It is a shame if you do not know Steven Kanumba

Last Saturday a close friend sent me a message on Facebook alerting me of the sudden death of Steven Kanumba. She actually wanted to know from me – news junkie – whether it was true that he had died. The problem however was not that he was dead but that I did not even know him, a fact I tried my best to conceal.
Allan Brian Ssenyonga
Allan Brian Ssenyonga

Last Saturday a close friend sent me a message on Facebook alerting me of the sudden death of Steven Kanumba. She actually wanted to know from me – news junkie – whether it was true that he had died. The problem however was not that he was dead but that I did not even know him, a fact I tried my best to conceal.

So the big question here is, do you know who Steven Kanumba is (was)? Me neither. Well thanks to social media, Google and Wikipedia, it has become harder to sustain ignorance and so here we go.  

Steven Charles Kanumba was a Tanzanian actor and film director. He passed away on 7 April aged 28. According to the BBC website, over 30, 000 people attended his funeral including Tanzania’s first lady, Maama Salma Kikwete, the Vice President, Dr. Mohamed Gharib Bilala and the minister for culture and sport, Emmanuel Nchimbi.

He was described as Tanzania’s most popular film star who even starred in some Nollywood films. Kanumba is said to have died after he fell down in his bedroom allegedly after being pushed by his teenage girlfriend, Elizabeth “Lulu” Michael Kimemeta.  Shortly before his death, he was said to be preparing for his first role in a Hollywood film.

Personally I feel ashamed by the fact that I am quite ignorant about someone as prolific as Kanumba. As far as regional integration is concerned, it is such small things that help us understand whether we are on the right path.

Anyone ‘African’ enough should know how despicable it is to appear ignorant about family issues. Statements like, “I am sure you remember Auntie Jennifer the mother of Douglas who lives in Mbarara” are common at family gatherings.

So, again I ask; how come we as East Africans, living in a community can be that ignorant about a family member like Kanumba. If indeed we are related to each other and even have Swahili as a unifying language, how come very few of us could recognise one of our own.

I know some may argue that people in Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda know about Msechu the Tusker Project Fame 4 contestant from Tanzania or even the established musicians such as Prof. Jay, Ali Kiba or Lady JayDee but that is not a sustainable excuse.

Kanumba was a star on the screen, appearing in scores of movies including the Nigerian ones that are quite popular. How can we be talking about regional integration when even the popular fellows in one country are not known across the border? I actually saw a Uganda group on Facebook where someone else was asking who Steven Kanumba is.

As far as the film industry in East Africa is concerned, our Tanzanian brothers and sisters are the only ones who seem to have managed to put up something to counter the flood of Nollywood productions. The fact that the films from Tanzania are largely acted in Swahili a language that many understand, and some like me are trying to polish, should be grounds enough for us to support our own.

As a region we have managed to support regional music stars and I think it is time we did the same for those involved in film. Uganda’s Jose Chameleon will pull huge crowds whether he is in Kampala, Dar or Kigali. The same can be said about Burundi’s Kidum who is based in Nairobi but loved in all the five countries.

Is it not time we ditched the Nigerian movies that barely go beyond witchcraft themes and supported our own film productions. Watching Tanzanian movies should be able to teach a lot about our brothers and sisters, as well as the nuances of the Swahili language-wahili Sanifu.

By the way I am not saying we should just support Tanzania’s film industry as if nothing else exists elsewhere. The Kenyans have Shuga, which I believe should be screened in all schools to spread the crucial messages therein. Other productions like Tahidi High and Makutano Junction, a Kenyan production that features some Ugandan stars like Phillip Luswata are all worth following.

It would be nice if we as East Africans knew more about each other instead of appearing ignorant like yours truly, about people who are very popular across our borders. Let us do our best to make our entertainment more than local, regional is the way to go. R.I.P Steven Kanumba.  

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