European Tour

  So, I've been pretty silent on this blog this past week, but paradoxically it is because I've been doing so much!
More on my trips soon, but I've left Kenya for a while to go back on a break to Europe.

First, I've seen Ireland for the first time, visiting Dublin and its southern neighbourhoods around Bray and Powerscourt. I have then spent the three busiest days in London, meeting my editor and boss in the BBC World Service, in Bush House, as well as colleagues, friends and other fellow journalists.

Finally, last Thursday, I arrived home, in Paris, for a break with friends and family.

I am now to visit a few of our great art events and will try to give some insight into them here very soon...

Cheers from Europe!


World Refugee Day: Kenya's Refugee Camps

Today, June 20, is World Refugee Day. For the occasion, I wrote this article for Think Africa Press, on the Dadaab refugee camp in Northern Kenya, the biggest in the World...


Kenya's Refugee Camps

The overpopulation of Kenyan refugee camps threatens relations between Kenya and Somalia.
Article |

Dadaab and Nairobi, Kenya 

With around 300,000 refugees using facilities intended for  90,000 people, Dadaab City’s three refugee camps, in Northern Kenya, are more than overpopulated. Dadaab is considered to be the biggest refugee camp structure in the world. Up to 10,000 people have been appearing at its gates each month since January, fleeing the misery of war-torn Somalia.

Daghahaley, Ifo and Hagadera have been progressively growing in the city of Dadaab since 1991, and the outbreak of war in Somalia. Situated at the border between the two countries, the city has become the only safe haven for thousands of Somalis. While a small number of refugees are from Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Sudan, most of the refugees arriving in Dadaab come from neighbouring conflict-torn Somalia.

Refugees who have recently arrived therefore often have to live in tents in the outskirts of the camps. And while the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and NGOs like Medecins Sans Frontiere (MSF) and Oxfam have pushed for the addition of a fourth camp, Ifo II, the Kenyan government has been refusing since last November.

Muslima Hassan has four children. She fled Mogadishu to escape the war and drought. But here in Dadaab she didn’t even find a proper shelter. “I fled with my husband and my baby because of the war”, she said, holding the crying infant in her arms. “And my children joined us later on in January. But when we arrived we were disappointed by the terrible living conditions. We don’t have enough water, enough food. Nobody can help us here”. Thousands of other women are in the same  situation in the outskirts of the camps.

For the programmes’ director of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Richard Floyer Acland, it’s clear the overcrowding in the camps has become unbearable. “One of the problems is congestion. We’re looking at how we can decongest the camps. We’re asking the Kenyan government for more sites”, Acland explained during a visit to the camps. “I think we’re getting to the stage where the number of refugees in this part of Kenya has really reached a level which is going to be difficult to sustain”, he added.

To ease the pressure, the UNHCR negotiated with the local communities, elected leaders and the provincial administration to open the fourth camp. The UNHCR acquired more land in December 2009 and the construction of Ifo II camp began early 2010. It was designed to host 80,000 refugees and was supposed to open in November 2010. It now has clinics, schools, water access and sanitation facilities. 

But the new camp remains empty.

According to the Kenya Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA), the Kenyan government did not give its official approval, due to the concerns of local communities about the construction. The Kenya Department of Refugee Affairs commissioner Omar Dhadho has maintained since February that a compromise will be found. And Haron Komen, Dadaab refugee camps’ director for the DRA explained to me during my visit: “structures, houses, there are concerns in the host communities of Dadaab about the respect for their environment. The government has to discuss and consult the local leaders before making any decision”. Yet still no decision has been made regarding Ifo II.

The spokesperson for MSF, Maimouna Jallow, wonders: “Why is Ifo II closed when it was meant to open last year and has a capacity to host 80,000 refugees? If they say stalled negotiations, who are they between and why? Is there a solution in sight? Is the Kenyan government simply fed up of receiving refugees?”

The whole problem of congestion and the Kenyan government’s inaction demonstrates, on the one hand, that Kenya is no longer ready to take responsibility for those who manage to cross the border, which has been happening for 20 years now. On the other hand, we should not forget that the Somali government, despite its protests, has again proved it cannot bring any stability to the country.

Kenya is one of the more stable and developed nations in the East and Horn of Africa and has to bear the burden of Somalia's recent misery. The crisis is problematic as it is changing relations between the least stable and most stable countries in East Africa.

Nowadays, most NGOs and UN agencies helping Somalia are based in Nairobi and some Kenyans often complain that a lot of the aid attention based in Kenya does not concern Kenya at all. While Somalia and Kenya both currently suffer from a drought crisis, for instance, the international aid agencies like the World Food Programme (WFP) and Oxfam are much more worried about Somalia's situation. A large part of the Somali people who left their country for Kenya in 2011 were running away from the drought, not the war.

“I met Somali women and children who have fled conflict and arrived traumatised and suffering from malnutrition,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran, in April, trying to raise concern.  
“After more than 20 years of war, Somali refugees have become a true global population. The majority are here in Kenya and in Djibouti, Yemen and Ethiopia but Somalis have sought refuge in countries on all five continents”, added the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “As the war continues unabated, I appeal to all countries in the world to keep their borders open and to allow them to live in dignity”.

Around 300,000 Somali refugees live in Dadaab. But thousands of Somalis also live in Nairobi, and thousands of Kenyans have Somali origins. Nowadays these Somali Kenyans, living also in the Dadaab region, are increasingly responsible for the Kenyan government’s decision not to let the new Ifo II camp open. Unfortunately, if the Kenyan and Somali governments don’t manage to improve their relations, hundreds of thousands of people will continue to be put at further risk every day.


Introducing Paris' 'Princess Hijab'

Today the British newspaper The Independent published this very rare interview with a very special street artist from Paris. Her/his name is Princess Hijab. I think it's worth knowing a bit about her/him... 
Here is some insight into her/his motivation.

It's an enigma. We don't know if the artist is a she or a he. The "Princess" is working anonymously. But let’s call her ‘she’ for a minute…

Her street art performances consist in “veiling” the main characters on subway advertisements using black paint. 

From diverse sources, she is about 23 years old.

To The Independent, she explained her nickname “combines French Revolution with ethnic minorities”.

She strikes at night, essentially in the Paris’ underground, and targets primarily pictures of half-naked women and men on French adverts.

In The Guardian, my favourite British newspaper, last November, Angelique Chrisfalis wrote that Princess Hijab calls it “hijabisation” and that “her guerrilla niqab art has been exhibited from New York to Vienna, sparking debates about feminism and fundamentalism”.

But she never said if she was a Muslim herself, she just uses the symbol of the hijab as a provocation, in a very tensed society, where the current government doesn’t hesitate to stigmatise immigrants or immigrants’ children, born in France.

Her “work” is only visible for a few minutes, an hour maximum, as the Paris’ metropolitan underground takes care of erasing any form of intervention on its wall. But you might bump into it some day or another, as it is getting more and more visible. Yet, as a person, she remains invisible.

More below!


Rare interview with urban artist Princess Hijab

We talk to the graffiti artist who works in the Paris underground at night 'hijabising' posters and billboard advertising
By Matilda Battersby - The Independent - June 17, 2011

Princess Hijab is an elusive graffiti artist who goes around Paris scrawling hijabs and burqas in black marker onto the faces of men and women on posters. 

She is out to ‘hijabise’ advertising by targeting cosmetic brands and well-known models, seeming to ask if hiding a face behind a veil is any different from hiding one behind make-up and air brushing.
In a rare interview, the artist explains in her own words (with the help of a translator via email) her motivation:

Street art is how I build my universe, giving form to my imaginary representations. Paris - the city, the identities, fashion and society- it offers me nearly inexhaustible inspiration. It nourishes my urban expression. 

When I engulf myself in the entrails of Paris and sneak amongst the travellers I visit my kingdom incognito, thus getting my bearings to say so.
I apprehend advertising in order to transform it. The image of women in publicity is a feature, a fetishist representation of the moment.

My work is nothing to do with the veil ban in France. I’ve repeatedly stated: "No that is not my message, neither in the form, nor in the content of my stuff”. I started working in 2005 [before the ban was imposed] on top of that...


The whole interview here: 

Slum Film Festival

Here is an interesting initiative in Nairobi...

The "Slum Film Festival" is starting this month of June.

It is a joint project of Embassy of Spain in Kenya, the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation for Development (AECID), Slum TV and the Hot Sun Foundation, with the collaboration of the Nairobi Art Centre.

It is actually a contest, open to young people between the ages of 18-30 years with an interest in art and filmmaking in Kenya.

Artists from informal settlements - slum - are, of course, encouraged to enter.

Professional artist are not eligible, even if based in slums.

There are actually two categories:

1. Slum Film Festival LOGO.

These are going to be digital submissions, designed using any computer design software.

The submission must be saved as JPG, be less than 500MB in size and then be emailed to these address:

mercy@hotsunfoundation.org or info@slum-tv.org

With the following title in your submission e-mail: “Slum Film Festival LOGO”. 

The deadline is 21st June 2011.

2. Slum Film Festival POSTER.

These submissions should be hard copy (paintings, drawings, sketches, etc) and should be dropped at either: Hot Sun Foundation offices in Kibera, Slum TV offices in Mathare or the Embassy of Spain at CBA Building in Upper Hill.


The announcement of  the finalists will be on 7th July 2011. The awards ceremony and the launch of the Festival (together with press conference) will occur on 29th July 2011 at the Embassy of Spain
Film Festival and the Celebration will take place from August 8th to 21st.




Going to Korogocho

 Today I spent the afternoon in one of Nairobi's largest slum, Korogocho. Situated in the East side of the Kenyan capital, it is the home of more than 150 000 inhabitants in less than two square kilometres. 

 I was committed a story on 'Health Text', a new system of SMS allowing Kenyans to get medical advice via text messages. And I met an adorable Kenyan journalist working in Nairobi for the NGO Internews, who raises funds for the project and to connect it with some local radio in slum areas.

I had interviewed him last week and he mentioned the Korogocho slum as one of the areas where the project would be the most useful.

So I convinced him to take me there to meet the local radio's journalists and health workers he is working for to put the project into place.

Korogocho is just at 20 minutes-drive away from Nairobi business centre, on the northeast side, just like Kibera is 30 minutes outside of the centre to the southwest side.

I met the journalists from Koch FM and two health workers from the area. All of them live in Korogocho and act as community workers voluntarily, like ‘Florence’, who started as an AIDS advisor a few years ago. She moved into the slum for the rural Western province when her parents died. Now she is happy to work for free for her community because she knows it’s the only way to make the living conditions change and improve a little.

The Health Text initiative would allow slums’ dwellers to get access to medical advice for a cheap amount, in an area where most people live in shack with no access to water and no electricity.  

It remains difficult for the slums’ inhabitants to get any attention from the Kenyan government. Most of them are informal settlement and are not even registered as habitations. This is why community workers are investing in “mapping” to complete the settlement’s official existence and obtain the authorities’ recognition.

Korogocho was also one of the strongly hit sites of the 2007-2008 violence that followed the disputed presidential election on December 27, 2007. At least fifteen men died in one incident at the end of 2007, according to Reuters, when ethnic and political divisions resulted in rioting and battles with the police.


On our way back the journalist launched this inevitable conversation about post-colonial relations between African and European countries, comparing East and North Africa. And he made an interesting comparison between Kenya and Algeria. According to him, the two countries have been the most integrated into the former settlers’ administration and economy and have ended up having the most violent conflicts to reach independence. I had never looked at it this way; Kenya and Algeria are so different. But it might be an idea… As I’m planning to go again to Algeria next year, for the 50 years of its independence, it is probably worth remembering.


The V&A Museum in London 'celebrates Refugee Week 2011'

Made By Refugees

Wednesday 22 – Sunday 26 June 2011 

The wonderful and unique V&A, the Victoria & Albert Museum of London, will devote some exhibitions and talks to celebrate Refugee Week 2011from next Wednesday, with talks, tours, workshops and performances.

Most events will be free, like the special event 'Asylum Dialogues' on Friday 24 June 2011, 19:00, a live show of music and theatre "celebrating real life acts of solidarity between British people and asylum seekers".

'Asylum Dialogues' is scripted by Sonja Linden and is performed by members of iceandfire's national outreach project, Actors for Human Rights, a network of over 500 professional actors dedicated to drawing public attention to contemporary human rights concerns.

You can also watch traditional dances from refugees’ countries of origin with ‘Dance Around The World’, a community arts organisation which promotes the folk arts and supports cultural exchange. It is on Sunday 26 June 2011, at 13:00.

 Or on Saturday 25 June 2011, 13:00, join the Talk from curator Kurt Helfrich for a discussion of architectural spaces designed by European immigrants to Britain.

'Architecture as an Refuge: UK Designs by European Exiles and Emigres during the 1930s' is also part of Refugee Week 2011 at the V&A.



All details:


London Calling - Not to miss: Miro, at the Tate Modern

  Sometimes, the Tate decided to just give you what you want. I would say for me this new exhibition generates one of those times.

I still remember my own amazement when visiting Miro's museum in Barcelona, la Fundació Joan Miró.

The power of the Spanish painter's work remain undiminished to me.

The exhibition at the Tate Modern opened on 14 April  and will be on until 11 September 2011 and is the first major retrospective of his work in London for nearly 50 years.

More details:



London Calling - Not to miss: Banksy, War Boutique

   So, London is calling, and here is a little overview of what I think should not be missed this summer...


Banksy, War Boutique 09.06.11 - 09.07.11  

The Andipa Gallery in Knightsbridge is having some works from the highly incomparable British street artist, Banksy.

According to the gallery owner, "works by urban artists are now beginning to be included in the collections of the most respected museums and public galleries worldwide, including MOCA (LA) who plan to put on the first major survey of street art to be shown in the US later this year". 

33 pieces from the British artist are displayed.

The exhibition Banksy | War Boutique presents "an exciting opportunity for collectors to acquire original works by two mavericks of urban art - one just emerging onto the international stage, choosing to put on his first commercial exhibition at Andipa, and one already recognised as amongst the biggest names in contemporary art today", concludes the gallery owner. 


Details from the gallery website:

Banksy's continuing high profile has brought with it an explosion in international demand for his work. In response Andipa Gallery is pleased to announce Banksy | War Boutique, an exhibition showcasing an un-paralleled collection of iconic and sought after original works by Banksy, from the collection of Andipa Gallery, one of the largest in the UK.

Banksy | War Boutique follows Andipa Gallery's, recent exhibition of original works by Banksy in Gstaad, Switzerland. An annual show which attracted the highest number of attendees to date, from Geneva, Zurich and beyond, further illustrating Banksy's internationally acclaimed position.

No gallery represents Banksy. The works on show during this exhibition are from the collection of Andipa Gallery.


Using textiles, bullet proof ceramics, shells and bomb blankets as the conduit to express his ideas, the artist known as War Boutique "symbolically transforms instruments of war and destruction into constructive items embodying creativity, peace and critical social commentary." Society for Contemporary Craft.

War Boutique has provided his wearable art for photo-shoots with the late Alexander McQueen CBE as well as collaborating with the royal and military tailor, Gieves & Hawkes. He has also provided artworks for some of the most renowned contemporary artists including Banksy for his controversial Banksy Versus Bristol Museum show and YBA Sarah Lucas.

Working for a body armour company on obtaining his degree in Textiles and Fashion Design, he has designed armour and uniforms from fabrics specially formulated for military use for the British, Egyptian, Indian, Pakistani and Algerian armies, as well as the Metropolitan Police, Italian Carabinieri and Mexico City Police. The arresting symbolic potential of these textiles leading him to requisition and recycle uniforms, military and ballistic materials and use them in his art, to alert us to the creeping militarisation of our society, encourage us to work towards peace and remind us of our duty to realise this.

His Peace Pods have hung from trees and rafters in Tate Modern, Tate Britain, British Museum and Regent's Park. They are places of respite for people to enter and feel and make peace. Designed so that its essential for the individuals inside to cooperate peacefully to avoid the destabilisation of the pod these works provoke us to question the necessity of war and to explore ways of experiencing peace.

The Private View for this exhibition has been kindly sponsored by Tiger Beer.

London Calling

I'm leaving Kenya for a few weeks next Friday.
I'll be crossing Europe a little, from Dublin to Paris, via London...
London is June can be absolutely gorgeous. Can't wait. London calling!

The National Museum of Nairobi goes contemporary

Exhibition: Endangered Culture, Jun 1-Sept. 30 2011 @ National Museum


Another place, another form of art in Nairobi currently on display.

The "Engandered Culture" exhibition opened on June 1st in the National Museum of Nairobi.

The exhibition, created by Gaby Hahn, run in the temporary gallery of the Museum.

And it will be visible until the 30st of September.


More details:


Art in Nairobi: Watatu Gallery

  An exhibition of new and old works by three of Kenya’s most celebrated artists, Tabitha wa Thuku, Yony Waite and Annabelle Wanjiku, started last week at the Watatu Gallery.

Three female painters.

Tabitha wa Thuku live in her rural home in the Kiambu district of Kenya.

 In her eyes, "artists are gifted with the ability to interpret messages from a place beyond themselves", the gallery owner wrote on the gallery's site.

For over twenty years, she has produced an imaginative form of art aficionados that captivates in East Africa and abroad.

Living in the Nyeri region of Kenya, Annabelle Wanjiku started with her journeys to the local river to draw water. 

Today, her airy, dream-like compositions and unwavering commitment to creation remain the soil that grounds the roots of contemporary East African art and nurtures the dreams of aspiring artists.

The third artist represented in the exhibition is Yony Waite

Born in California, she has lived Kenya since 1963. During her early years in East Africa, she was disappointed there was almost no place for artists to exhibit paintings. Yearning for a space where artists could share their work, Waite and two friends then co-founded Gallery Watatu in 1968. 

Waite ran the Gallery until Ruth Shaffner took over in 1984. She nowadays devotes her tome to painting and she cultivates an art movement in the East African art scene.
The Gallery remains a unique space for displaying paintings. A treasure in Nairobi, in the heart of the city centre, that I highly recommend.



Exhibition Opening: June 3, 2011
Galerie Watatu
Lonrho Africa Hse, Mezzanine Flr. Standard Street
Nairobi, Kenya

A new book on Kenya : 'Red Soil and Roasted Maize'

'Red Soil and Roasted Maize' is a selection of the Kenyan writer’s "most poignant, introspective and satirical articles, columns and essays" according to her publisher.

Her goal is to provide snapshots and analyses of events that have shaped Kenyans’ lives and dreams in the last decade, from the turbulent transition to democracy in 2002 to a flawed election in 2007 that had a deep impact on Kenya’s political, economic and social landscape.

She "candidly deciphers and describes the perils of growing ethnic chauvinism and corruption in an increasingly polarised nation and examines her own life as a writer in one of Africa’s most diverse and unequal societies".



Red Soil and Roasted Maize

Selected essays and articles on contemporary Kenya  
Published: May 2011 
Format: Perfect Bound Softcover(B/W) 
Pages: 200 
ISBN: 9781456777241

Excuse my French

  Here is a little switch in my blog. I feel I should write here in English, so that my people in Kenya, in the UK and in the US, the countries I have been living in for the past three years, can read me.
Excuse me, French friends, nothing against you, but I'm sure you'll understand.