A Taxing Music Copyright Society of Kenya

Musical copyright protection or personal wealth creation?

music tax
Kenyan music tax taxi sticker
Back in the day, I chose my Kenyan matatu by its paint job and musical selection – the more wild and African the better. But today the matatus of Nairobi are quiet, their proud African voices silenced by a music tax.

The Music Copyright Society of Kenya has put a tax on the sounds of Africa by requiring that matatus pay Sh2,000 ($27) or more to MCSK in royalties to play music in their share-ride vans. Now that may not sound like much money, but it’s the concept that strikes me (and a few matatu drivers) as crooked.

Matatus, taxis, and other commercial passenger vehicles usually play the radio or CD’s. With the radio, it’s the broadcasters that should have already paid royalties. With CD’s and tapes, how can the MCSK make such a blanket tax without knowing if the music was legally bought or even made by the musicians they represent? Its not like MCSK is passing on the royalties to Bob Marley or any other Western artist. Its not even paying it own members all that much.

MCSK is making money from Kenyans. By going after everyone from radio broadcasters and concert promoters, to bars and restaurants, down to hotels and cyber cafes MCSK is pulling in over Sh60 million (almost $1 million) a year. Yet its paying its 1,300 musician members a base Sh6,000 ($8) per year, with the highest payment only Sh 300,000 ($4,000).

You can do the math to see that MCSK’s royalty income far exceeds its payments. Where might this money be going? Trainings in 2005 sure do not impress. I wonder if the staff salaries would?

Kenya: Royalties Collection Agency Marks First Great Year
‘Toothless’ Music Society Out to Regain Former Glory
The return of the ‘oldies’

Going to the Largest Barak Obama Party: Kenya!

We are all celebrating Barack Hussein Obama II

Obama: America’s Pride
sniff city
Obama: Kenya’s Pride
Last night in a Seattle airport bar, I learned we would have the son of an immigrant as our next president. I have never slept better on a redeye flight. While I dozed in happiness on the way home to DC, joy and relief passed through the hearts of the world.

We just proved the American Dream is alive – anyone can be President.

And even though I missed the epic Election Day parties here in DC, I’m headed to the biggest Barak Obama party ever – Kenya.

The country is in a fit of ecstatic delight. The son of a Kenyan, President of America. I am crying as I type this, overwhelmed with pride in my country. I cannot even imagine what a beacon of hope Obama brings to Kenya.

I do know that tomorrow, Thursday, was already declared a national holiday and I bet that by the time I arrive on Sunday, the country will still be in the midst of the party. A party similar to the first time I went to Kenya.

In January 2003, Kenya had just elected Mwai Kibaki after decades of Daniel arap Moi, and the country could not contain its joy. Then too change was the order of the day. Bribes, lawlessness, and governmental dysfunction we all out. A new wave of social change and business growth followed, creating an East African powerhouse that led the continent.

Then, in January of this year, that miracle became a nightmare with ethnic bloodshed after the disputed Kibaki/Odinga elections. With racial tensions still raw in Kenya, America offers yet another American Dream.

An election, fought hard, yet won and lost with honor, leading to a peaceful governmental transition. This whole other American Dream is just as powerful as the dream that any child can be President. This dream makes me cry yet again.

No matter our party or our vote, we are all red, white, and blue the day after – Americans true and through.

Thank you America.

Serena Hotel’s Impressive Nairobi Skyline

An African capitol’s captivating view from luxury

nairobi skyline
Nice view, eh?
This week I’m staying in the Nairobi Serena Hotel, an oasis of luxury in the lush tropical gardens of Nairobi’s Central Park, and my hotel room has breath-taking views of Nairobi’s skyline – an African success story writ in glass and steel.

But don’t just take my word for it. Talk a video gander at my hotel room view for yourself:

Now don’t you want to be in the Serena Hotel yourself right now? Swimming in the pool on a warm summer day, with that skyline peeking past the attentive staff? I know I do…

African Shopkeeper Zen

Legally selling Afri-crap with pride

pride in his place
Pride in location
more than a shack
Pride in construction
you buying?
Still the same wares
How can you make an African shopkeeper happy? How can you also make him legal, and hopefully move him or her from the informal to the formal economy of his country? In Kenya you can do this quickly and easily by building a kiosk.

For years under the Moi administration, small shops operated in every unimproved stretch of street that had decent foot traffic. Over time, these shops created their own traffic, their own economies of scale that, on occasion, the government would take exception to.

Then the shops would be razed, destroying livelihoods, commerce, dreams of the very poor African shopkeeper, the very people who were working the hardest to escape poverty. This cycle kept the illegal squatters from improving their shops too much, creating the very eyesores that brought the government bulldozers.

As part of the whole new Nairobi, the city council is changing its ways. It is now building strong, permanent shops for shopkeepers, replacing tin with metal, scrap wood with concrete, dreams with reality.

Outside a fancy hotel, I spoke with a row of shopkeepers who were beneficiaries of this government intervention. They had once squatted on the land, selling their wares to tourists from shanties that were often threatened with destruction by the city. In addition, the proprietors dared not leave any of their stock alone overnight. Thieves would strip the shops bare in minutes.

Now they were quite proud of their new row of shops. Quite modest brick and metal structures to any Western retailer, they were loved by their new owners. Each shop was maybe two meters wide and deep, with welded shelves on the walls and a front of a roll-up metal grate – a simple yet effective retail establishment for Nairobi’s trinket sellers.

Each shopkeeper paid a yearly rent to the city for their space, and while that may not be as effective as selling them ownership rights, every single retailer I spoke to was very happy with the situation. They had legal permanence and could plan and improve based on it.

As a shopper, a customer, I was happier with the change too. I am more inclined to buy when the goods are presented in a clean, permanent structure. The buildings also lent legitimacy to the sellers. Now I saw them as official retailers, not scam artists out for a buck.

That doesn’t mean I actually bought any of their affectionately termed “Afri-crap”. I already have enough trinkets from Africa gathered on my many trips across the continent. But it does mean that these African shopkeepers have achieved their Zen.

A Whole New Nairobi

Watch Out! Kenya is back like a heart-attack

new nairobi
Building a new Nairobi
no bribes here
A whole new mind-set
In the 1990’s, Kenya’s capitol developed a reputation as a center of thievery and lawlessness. People would be harassed by glue-sniffing street kids, their cars robbed of anything valuable, and any respectable citizen fled the city at sunset. That’s why they called it “Nai-robbery.”

When I was here in January 2003, President Mwai Kibaki had just been elected, ending twenty-seven years of rule by Daniel arap Moi, rule that became exponentially more corrupt over time. Kibaki’s arrival was greeted by two weeks of parties, the country rejoicing over the change, with optimism so high it frothed over in the streets of Nairobi.

For the first time in decades the zebra crossings were re-painted and cars stopped for pedestrians. Traffic police were refused bribes with drivers requesting a real ticket instead. The whole country seemed to cleanse itself overnight. At the time, I was impressed, but I didn’t think it would last.

Arriving in Kenya last night, I realized I was wrong. First off, my taxi from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was relatively new and clean, not the wire and bubble gum jalopies of past. Then, when downtown, I was first struck by the streetlights. They were on. And their glow illuminated a city alive at night. Nairobians were up, out, and about, dressed fine and crime not on their mind.

Asking the driver, and then dozens of Kenyans over the next week, I came to understand that Kibaki’s election was a real watershed for the whole city. Gone was Nairobi’s outward criminal element (corruption is still endemic) and down was the random street crime. While Nairobi is still Nai-robbery – a friend’s side view mirror was stolen from his car while he sat in traffic – it’s not the same city as before.

Now it is similar to any other large African city. Keep your wits and your jewels about you. Don’t be stumbling down a street drunk at night, and always fear the Mad House. Yet, enjoy its energy, its beauty, and above all, enjoy its people.

Nairobi is back!