Alan Donovan at homeAlan Donovan arrived in Africa  on July 4 1967 with the US State Deparment as a relief officer during the Nigerian-Biafra war.    He resigned his post in 1969, bought a Volkswagen bus in Paris, and travelled through the Sahara Desert to Nigeria.  During his African odyssey,  he encountered the magnificent mud mosques of Mali and other examples of African  pre-colonial mud architecture.  He then drove across the Congo to Kenya, arriving in Nairobi in March 1970.  Thereafter he spent  several months with the peoples of the Northern Frontier District of Kenya. He held his first exhibition of art and material culture  from the Turkana and other peoples of Northern Kenya in October 1970.  It was then he met Joseph Murumbi, the former Vice President of Kenya, and Africa’s most notable private collector.  Together, with Murumbi’s wife, Sheila, they opened  African Heritage, the first Pan African gallery on the African continent,  in 1972.

Through African Heritage, Alan Donovan has played a unique role in the cultural affairs of Kenya,  and fostering the ideals of Pan Africanism with Joseph Murumbi.

Pan African Festivals

FIRST, there were the Pan African Festivals which  Alan curated and organized,  including several from the island country of the Malagasy Republic, and a massive festival from Nigeria held in Nairobi  during the First  Pan African Trade Fair  in 1972. He presented the first fashion show in Nairobi with all African models, all Nigerian fabrics, and his own designs of African Heritage Jewellery.  In later years,  he organized the largest street festival ever held in Nairobi for the city’s centennial celebrations, and a few years later, a tour of 23 Kenyan hotels to bring in the Millenium.


African Heritage Jewellery

THEN there was the African Heritage Jewellery:  stunning creations from ancient beads and components, from all parts of Africa. For several decades,  African Heritage Jewellery was the  continent’s largest exporter of jewellery and adornment from Africa.  The innovative Global Jewellery was sold exclusively through the original Banana Republic stores in the USA.


African Heritage Gallery

LATER there was African Heritage Ltd, Africa’s first Pan African Gallery, which he co-founded with the former vice-president of Kenya, Mr. Joseph Murumbi and his wife, Sheila.  The World Bank called it “the largest and most organized craft organization in Africa…a pioneer that raised African handicrafts from souvenir trinkets to Objet d’art with world class appeal”. When African Heritage closed in 2003, it had more than 500 full time employees, over 50 outlets around the world, and many thousands supplying items on a consignment basis.  The Tuesday African Heritage Buying Day morphed into the Maasai Markets, which are now held every day at locations in Nairobi and beyond.


Kenya’s African Heritage Festival

FOLLOWING was Kenya’s African Heritage Festival, a galaxy  of  authentic African costumes, music, dance,  original African fashions created of the hand-woven and hand- printed textiles of Africa,  and cuisine that travelled the world for over three decades. The African Heritage Band(s) emerged from this festival along with many other African musical groups.  A young musician and his group called Papillon are the latest sensation.


African Heritage House

LATER, Alan Donovan constructed the African Heritage House, based on the continent’s  pre-colonial mud architectures  — and the Swahili houses of Coastal East Africa – he encountered during his travels across the continent. The prestigious Architectural Digest described the house as “rising from the sere Kenyan plain, like an outcropping of earth, a vision of usefulness informed by the African genius for decoration.”


African Heritage Book

THEN, there was Alan Donovan’s memoir, entitled “My Journey through African Heritage” which, like his house, is a unique documentary  you’ll not forget about a people, a country, and a man who would not give up as a promoter and catalyst of art and culture in Africa and throughout the world.


Murumbi Legacy

AFTER African Heritage closed in 2003, Alan formed the Murumbi Trust with several friends of the Murumbi’s.  Under his direction, the Trust rehabilitated, repaired and displayed the Murumbi legacy at The Murumbi Gallery in the Kenya National Archives, The Nairobi Gallery at the  old PC’s office in the city centre, and  a sculpture garden  at the Murumbi Peace Memorial in City Park.  In 2015, Alan released “A Path Not Taken”, the Story of Joseph Murumbi”, based on Murumbi’s own transcripts.


Interior Design

THROUGHOUT his time in Kenya,  Alan has created African interiors and African displays with such clients as the Serena Hotels, The Carnivore, Tamambo, and Strathmore University as well as for private residents.


Homestays at African Heritage House

He continues to host countless guests at the African Heritage House with overnight stays,  tours, meals, events and train trips to the house.

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thumbnail of Msafiri Oct 2015

Courtesy of Msafiri Magazine

Lifetime Achievement Awards

African Handmade LifeTime Achivement Award 2015

Alan Donovan, co founder of African Heritage with the late Joseph and Sheila Murumbi, is seen here receiving the African Handmade LifeTime Achivement Award for over four decades of preserving, protecting and promoting African culture from Naomi Cedi, women’s leader from the coast, and long time supporter of African Heritage. Looking on is presenter Margaretta wa Gacheru and Africa Handmade originator, Christine Gitau.

Afrika Handmade Lifetime Achievement Award_for Alan Donovan

Afrika Handmade Lifetime Achievement Award

30 Years of Visionary Leadership in the Arts of Africa

thumbnail of 30 Years of Visionary Leadership in the Arts of Africa

Margaret Kenyatta, former Mayor of Nairobi, presents a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pan African Broadcasting, Heritage and Achievement Awards in South Africa, for “Thirty Years of Visionary Leadership in the Arts” and “The best gallery in Africa, African Heritage” during the African Heritage 30th Anniversary Celebrations in 2002. Looking on is Jerry Okungu, the local organizer for the awards.

Margaret Kenyatta, former Mayor of Nairobi, presents a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pan African Broadcasting, Heritage and Achievement Awards in South Africa, for “Thirty Years of Visionary Leadership in the Arts” and “The best gallery in Africa, African Heritage” during the African Heritage 30th Anniversary Celebrations in 2002. Looking on is Jerry Okungu, the local organizer for the awards.


Alan Donovan addressing the OAU in Abidjan regarding the African Heritage Experience. Alan Donovan addressing the OAU in Abidjan regarding the African Heritage Experience.

Kenya Fashionweek Award 2016

Alan Donovan holding the Fashionweek Award between the directors of Kenya Fashionweek, Athman Ngau and Galina Tatarinova.