Last year was a horrible one, which followed on 2020, an equally bad one. Covid-19 was to blame for all the misery, although vaccines started to lift the dark clouds. These two years of suffering, suspended fun, and bottled up desire will be big business for those who can offer relief, or come with a good story that tells East Africans “all will be fine again”.
The biggest cultural phenomenon in East Africa will come from America. The 2018 blockbuster Black Panther is scheduled to return in November, if Covid doesn’t scupper the plans again, as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and many of our people, including Kenyan star Lupita Nyong’o, and Ugandan-Briton Daniel Kaluuya and Ugandan-German Florence Kasumba (it’s good African manners to claim distant relatives when they do well), are all expected to make a return.
Coming in a period when we are desperate for uplifting moments, and riding the tail end of the global Black Lives Matter wave of 2020, it is likely to be an even bigger hit.
One of the early East African escape fests is likely to be the finals of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) scheduled for Kigali in May. The league, a joint effort between the US National Basketball Association (NBA) and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), held its inaugural tournament in Kigali in May last year. With Covid-related restrictions still in place, it was mostly a TV event. This year is likely to see a stampede.
Since the Kigali tournament, former US president Barack Obama has put money in NBA Africa as a strategic investor. In recent times, Hollywood big-time actor Forest Whitaker, who portrayed Ugandan military dictator Idi Amin in the 2006 film The Last King of Scotland, and perhaps most interesting, Zambian economist and author Dambisya Moyo (she of Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa fame) have also put in some money. Obama for one needs to come and also see how his Kenyan relatives have coped with the pandemic.
Another massive distraction is likely to be in Kenya in June when the Safari Rally returns as one of the 13 rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship in 2022. It returned to Kenya last year after a 19-year absence, and President Uhuru Kenyatta, a petrolhead who, with Rwanda President Paul Kagame has been known to sneak off to watch Formula One, was espied among the crowd “drinking” dust in Naivasha.
Again, travel restrictions meant that Ugandans, perhaps the most crazed motorsport fans in East Africa, couldn’t come. We can expect an invasion this time.
We are likely to see work from East Africa’s new generation of film directors. Rwandan actress and playwright Anisia Uzeyman, together with American poet, singer and actor Saul William last year released the sci-fi film Neptune Forest, about an intersex African hacker, a coltan miner, and their child, in a strange African universe.
In December Netflix released Ugandan filmmaker Loukman Ali’s gritty, violence-laced The Girl in the Yellow Jumper. Both Uzeyman and Ali have promised something for 2022.
For a few weeks this year, then, we might just be able to forget the troubles of 2021.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]