I've been a huge fan of the National Museum in Nairobi since it reopened after extensive renovation (see previous post). However, we visited on Sunday in an attempt to breathe some life into an 'early man' history project that our ten year old is supposed to write - and I was more than a little disappointed. The EU obviously spent a fortune getting the Museum remodelled and reorganised with fabulous results but, two years since its glittering opening, it seems that money for running costs is not there.
Museum Hill roadworks
It doesn't help that there are huge roadworks going on outside, making the entire area of the city resemble a vast red lunar landscape. Sadly, as a result of road renovations, the eyecatching mosaic archway entrance to the museum was unceremoniously pulled down by the city council only after a year or two of standing. Apparently there are plans to build a new one in the future.
Once inside, the once impressive exhibits looked noticeably dusty and slightly unloved. Lights in display cases were not switched on (or not working). There was no water in the bathrooms/loos (broken seats/filthy), and, more worryingly, no water in the Savanna restaurant which, surprisingly has also not been properly maintained. There was a broken loo handle in the single loo, that someone had attempted to mend with a piece wood and wire - but, with no water, the improvised fix did not work. We decided not to eat there since my husband has just cured himself from a bout of helicobactor pylori and we felt the chef might be compromised if he's not even able to wash his hands.
(maybe the lack of water was due to the road renovations outside, but still, presumably water could have been trucked in? Surely provision could be made?)
For my daughter's project, there was not a single information leaflet to pick up (reception told me very nicely, 'they got finished'), not even a picture postcard to buy. When I asked in the museum shop if I could purchase any book or pamphlet about the museum I was told that there was none available, just a row of dusty novels written about Africa in various incarnations.
It's a tragedy since, thanks to the EU funding and renovation done, this could be a National museum to hold its head up alongside those found in London, New York, Paris - but once within the walls it's all too obvious that the infrastructure just isn't there.
The model is a familiar one. Throw cash at a charitable project without a proper plan for maintenance, upkeep, running costs - or view to running the place as a successful/profitable business.
It reminds me of visiting a school for deaf children in Dar es Salaam on behalf of a friend who wanted us to take photographs for his fund raise. When we arrived there was a shiny red pick up truck in the drive.
'Wow, that's refreshing! At least they don't seem to be in too much need of cash.' I said to my husband.
How wrong I was. After a two hour tour of the premises where we were shown broken audio equipment, electrics that needed fixing, smashed windows and water tanks that leaked, we got to the subject of transport.
We were told that a major problem was that many of the children and staff found the public bus service (dhalla-dhallas) to get to school too expensive. At this point I plucked up courage to ask about the car parked outside.
'Yes, it was a donation from Britain,' said the headmaster, 'it could help us....but we have no money for fuel.'
'So you never use it?' my husband asked.
'We keep it for emergencies. The fuel is too expensive.'
The National Museum is still well worth a visit but, unless a proper plan is made for maintenance and upkeep, then it will fall (predictably?) into wrack and ruin all too quickly - which, goes without saying, would be a crying shame. I had such high hopes.