Ouaga Girls, a documentary directed by Theresa Traore Dahlberg, screened at the Alliance Francaise, Nairobi courtesy of Docubox on June 18, 2019. The screening was followed by a panel discussion featuring Monicah Karanja and Edwina Akinyi Owuor moderated by Waithera Mwangi.
Docubox is a film fund that supports and encourages new forms of ownership and authorship in East Africa. The Nairobi-based organisation funds documentaries as well as hosts events that support film locally. One of these is #DocuboxPresents where documentaries like I Am Not Your Negro, Winnie, Whose Country, and Accidental Anarchist are screened.
June’s film of the month was Theresa Traore Dahlberg’s Ouaga Girls which follows a group of young women from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso studying at a girls’ school to become auto mechanics. The classmates become their port of safety, joy, and sisterhood, all while they are going through the life-changing transition into becoming adults in a country boiling with political changes. You can watch the movie in its entirety courtesy of the AfriDocs YouTube channel below;
This blogger loved the movie as this was a face of Burkina Faso that I have never seen as the Western African country isn’t one of those you often see in popular media. After it ended, there was a panel discussion conducted by Waithera Mwangi with Monicah Karanja and Edwina Akinyi Owuor as panellists. Ms Karanja is Chief Engineer and the Technical Assistant to Operations Director at Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) while Ms Owuor is an automotive mechanic operating in Nairobi’s Dagoretti area.
The panel started well enough with the moderator introducing us to the panellists and the country the documentary was based in. She reminded us that the country has had many upheavals and conjectured that this could be why it was so badly off economically. She then asked the activists among us what kind of future we might expect for our country if we had as many upheavals as Burkina Faso. I’m no “activist” but this rubbed me the wrong way; I put it aside to hear the film discussed as is traditional with this event.
The panelists know a bit about what the Ouaga Girls have gone through as they too had challenges in getting into the male-dominated industry. Monicah Karanja who was here unofficially representing her employer, you always are, conceded that it wasn’t easy at the beginning but it was getting better. Her parents, school teachers and even colleagues supported her career choice to be an engineer which is pretty cool.
Edwina Akinyi Owuor had a bit of a tougher time as family and others tried to discourage her from going into the mechanic business. In college, she had to wait until the male students left before she had a chance to work on the technical aspects of the profession. At her current job, possible clients dismiss her services preferring to look for a male mechanic. The documentary encouraged her to keep faith in her career.
The panelists were quite enjoyable but a panel is only as good as its moderator. The moderator was condescending to Ms Owour reminding her twice that she came from a humble background for no apparent reason. Another gem from her was to say that there was something wrong with young people because possible recruits to her employer would fail to come for interviews like it had anything to do with this amazing piece of art we had watched. She even reminded us that without men the Ouaga Girls would never have had their chance to be who they were; this one clearly knows very little about how patriarchy works. I might have been a bit unfair to the moderator though; you can get your own conclusions from the video that I recorded on my trusty cellphone below.