How Nyumba ya Sanaa venture changed hands
By Ray Naluyaga


A founder member of Nyumba Ya Sanaa, a cultural heritage centre bequeathed by founding President Julius Nyerere says no efforts should be spared to redeem it and restore its lost glory.

In an interview with Sunday Citizen, Sister Jean Pruitt said the centre was about to lose all its rich history if reported plan to sell what remains of it to private investors went through.

Reacting to an exclusive report by The Citizen on Wednesday, that revealed that the management of the Nyumba Ya Sanaa and Culture Limited was planning to privatise the venture in a joint venture worth billions of shillings, Sister Pruitt said the centre should preserve its rich heritage and glory by reverting to its original mandate.

She said she was perturbed that Nyerere�s vision for the artists, who benefited at the centre, was being sacrificed for the interest of big business.

As founding member of Nyumba ya Sanaa Cultural Centre, she has campaigned endlessly, albeit unsuccessfully, to bring the plight of the centre in the limelight.

"I read The Citizen story in tears because finally someone was seeing things that others have refused to see," she said of the reports on the privatisation deal. Ms Jean is also the director of Dogo Dogo Children Centre that cares for orphans.

Sister Pruitt said Nyerere gave the land at the junction of Ohio Street and Ali Hassan Mwinyi road in the city centre for creation of a trust to promote arts under small-scale industries scheme. The scheme was then supported by Small Industry Development Organisasstion (SIDO).

The centre attracted many donors including Norwegian Agency for Development (Norad) that accounted for about 80 per cent of the donor support. The donors have also since withdrawn due to mismanagement concerns and lack of focus.

Sister Pruitt says the centre at its glory days hosted many international dignitaries ranging from queens, princes, Presidents and other high ranking personalities in the world who are associated with culture.

"It was a big tourist attraction place and played a priceless role to sell Tanzania's name in the international stage." Some of the people who marveled at the centre�s activities were Prince Charles of Wales, Crown Prince and Princes Sonja of Norway, Nancy Kissinger, wife of former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger while Nyerere hosted various dignitaries there.

According to her, vocational training in art and craft, fine art painting, sculpture and wood curving, molding plaster or cutting metals and training performers, musicians, dancers in traditional culture and folklore were some of the things that made the centre tick.

She noted that these activities were meant for youth, the disabled of all ages, interested persons of all races as well as to teach in producing, selling and marketing of their products.

According to the trust deed of Nyumba ya Sanaa, profits and income emanating from the activities were to be used for its socially oriented objectives.

"Nyerere held Nyumba ya Sanaa so dear to his heart to the extent that he told me to fight for it when bidding him farewell at Dar Es Salaam Airport in July 1999 when he was going for treatment in London, unfortunately he never came back alive," she revealed.

She said Nyumba ya Sanaa activities were officially launched way back in 1972 before Nyerere in appreciation to the good work bequeathed the current plot.

She says the journey since then was filled with nostalgia and remembers the first largest shipment of artifacts worth $ 40,000 to Carolina in the US.

The centre took part in Saba Saba shows and also took part in fashion shows in many cities in Germany, Japan, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Norway among others.

In 1979 Nyumba ya Sanaa commissioned its own handmade paper mill, the only one in Sub Saharan Africa at SIDO Industrial Estates with the funding of USAID. The project has since doomed.

She said the current plot was allocated by Nyerere when the centre faced eviction from Mansfield premises by the ministry of Industry.

She said in 1981 construction at the plot commenced with NORAD giving $ 1.2 million. It further remitted another $ 200,000 for purchasing a bus and furniture for the art and culture centre. The last recorded fund from NORAD to Nyumba ya Sanaa was Sh18 million in 1993.

Speaking to the Sunday Citizen, the Norwegian Ambassador to Tanzania Mr Jon Lomoy said Norway had to withdraw its support because in late 90s it had stopped doing what it was meant to.

�We are quite worried by the developments at Nyumba ya Sanaa, it was supposed to be a place where Tanzanian artists meet and get support to perfect their work, it was purely a public place to help youth create employment,� he said.

He continued to say that he was surprised to see that Nyumba ya Sanaa is now a private company and is involved in the process of doing business with its proceeds ending in private pockets.

He said as the major donor to the centre, Norway is following the unfolding of events very closely but unfortunately there is little it could do at the moment.

Sister Pruitt says smallscale industry is what Nyerere was passionate about and Nyumba Ya Sanaa should not have lost this vision.

She said she resigned from the administration in 1984 and vested all the properties to the board of directors while she continued with art and cultural works associated with Nyumba ya Sanaa, in 1994, she closed the chapter of her contribution to Nyumba ya Sanaa as its founder but carried on with art works.

She said she was shocked when the incumbent Board Chairman Mr Alipo Antukolepo and others who were the trustees accused her and the board of directors for allegedly going against the purpose of establishing the centre.

"They went to court seeking to revoke the trust on grounds that I am treating the trust as my own property and benefiting from its proceeds contrary to the provisions of the trust deed," she said.

She noted that she has absolutely no problem with the decision if Mr Antunkolepo and his colleagues could have the passion to promote art and culture through the proceeds of the trust.

"Since they took over Nyumba ya Sanaa, all art and cultural works which took place slowly came to an end, now there is a bar and a night club, there is a casino. Is this how Tanzanian culture is promoted and protected?" She questioned.

Sister Pruitt said during its days, Nyumba ya Sanaa had created 180 direct jobs and another 600 indirect ones.

She noted that if used properly, Nyumba ya Sanaa could be a big support to CCM party Manifesto and President Jakaya Kikwete's promise to create jobs for youths.

"I heard the President talking about building an open art gallery in Bagamoyo in order to create employment for youth recently but there is one already right at the middle of the city which a few individuals are benefiting from. Nyumba Ya Sanaa is the place for President Kikwete to start."

Author: Ray Naluyaga
Date: 09.07.2009