News 2008


Don't forget the real issues, Kenyan cartoonists warn


Sunday, 9 March

NAIROBI: Kenya's power-sharing deal risks lulling the country into a false sense of security when the root causes of post-election violence have barely been broached, the nation's leading cartoonists warned.

At an exhibition entitled Picking Up the Pieces, which opened on Friday, they argued that their leaders should be held accountable for hundreds of deaths following disputed December elections and not be allowed to gloss over key outstanding issues.

Reached late last month, the landmark deal between Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and opposition candidate Raila Odinga aims to put an end to violence that left at least 1,500 dead and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Mwaura Kirore won the competition organised by the Association of East African Cartoonists with a cartoon depicting Kibaki and Odinga involved in a fierce game of football.

"The ball has the map of Kenya on it and it's coming apart at the seams. They are kicking it around, jostling for possession while the country burns in the background ... for them, it's like soccer, it's all a game," Kirore said.

Reached on February 28, the power-sharing agreement was trumpeted by both sides as a major achievement.

But cartoonists voiced fears that peace could be short-lived if the causes underlying the violence were not tackled seriously.

Still, prickly issues such as ethnicity and land are included in a final chapter of the reconciliation agreement brokered by former UN chief Kofi Annan – which has been getting less attention than the wrangling for cabinet posts.

Patrick Gathara, who runs the regional cartoonists' association, expressed doubt key issues would be addressed.

"The press has abdicated those issues ... and I'm afraid that we are already creating the conditions for another crisis further down the line," he said. "We are not out of the woods."

For his part, Nairobi Star cartoonist Victor Ndula said his drawings aimed to encourage readers to make their own decisions and not let politicians set the agenda.

"Our so-called leaders have too much influence on us," he said.

Ndula pointed to one of his cartoons: a pick-up van representing Kenya and hurtling down a hill. All the country's top politicians were huddled in back with nobody at the wheel.

Gado, of the most celebrated cartoonists in Africa who goes by a single name, also voiced fears the power-sharing deal between Kibaki and Odinga was inadequate.

In a controversial cartoon published in the top-selling Daily Nation last week, he portrayed the two men as victorious boxers standing on a podium of bones and skulls.

"I think it's important the coming process is not left just to the two parties, because what they negotiated is a short-term solution," Gado said. "There should be a broader involvement."