Picking up the Pieces: Cartoons on the 2007-2008 Election Violence in Kenya, an 84- book on Kenya’s socio-political tumult following the disputed December 27, 2007 presidential election, was launched in Nairobi on November 7, 2008.
This book is a follow up to an exhibition by the same name that was held at Goethe-Institut in March 2008 soon after former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan’s negotiation had resulted in a coalition government and restoration of peace in Kenya.
Cartoonists had displayed their views about the issue on the elections and the events that followed. The exhibition, an invitation to soul-searching and dialogue, was meant to provide Kenyans with an opportunity to ask themselves one question: What had gone wrong with the country?
One of the cartoons by first prize winner Mwaura Kirore shows Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga in a mad dash for a ball as fire burns in the background and people run in all directions.
The cartoon of third prize joint winner Omondi Okech captures Poverty, Negative Ethnicity and Corruption standing on the winners’ podium celebrating their victory and shouting, “We are the real winners” of the 2007 general elections.
One of Vic Ndula’s cartoons shows Raila Odinga trying to pull Kibaki off the presidential seat as Annan looks on. With a high wall with CON-SITUTION emblazoned on it standing between them, Odinga stares at it while Kibaki, apparently mocking him, says: “A political settlement must be within the law.”
However Gathara appears to spare no one in his drawings: The Orange Democratic Movement party leader Odinga’s appeal to his followers is (mis)interpreted by his followers to LOOT AND DESTROY PROPERTY, KILL INNOCENTS, ETHNIC CLEANSING, DESTROY THE ECONOMY.This is achieved either because the said followers do not read between the lines or their leader does not mean what he says: Maintain Peaceful Demonstrations And Not “We Stand For Peace And Urge You To Not” We Believe In A United Kenya So Please Stop “We Also Request You Don’t” It is like speaking a Bantu language but pronouncing only the consonants and leaving out the vowels and therefore confusing one’s listeners.
In The Vulture is a Patient Bird, Gathara captures a bird of prey with a human head and the letters ODM-K on its chest patiently waiting for what appears to be like a malnourished and ill child to drop dead so it may have a feast. Also not captured in a flattering pose is Mwai Kibaki with his constitutional affairs minister Martha Karua enjoying a meal and mocking President John Kufuor of Ghana that he has just arrived in time to do the dishes!
Also captured in the book are editorial commentary cartoons of Paul Kelemba (Maddo) of the Standard newspapers and editorial works of Godfrey Mwampembwa (GADO) of Nation newspapers.
In The Evolution of the Kenya Government, joint third prize winner Maloba shows that the more things change the more they remain the same. Just as the colonial governor trampled Kenyans underfoot, so have post-independence presidents Jomo Kenyatta (1963-1978), Daniel Arap Moi (1978-2002) and Mwai Kibaki (2002-present).
And so this sets the mood for Picking up the Pieces, a book supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Goethe-Institut and Katuni and published by Mvule Africa in 2008.
Kenyans had anticipated a lot from the 2007 elections after their hopes for zero tolerance to run away corruption, end to oppression by the government and a new, people-driven constitution within 100 days of taking office, among other pre-election promises.
Instead of the much promised “third and final liberation”, death, violence and destruction of livelihoods came to Kenya with the 2007 elections. With more than 1200 persons killed, the US and the European Union not only prevailed on the African Union to send Kofi Annan to Kenya to force the feuding parties to make peace and save Kenya and their interests but also threatened action against architects of the looming full scale civil war and those opposed to power sharing as a way out of the quagmire.
The opening of Picking up the Pieces exhibition in March 2008 was preceded by a panel discussion to offer Kenyans an opportunity to talk about themselves and their nation.
The papers presented by the panelists: Dr Tom Namwambah of Kenyatta University, Muthoni Wanyeki of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, Dr P.L.O Lumumba, a Nairobi lawyer and former secretary of the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC), and Mitch Odero of the Media Council of Kenya, form part of the beginning of this book. But one wonders why the comments of Betty Maina of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) are excluded.
Dr Namwambah notes that the eruption and escalation of violence immediately after the December 2007 elections was not the result of that particular election per se but resulted from many things that had been brewing over time.
On her part, Wanyeki observes that Kenyans cannot run away from this part of history that Dr Namwambah mentions, no matter how unpalatable. Instead, she says, it is critical to establish exactly what went wrong after the 2007 presidential election and why.
Asking Kenyans why they allowed their constitution to be amended 38 times within a span of no more than 40 years whereas Americans have only amended theirs 21 times in 200 years, Dr Lumumba urges them to change their minds and hearts if their nation is to be spared the cataclysmic event like those of December 30, 2007-February 2008.
Dr Lumumba notes that Jomo Kenyatta became president of Kenya in 1964 not by dint of election but a constitutional amendment!
“What today we call the constitution of Kenya is actually a reorganized and reissued constitution and not the independence constitution. A good constitutional dispensation is necessary and mandatory if we are to have a democratic country. We must not allow a constitution to be amended for the purposes of achieving short term selfish political interest,” he writes.
Mitch Odero does not absolve the mass media of the sin of bias and tribalism or what some prefer to refer to as negative ethnicity.
Kenyans having been cited as having poor reading habits, this cartoon book is likely to appeal to all ages.
Though well written and informative, one cannot fail to fault Picking Up the Pieces for certain shortcomings.
First of all, retired president Moi did not contest the 2002 election and therefore it would be wrong to say, as the book claims, that “the ancient regime of President Moi and his “Kenya African National Union” (KANU) party were voted out in 2002.”
Another weakness is noted when the authors of Picking Up the Pieces state that NARC means “National Rainbow Alliance” instead of “National Rainbow Coalition”.
One wonders why this book could not have been printed on high quality art paper since it is meant to document ‘for posterity’ the events that unfolded in Kenya in December 2007-February 2008 and therefore the resulting publication should have a long shelf life. It is doubtful how this aim can be achieved when the book has been printed on newsprint.