This is a guest blog by Gregg Mwendwa my colleague from Nairobi:
So, the story goes on. Where were we? OK. Last time we were at 1 graffiti featured 3 times in media ie 1 time on newspaper and 2 times on TV. Since March 06, several developments.
- Graffiti discussion goes viral – people took photos and uploaded them on the social sites, where these were shared, tagged and ensuing discussion followed. averagely, each post had about 200 likes and 100 shares (estimate, don’t quote this). Much of the conversation online centered around:-
2) affirmation (the guys doing the work eg “on point real art with a voice”, “I feel this!!! my world is now coming alive … thanks For the tag”,
3) encouragement (as in sentiments such as – whoever you are, we don’t know you but continue with the good stuff. “More should follow in other places to educate our people on graft,
This, in my view sort of suggested 2 things - either the graffiti was just singing a familiar tune to a choir that was already humming the same tune - like things that people already know (consciously or unconsciously) and then you draw a picture of them for the people to see - then they see the picture and are very happy about a new (bold) picture that speaks their language [but then, conversation ends right there, or the humming just continues]
the structure of the campaign was devoid of mechanism to spark deeper conversation around the issues highlighted [media features were simply self gratifying - more like the usual choreographed style of reporting and scoop type opportunism ie who features this thing first and who gets sole rights to air the back side of the story]. whether public debate on the gratifi was an assumed objective, or it didn’t organically morph, we cant really tell as yet – some people actually thought the graffiti pieces were ” Wonderful adverts!”
- More Grafitti comes – changes to more wording than picture
- The emergence of social media initiatives complementing the graffiti conversation
Through these channels, the conversations became more interactive between the producers and the consumers. The twitter channel alerted people of new graffiti and also provided feedback. One Twitter conversation – @balotrevolution asked followers to suggest what words would describe their politicians i.e (
@NiNanjira describe your #MPwithoneword &we shall use that word in our next big mural later this week) others were reminders ( @marcusolang we are still waiting for you to describe your #MPwithoneword &we shall use that word in our next big mural later this week) – some of the replied words send in included – Leeches etc which were incorporated in the next mural [sort of creating public ownership].
Feedback was not only limited to inputs to the campaign, but some followers voiced their concerns eg (
@BalotRevolution I Like the new #GraffArt @ pedestrian crossings. Its better than defacing buildings (Daystar University crossing) @MoSande)
At this point in time, the twitter handle @ballotrevolution owned the campaign.
- the anonymity of the guys behind the graffiti increased the anxiety among Kenyans
Whereas those in the activism circles were privy to the knowledge of who was doing it, the general public was not (and would not have been) aware, unless they unmasked themselves or were busted by police. Speculation went around social sites, and some could be seen asking questions such as “Could GADO be one of the artists perhaps ?” and in reply “Maybe. But not necessarily. The artist could have drawn inspiration from the man. though” [GADO is a renowned cartoonist for Daily Nation newspaper where he presents
So the busting started with this tweet (Apparently the graffiti in town is by one Boniface Mwangi of Picha Mtaani. No wonder the conversation is one sided) posted by this
@RobertAlai tweep [his critics call him a cheap cannon who trashes everything] Then this blogg titled “Being a Kenyan Graffiti Artist Takes Balls” – http://tinyurl.com/8xvodn7 surfaced the following morning; and finally this feature by NTV titled “A chat with the men behind the graffiti murals in Nairobi” was the final expose- http://tinyurl.com/6m9py38
After doing a radio interview with BBC world service about the grafitti, Mwangi responded to public inquiry about why the chose to expose themselves. Here is what he replied through twitter “The reason why we stopped been anonymous,there was a leak on the team & a #vulture staff visited our office with a carrot and a stick” meaning, either they were offered to stop doing the graffiti in exchange of some sort of (undisclosed) favor or they face the consequences (stick). He has refused to disclose any further details as to who is the vulture, what was the carrot and stick…
However, its only one face that was exposed – that of the coordinator/creative director. The artists themselves did not expose their faces, but their names are now known – may be with time they will?
- The first “Government ” type reaction – by the Local government ie the city council
So, the city council repainted the ONE WALL (of 4 different places), which had the latest canvas of political messages. This was the latest graffiti located a stone throw away from parliament buildings and “seemed to have attracted immediate reaction form authorities as opposed to other murals, which up to this minute are still on display.” See City Council moves to erase political graffiti- http://tinyurl.com/7llfyfq
And this was the response from the public – “Kenyans react to the graffiti paintings seen on walls and roads in Nairobi lately” as featured on StreetSymphony http://tinyurl.com/73hl82g. Some comments (from the diaspora) going “I honestly thought Kenyans would think that the graphitti is ugly and dump it down but they’ve actually looked past that and read the message. Kenya is changing and this election might reflect this change, I personally want to come back home now…” Another international feature surfaced in The Guardian, through this article “Kenyan graffiti artists step up battle against ‘vulture’ politicians” http://tinyurl.com/7kpcgus
It remains to be seen what action will be taken to the creative director who has come to be known, and has also indicated colluding with the police to provide security read; “When machine gun-toting police officers showed up to the scene, it turned out Mwangi had hired them to keep an eye on things”
- The official government reaction – Boniface Mwangi is summoned by the officer commanding the central police station
The response of the online community was swift. Immediately they came up with a twitter hashtag #LetMwangiDraw, in addition to contributing all sorts of advice and “togetherness” support…. even from unexpected quotas of “people who might not necessarily agree with whatever he does”. eg “BRO
@bonifacemwangi we may differ in opinion, but for using art to tell a story, i will stand by YOU…dont let police intimidate you”, others came up with comparative impunity situations for instance “If Kenya police can’t execute Philip Moi warrant of arrest what makes us think they can arrest the tribal hate mongers” Philip Moi is former presidents son who walks freely despite a warrant of arrest.
One interesting observation was the involvement of one Martha Karua, a presidential hopeful (currently very opposed to the sitting government) who was asked the question (through twitter by
@katiyawanawake, one of her followers) “ @bonifacemwangi have been summoned by Mugambi OCPD central police station what does that mean? >> What does it mean @Martha_W_Karua? she replied “ @katiyawanawake @bonifacemwangi would be advisable for a lawyer accompany you” This advice was echoed by several other friends. The media and citizens also committed to throw their weight behind. Others joked about the summon as being a consultation meeting “
At the background of this, it is worth noting that the last graffiti had a direct message to the the middle-class-arm-chair-critics of the country. A phrase on the walls (which were over-painted by the city council) read “middle class Kenyans, get off Facebook and twitter and do something positive offline”
- counterproductive processes – political campaigns and propaganda mongering
see story – http://www.the-star.co.ke/national/national/67613-waititu-faces-arrest-over-nairobi-graffiti
But many of us are watching to see if the “assistant minister” will remove the writings, and if other politicians would also be ordered to oblige (as well).
On social media, the same “propaganda tweep” implicated a senior government official Mugo Kibati (Director of Vision 2030, a call to drive Kenya to become a fully developed state by year 2030) as funding the anti-government series of graffiti. the tweet reads “Boniface Mwangi who is being sponsored by Mugo Kibati on Pawa 254 is doing graffiti all over Nairobi”. He continues “The irony is that Mugo Kibati gets his money and is a stooge of the corrupt and so does Boniface Mwangi whom he pays” and finally he concludes “In the end the mysterious painter is just Mugo Kibati since he is the sponsor”.
These statements (of course) impacted (one way – the other) on the credibility of the campaign.
So, we watch closely. We are now at number 4 of 100 graffiti, government has sort of reacted, we know the activists, they have been summoned to police and we are not sure how this goes from here. Will keep you posted