reduced salaries for employees.
The Government has responded to the crisis with a raft of measures. They include a reduction of taxes such as VAT and PAYE. Additionally, they have unveiled a fund for creatives which will go towards funding initiatives educating the public on various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Creatives have had it rough in Kenya, in general. Employment opportunities in the creative industry have been hard to come by and funding of the sector has also been inconsistent. In these COVID-19 times, it is even worse. Creatives’ income depends on either the public or companies, and this has been hit because of reduced activity during this period as well as the limitations on assembly.
If you think of the case of the musicians, it has been especially hard because they largely make their money from live events. These events are not possible at all thanks to COVID-19, which meant that musicians’ livelihoods were directly at risk. This has led to innovation such as online music concerts. However, for the musicians to make money, they have employed innovative money-making tactics such as accepting donations via mobile money or accepting corporate sponsorships.
Kenyan musician, Dan Aceda, has started an online music concert initiative dubbed StudioTISA. They host the concerts on IGTV, Facebook and YouTube and have featured musicians such as Kambua, Kidum and Gravitti Band. According to Aceda, “Videos by StudioTisa have reached over 170k people and over 60k interactions in comments and likes. This performance has surprised me. I also don’t think that it’s possible to do this with a real-life show.” His sentiments show the obvious success as far this event format is concerned, but the issue of access to the internet is impossible to ignore. How many musicians across the country can access good internet that will be able to stream a whole concert?
For certain creatives such as online content creators, COVID-19 created an immediate crisis because companies immediately cut marketing budgets. This has led to decreased income and opportunities to make money are few and far between.
Creatives that I have interviewed had this to say about how they have faring in the COVID-19 crisis.
Mwende Ngao – Digital influencer and Entrepreneur
My experience has been a mixed one. On the one hand as an entrepreneur, finances have been hit hard. There is less business and even the business that’s available is paying less than before. On the other hand, with everyone having to get online, new business opportunities have arisen for those of us who do some work in the digital space. I have surprisingly become more creative during this time and started work on multiple projects, including launching a podcast, Mwende Says.
My biggest disappointment has been that the support in the country for creatives has been wanting. There is some goodwill but it’s more apparent than ever that strong policies need to be enacted. I am also disappointed that there are no funds/grants from the private sector in Kenya. Generally, I’m trying to survive – pay bills, not have a mental breakdown, not get sick and if I do, I’m praying I’m in the mild symptoms category, and create and learn as much as I can during this time. That’s the most I can do right now. It’s not like there’s a handbook on how to live through a pandemic. Living through a historically significant period is only great for those who come after it. Those of us in it are just trying to live somehow.
Morris Kiruga (owaahh.com) – Digital publisher and Writer
There’s this quote about how we experience history as either a witness, a victim, or well, just a story. I’ve experienced this pandemic as a witness trying not to be a victim, and I can confidently say I don’t like it. Whoever thought Season 2020 of “Life as a Sapiens” was a good idea should be fired and embarrassed in the town square for all to see!
Nothing prepares you for living in a historical moment of this kind, especially when you’ve dedicated your life to observing and recording the experiences of human society. I’m worried for myself and those I care about, like everyone else, and conscious of the fact that humanity needs us to write and make art about our personal experiences. I’m writing less and living more. But my biggest worry is just how many stories still lie in the drafts unfinished and neglected, because money has grown wings.
The only highlight is that we can share experiences remotely now. Imagine going through this thing without Twitter and Zoom meetings that should not even have been emails? Unlike our predecessors who had the misfortune of living through other “Great Flus” without the internet, we don’t have to be alone with our legitimate and completely made-up fears and war stories.
Also, expose those of us who create stories to money. Or we’ll have to become plumbers after this.
Anne Njae – Screenwriter
In my mind this meant that we were all going to stay, and work from, home and I was going to be more productive, write more, because I was already used to working from home and now there was no distraction from the ones who would call me for tea dates.
I was wrong.
I have become better at procrastinating because my boss is not used to working from home, so he is a little distracted which is the perfect excuse not to write.
I have done more home improvement projects than delivered scripts on time and I really cannot explain why; I should be acing this crisis time!
Mentally, I think it’s difficult because I had carved out this little space in the world where I could slow it down while the rest of the world was bustling about their business, but there is no bustle anymore and the world has slowed down, and they are trying to carve their own little spaces at home.
My sister and the kids are at home and I worry if they are alright, this is my biggest worry.
Corona has stopped the world in some ways, but in my world, it has taken all the bulbs including the one that lights up when I get ideas.
Wavua Mwambonu – Filmmaker
I was lucky to still be able to work. However, that meant, a lean and mean team; that one would have to play more than one role say producing, directing at the same time editing. We have been shooting documentaries and have been in contact with some very vulnerable groups health-wise and there was that fear from our subjects on how we would navigate contact and ensure their security health-wise as most of them had reduced contact with the outside world.
I have been struggling mentally because before I would be able to pull up to the office for a hang-out with other people just to talk and get inspired but right now that kind of intimacy is missing. I will have to admit at some point the nature of the stories we were doing was depressing. I felt like there was a dark cloud hanging around. I have had moments where I was so busy. There were hardly boundaries between personal time and what was day or night. I think maybe the reason I keep on pushing hard is fear, that I don’t know what dynamic the next few months will take and all around me is people losing livelihoods.
Kennedy Kachwanya – Digital publisher and influencer
It is a period of mix emotions. I have heard a lot of time to think through things and at the end I have created a lot of content on different issues than before. I have learned a number of new skills to enable myself to adapt to the new reality ranging from how to conduct perfect digital virtual training to learning to code on one of the new programming languages that I had not used before. I have also used the period come up with new ways of doing my work and the people a work with.
But at the same time the impact of Corona Virus on different parts of Kenyan economy has affected some of the projects that I was working on before the Pandemic. There has been a drastic scale down by the businesses that were working with us because of Covid-19 and as well as funding for some projects being put on hold. What this means is that I have had to think harder on how to survive than being creative. It has been a hard time for the creative industry that involved collaborations, personal experiences and working with the public.
Makena Ngito – Filmmaker and digital marketing specialist
Weird. That’s the word I can use to describe what it’s felt like to create, or rather, try to, during the pandemic. I also realize I’ve used the word ‘the’, not ‘a’, because I, a Gen-Z, has only lived through one pandemic. Even before all this started, I always felt like I had lost my creative writing skill, and only been able to pen down anything when I knew I’d send it with an invoice attached. So when Covid-19 hit, I only expected it to get worse. No commercial jobs, and my ability to write for leisure in some forgotten cabinet? I might as well as take off the ‘creative’ tag from my life, right?
But, I’ve written more than I have in a long while. I’ve even managed to start a little challenge with a friend where we write together, either starting or finishing each other’s stories. Not that I’m constantly churning out material, no, but, it hasn’t been bad. I mean, yes, sometimes I go days without writing, either writer’s block or the famous procrastination that grips us all, but, I feel like the rose that grew out of the concrete. And I hope that you thrive too.
Abigail Arunga – Writer, newspaper columnist and author
Life for writers is generally precarious as is. So Corona just evens out the panic. We’re not new to losing income rapidly and having to survive on non existent savings. Just that now, the rest of the world has joined us. Which means we’re brought even lower than before.
The shining light to all this may be that everyone will actually realize that online work is the most practical and cost effective way to work, especially post Corona. We’re ahead of the curve – but still not ahead of capitalism.