Uganda and Kenya have been urged to open up and expose the countryside as a viable alternative for the next generation to thrive and grow.
The call was made by experts who did research and findings of the countryside for the two countries as alternatives and, measures that can be used to prevent overcrowding in their two capital cities of Nairobi and Kampala.
At the ongoing Exhibition Countryside, the Future, which kicked off at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, which features several developments mostly in Uganda and Kenya, the experts/researchers advised the two governments to look to the countryside as a ground for exploration of new technologies, industries, energy sources, food security systems, uncrowded development and de-population of their respective cities.
The Office Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), founded by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rem Koolhaas is organizing the exhibition that started on February 20, 2020, and will run through to August at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
It is the first time the Guggenheim has ever shown a research exhibition of this magnitude.
Curated by Rem Koolhaas and OMA’s think-tank AMO – in collaboration with the University of Nairobi, the exhibition is addressing the urgent environmental, political and socioeconomic issues affecting all land not occupied by cities.
The exhibition focuses extensively on the East African countryside, investigating leapfrog technologies through case studies on M-Pesa, Mobius Motors, Boda Boda bikes and UBI experiments in rural areas.
The exhibition also shows the Mombasa–Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway and other projects such as the Turkana Wind Park and Garissa Solar Park and presents the human-gorilla “Buffer zone” in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
“The African countryside is a place of radical change, that could perhaps work as a new model for how we look at growth and urbanism, in alternative to Western city-focused narratives,” says Rem Koolhaas.
Relatedly, in an interview with East African Business Week, Etta Madete, Graduate Architect – BuildX studio(Formerly Orkidstudio) and Lecturer(T.Fellow) – University of Nairobi explained more on why it was necessary to carry out such research, the key findings and how it will stimulate countryside development.
Why did you decide to put such an exhibition (about East Africa) at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum?
We at the University of Nairobi, Department of Architecture have been studying the countryside in the past 10 years to better understand the nature of its growth and development. Most particularly the town of Voi.
The opportunity to present the work alongside the OMA and Havard team working on countrysides all over the world was ideal as it showcased the uniqueness of the manifestation of technology and counter urbanization found in the East African countryside.
With our research and theirs, the tapestry of interesting projects in the countryside could be showcased side by side to the world.
How will the exhibition impact on the two countries (Uganda and Kenya) where the research was conducted especially on Countryside land?
The initial intentions of the exhibitions were to showcase to the world as well as to East Africans what is happening in what they construe as the ‘ village’.
As it stands now, many urban and countryside dwellers in both Uganda and Kenya do not know the great advancements happening there hence are oblivious to the opportunities therein.
The impact will be to unveil the misconception and stigmatization of the village as a ‘backward’ place and instead reveal it as a place of the future.
As we continue to pile into our cities whose infrastructure and resources cannot hold the rising population, the exhibition serves as an alternative and seemingly a better one.
Not sure what you mean by land, but the cities do not have much land available to use, sell, rent or build on and the one that is available is very expensive. Hopefully, we will be able to see a move towards individuals seeking to buy and develop land outside the city.
What were the key findings from the research?
The countryside is the future of development, exploration and sustainable living. As more and more research is being poured on how to deal with the ever crowding of cities in East Africa that leads to pollution, poor hygiene, lack of housing, infrastructure and water for the population.
The advent of advanced technologies can be used to make rural and countryside settlements jump into the future, especially in Kenya where there is over 10% mobile phone penetration and over 90% internet use across the country. Not looking to the countryside in an almost nostalgic reference but instead an opportunistic one.
What must the two East African countries (Uganda and Kenya) do to handle the shortcomings that the exhibition and research found out?
Open up and expose the countryside as a viable alternative for the next generation to thrive and grow. From the UBI experiment in western Kenya and the massive energy projects as well as the MPESA revolution that has broken down most financial inclusion barriers to businesses and services outside the city.
Look to the countryside as a ground for exploration of new technologies, industries, energy sources food security systems, uncrowded development and de-population of the city.
STORY AND INTERVIEW WRITTEN BY PAUL TENTENA