James Wamathai is a writer, digital marketer, online publisher, and a digital rights activist. He is also the Director of Partnerships at the Bloggers Association of Kenya.
What is your role at BAKE?
I am a board member and also serve as the Director of Partnerships, responsible for creating strategic relationships with partners at all levels, and also in charge of fund-raising.
How did you move from hosting poetry and open mics to helping run a bloggers association?
I am proud of wamathai.com blog and Wamathai Spoken Word, which gave me valuable insight into running a creative enterprise and also helped me gain many important connections.
Some of the connections that I made included Kennedy Kachwanya, Robert Kunga, Martin Gicheru, Rebecca Wanjiku, Nanjira Sambuli, Muthoni Maingi and others who came together to form BAKE.
We all had been blogging for some time and we quickly realised that we needed to set up an organised body to champion online content creation and also lobby for the development and protection of the space. Kennedy, Robert and I were elected as officials and my journey with BAKE started.
How do you think creatives and bloggers are going to thrive in this atmosphere of sudden censorship and unclear directives?
Creatives have always had a hard time in Kenya since president Moi started a war on freedom of expression and artistic freedom. A lot of people including Ngugi Wa Thiong’o were arrested and jailed.
The drafters of our new constitution envisaged a better Kenya where individual freedoms are recognised and ensured that expression and the freedom to create are protected. However, certain fundamentals have not changed. Some statutes still contain oppressive laws which are being exploited.
This means that despite a very good constitution, we have leaders yearning to control expression the same way it was done during Moi’s time.
Fast forward to 2018, we have Kenya Film and Classification Board (KFCB), attempting to license online video content with a law that came into effect before Kenya gained independence. This is clearly a case of spectacular overreach.
Separately, the Computer Crimes and Cybercrimes Act was recently passed into law. It criminalises fake news and makes it difficult for whistle blowers to pass on crucial information to bloggers. These clauses make it impossible for bloggers to freely create content for fear of arrest and prosecution because of their content.
We are glad that the courts have suspended parts of the cyber crime laws and creatives and bloggers must organise and fight all oppressive laws and regulations. We are also considering taking legal action against KFCB’s overreach.
Do you miss having the time to write your own blog? What makes a good blog?
After blogging on wamathai.com for a while, I wanted to explore blogging on something different and I founded a lifestyle blog called hapakenya.com in 2013, a platform I still write for, from time to time.
I find that I don’t have adequate time for writing poetry and short stories, but I am planning to set aside time where I can go away and just write. A good blog should be updated regularly (at least once a week), be user friendly and be written in clear and understandable language.
What do you do when you’re not conquering the blogging landscape one BAKE Awards ceremony at a time?
I am so proud of what we have been able to achieve with the BAKE Awards. In seven years, the competition has helped launch careers of many bloggers and even influenced others to start blogging.
Other than running BAKE and hapakenya.com, I run a digital marketing agency called Wamathai Media. I usually don’t have time to do much else but I always try to squeeze reading, travelling, music and film into my schedule.