Alan Donovan passed away on December 5th in Nairobi, Kenya. Alan was with USAID for just three years (1966-1969), but he went on to have a remarkable career born in his experience at USAID in Nigeria – more specifically in his role as a relief officer in what was then known as Biafra.
Alan was deeply affected by Biafra and the Ibo people – their history – their political aspirations – their art, artists and culture – and their geography and habitat. Indeed, it was his identification with Biafra, the Ibo people, and the hidden story of places like Biafra and people like the Ibo, that prompted him to leave the institutional confines of USAID and to embrace the breadth and dynamism of Africa as his professional and life platform.
His life story is readily accessible on-line. Just type in his name or African Heritage House (e.g., https://africanheritagehouse.info). But a sampler here may inspire you to go that search. In 1970, Alan drove across the Sahara to Nigeria and then through the Congo to Kenya. For a year he walked through Turkana in northern Kenya, collected old and contemporary crafts – built an African gallery with global reach from that early experience – partnered with Kenya’s first Vice President in promoting indigenous arts, later fathering three museums in Nairobi built on the Vice President’s life and collections. In all of that experience and work, Alan championed Kenyan and African arts, artists, fashion, interior and jewelry design, musicians, poets, free spirits, and culture. In each of those spheres, he also created his own distinctive output. And he was a fierce spokesperson for Kenya’s unique environment and wildlife.
Alan’s great physical monument is African Heritage House. Conceived on the mud structures of West Africa, Alan brought his well-developed aesthetic to each room, to the selection of stunning local building materials, to the display of his extraordinary collections, and to the ambiance enjoyed by so many global dignitaries (including the U.S. Secretary of State).
Perhaps the tribute with the most meaning to Alan was when he was initiated as a Yoruba chief in a ceremony at the African Heritage House and given the name Baba Laje of Ido Osun for his lifetime’s work of promoting African arts and artists. Donovan also received an award from the Nigerian High Commission in Kenya for the same. (Source – Owen Cylke)