Good news from the African Heritage House

When recently reported here that our fight for the African Heritage House ended successfully with the property officially declared a national monument, did positive reactions come in thick and fast.Today I got a newsletter from AHH and want to share it with you:


The African Heritage House was designed by American Alan Donovan based on the indigenous architectures he encountered from his many trips through Africa. The prestigious Architectural Digest describes the house as “an architecture rising from the sere Kenyan plain like an outcropping of earth, a vision of usefulness informed by the African genius for decoration. Inside the house, every wall, floor and ceiling, is more proof, in textiles, wood, masonry, pottery, weaponry and art, of the irreducible modernity of African art and crafts”. Donovan says,”an equally important reasons for my home is to show people how to live with African art and crafts. I think this indigenous artistic and cultural heritage is underappreciated, both in Africa and worldwide. My house is a step toward preservation”.

Together with the second vice-president of Kenya, Joseph Murumbi, the two collected and tried to preserve African art and African culture in all its forms. In 1972, in a bid to bring awareness of Africa’s unique and beautiful art forms, they founded the African Heritage at the junction of Koinange Street and Kenyatta Avenue, Africa’s first Pan African gallery. Tragically, the first African Heritage burnt down in 1976 and African art worth millions were consequently lost. Although the African Heritage was rebuilt it was demolished in 1997 to make way for the I&M building.

At the time of demolition, African Heritage had become the world’s leading show window of African arts and crafts with over 500 employees and over 5000 more providing items on a commission basis for its 51 outlets worldwide. The World Bank described it as the “largest most organized craft retail and wholesale operation in Africa… It is a pioneer, having raised handicrafts from the level of souvenir trinkets to objet d’arts with world class appeal.” The legacy of the African Heritage can be seen in the Maasai Market which morphed from African Heritage Tuesday Buying Day’s.

The African Heritage is not what it used to be but Alan Donovan has refused to let his dream and that of Joseph Murumbi die. His African Heritage collection at the African Heritage House overlooking the Nairobi National Park is one of the finest in the world.

The house apart from housing an art collection spanning 50 years from all over Africa is a piece of art itself. The original inspiration for the house is the towering mud mosques of Djenne and Tombouctou in Mali which Donovan had seen when he first crossed the Sahara Desert in 1969 and saw the ”lost” mud architectures of Africa, most of which had been washed away and have never been replaced. The West African designs on the walls drawn by Architect David Bristow’s daughter, Joanna, were one of many experiments. Donovan, Joanna Bristow and Stephen Mungai, former head carpenter of African Heritage, made molds out of styrofoam that were then nailed to the wall and filled with cement. After the styrofoam was pulled off, the drying cement was shaped by hand. The nine room dwelling is also influenced by the architecture of the Swahili of coastal Kenya, Lamu and Zanzibar as well as the sculptural house styles of northern Nigerian and southern Morocco. This House therefore remains of immeasurable cultural value to all Africans, and indeed the whole human race. This is why the house is in the process of being made a national monument and will be utilized as an Advanced African Studies Centre, linked to the collections and legacies of the late Joseph and Sheila Murumbi which may be seen on 3 floors of the Kenya National Archives, at the Old PC’s Office Nairobi Gallery, and the sculpture garden at the Murumbi Peace Memorial at the Nairobi City Park.

You can follow this link to see what the African Heritage is


26th January: A Mystical African Heritage House Day

The news that the house would be demolished dawned on us on the 26th January, 2014 after a Kenyan soldier and two Chinese engineers walked into the house and declared it was on the route of the SG railway. Coincidentally the news that the house would be made into a National Monument was first published on the 26th January, 2015.

This was against the backdrop that Alan Donovan and the African Heritage House community were in the process of making the house into an Advanced African Studies Centre as a tribute to the late Murumbi. However the threat of demolition stood in the way.

To Alan and those who have had the pleasure of hearing the story of the African Heritage, it felt like history repeating itself. Before his death, Joseph Murumbi wanted to share his collection with the people of Kenya and so he sold his house in Muthaiga with some of his vast collections of books and art to the Kenyan government to be an Institute of African Studies. However, the house was demolished and the land upon which the house stood was grabbed by unscrupulous politicians, high and mighty in the government of the day.

The effect of the House as a National Monument:

According to The Laws of Kenya under Section 2 of the National Museums and Heritage Act the house becomes a cultural Heritage for the Kenyan People.

As a cultural Heritage, the house is protected under the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, to whichKenya became a State Party on 5th June 1991. The Convention is operationalized by the World Heritage Committee in whose operational guidelines of July 1977 was stated that:

“The cultural and natural heritage are for each nation and the international community amongst their most important and priceless possessions. Because it is irreplaceable, any loss or serious impairment of that heritage is a tragedy. The most important and priceless heritage of all comprises those properties, cultural and natural, which can be considered to be of outstanding universal value for the peoples of the world.”

The process is, however, in the final stages where the Kenyan Public are given 60 days to OBJECT to the nomination of the House as National Monument.

Attached is the Gazette Notice:



TRIP ADVISOR, the renowned site for world travelers, has given African Heritage House a special award for the best B&B (bed and breakfast) reviews for 2014. There is also a provision to rate the house as an attraction.


HOME AND LIVING, an important décor and life style magazine in Kenya features 6 full pages on The African Heritage House in its Dec-Jan issue. The feature is announced by writer Susan O’meara as follows:

A RARE AFRICAN ATTRACTION “There are precious palaces, grandiose getaways and exclusive estates all around the world, but when it comes to artistic legacy, none of them can touch African Heritage House on the continent we call home.”

COUTURE AFRICA in its current issue reminisces about Kenya’s African Heritage Festival, which traveled the world for over 3 decades with its troupe of musicians, models, acrobats, stilt walkers, chefs, and hair dressers. The last major tour was sponsored by Lufthansa Airlines and Hotel Intercontinental in 1995, which included a luxury bus, two Lorries to haul sets, costumes, plants, lighting and hand painted panels to convert the hotel ballrooms of European cities into scenes from Kenya, as well as two elephants that paraded through nine cities to promote the shows.

Alan Donovan

Alan Donovan, a prolific art collector, founded The African Heritage House (often called ‘Africa’s most photographed house.’) after a long working relationship with Joseph Murumbi a co- founder of the African Heritage Ltd.

“For nearly 40 years, Alan searched for the continent’s beauty and creativity, passing through the glorious sunrises and the magnificent sunsets that encompass the splendor and the calamity of each new day. To those outside its magnetic spell, Africa may seem incomprehensible, fathomless, in the primordial past. Yet, wherever we are in the world, every one of us had an African ancestor that much is almost certain. Africa is the cradle of humanity….. As a co-founder of African Heritage, the continent’s first Pan African Gallery, in Nairobi, Kenya, I discovered Africa’s rich legacy to the world’s art….. I served as a conduit and catalyst to reveal the awesome beauty of Africa to its visitors and to others around the world.”

…from My Journey through African Heritage by Alan Donovan

He has been an important person to preserve this legacy as the Murumbi Trust chairperson.



The Ford Foundation in Nairobi has announced that it will consider providing funds toward printing the Joseph Murumbi autobiography which will be published in 2015. The book, “A Path Not Taken” is in Murumbi’s own words taken from transcripts he left behind in Nairobi and London.

The book is nearly ready for printing, with several pages of Murumbi and African Heritage photos. It details the life of Murumbi from his birth at Uasin Gishu in Kenya during the early part of the twentieth century, through his political career. Dissatisfied with the direction the country was going which he perceived as serving the wealthy and not the people he had come to serve, he quit the government and forged a new career in preserving, protecting and promoting African culture in all its forms. The book has a Foreward by the Chief Justice of Kenya, Mr. Willy Mutunga.


The Murumbi African Heritage Collections are housed in the Nairobi Gallery in Nairobi.. There is a special gallery where East African pioneer artists exhibit.



Two of East Africa’s world famous pioneer artists, Elkana Ongesa and Expedito Mwebe will join forces to present over 4 decades of outstanding artistic creations. Their works will be on show and sale at the Nairobi Gallery, where the Murumbi African Heritage Collections are on permanent display within the Old PC’S Office, Nairobi’s oldest building.

Attached is a poster for the exhibition:




He hails from a long line of stone sculptors in Kenya, held the opening exhibition at African Heritage Gallery in 1973 while he was a graduate student at the University of Nairobi. His works include the towering “Bird of Peace” at the gravesite of former VP Joseph Murumbi at the Nairobi City Park and the majestic “Dancing Birds” at the entry to the United States Embassy in Nairobi. Other works are at the United Nations in New York City, in front of the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, at Coca-Cola in Atlanta and in many other parts of the world.


Expedito is a builder, designer, sculptor and artist, famous for works in many parts of East Africa, including the magnificent façade at the All African Conference of Churches, phenomenal works at the Don Bosco Catholic Church, at Strathmore University Chapel, and l7 carved wooden panels in the Bambara Lounge of the Nairobi Serena Hotel and another l7 at the Bambara Lounge of the Kampala Serena Hotel.

The exhibition is to go up near the end of March


American University in the USA is planning to open an exhibition in 2016 by Pioneer Artists of East Africa in Washington DC, USA, which will include works by these two artistic geniuses as well as four other East African artists who started their careers in Post-Independence Africa.

These include Magdalene Odundo, Francis Nnaggenda, John Odochameny and Sanaa Gateja.


Many news stories, blogs and articles about the potential destruction of African Heritage House appeared in international and local media during the time of threat to the house. The links to those blogs, articles, news stories, etc. are listed below:–and-culture-at-African-Heritage-House-Alan-Donovan%2F-%2F434746%2F2339286%2F-%2F11669ef%2F-%2Findex.html&ei=hfitVOXxMsq7UeKKg_AL&usg=AFQjCNF_U8ww0quX_vhP8MnDEuh8bDcl9Q&sig2=n7ZwYT1AXrlx3QwT0uP08A&bvm=bv.83134100,d.d24–story.html&ei=hfitVOXxMsq7UeKKg_AL&usg=AFQjCNHmvEnSOH8YfRGyGoMk-ZBekmukVw&sig2=4PUkE-gC2VB3KPNDX7nkyA&bvm=bv.83134100,d.d24,d.d24,d.d24,d.d24,d.d24,d.d24,d.d24


There was also a petition signed by people from all parts of the world to save the house.