Statues are pieces of history that immortalize heroes and heroines in mortar, stone, bronze or wood. Their artistic relevance borders poetry or painting hence more often than not their creators are as famous as the subjects.
Dictators, monarchs and other self-glorifying leader in history have been obsessed with erecting their statues in a bid to underline their reign. Gazing through lifeless eyes from their elevated pedestals, huge statues cast an overbearing ambiance of dominance and indomitable power.
Statues are usually placed in strategic positions like street corners, public squares and on top of tall buildings.Being one of the fastest growing cities in Africa, Nairobi boasts of several landmark statues of historical significance.
Though quiet recent compared to its peers in the city, the Tom Mboya monument is perhaps one of the most visited most visited statues in the city, thanks to Gor Mahia Football Club fans.
Multitudes of Kogallo supporters religiously congregates at the monument after every to pay homage to the former Kamukunji MP and Minister for Economic Planning and Development who played a crucial role in the establishment of the team in 1969.
The popular post-independence politician was shot dead a few meters from where his statue stands on 5th July 1969 along Government Road, since renamed Moi Avenue.
Sculptured by the self-trained Oshoto Ondula at a record Sh20 million over a period of three years, the Tom Mboya monument is a piece of artistic work of bronze standing on a rocky pedestal reminiscent of the Rusinga Island, the subject’s place of origin.
It was unveiled by Retired President Mwai Kibaki during the Mashujaa Day in 2011.
“The materiality on stone imitation though a robust move is quickly brought back into place by the reality that it resides within giants in the names of the Kenya National Archives, The Norwich Union Building and the Hilton,” explains architectural expert Billy Mwangi in his site archidatum.com. “Also at its service are the flamingoes painted pink and numerous vegetation samples around it that seem to create that soft spoken touch to it”.
Despite being one of the most recent statues to be erected in the city the Tom Mboya statue have been damaged, thanks to the rowdy football fans who regularly gather around it. Speaking to The Nairobian, the National Museums of Kenya said that the duty of maintaining statues lies squarely with the Nairobi City Council.
“The National Museums is the overseer of all monuments across the country hence if we were to incur the expense of maintain them the costs would be astronomical,” explains Hosea Wanderi, a research scientist at the Directorate of Regional Museums Sites and Monuments. “The Museum only offers technical advice to the city and towns authorities”.
Standing gallantly with a typical guerilla’s tools of trade a dagger and a rifle and symbolically guarding a street named after him many years after his eternal departure, the commissioning of the Dedan Kimathi came as a great honour to Mau Mau freedom fighters.
Unlike all the other heroes whose statues grace the city’s landscape today, Kimathi is the only one who died a prisoner and was buried in a yet-to-found grave.
The statue was unveiled on December 11th, 2006, the date in which he was executed by the British colonialists 56 years ago in Kamiti Maximum Security Prison.
“One of the biggest challenges in designing the monument is the fact that the popular image of Dedan Kimathi emblazoned in t-shirts is very distorted hence it was very hard to develop the image from,” explains Kevin Oduor, the Kuona Trust-based artist who designed the statue. “I had to work from a blurry video of him being taken to court and after the image was complete his wife Mukami had to come and confirm that indeed it was a true image of him”.
Oduor, who also designed the Syokimau Statue, says that although he is glad that the image is part of the city’s down town scenery he is disappointed that Kenyatta University, the institution that commissioned him to work on the project, never gave him credit of the work. An artist name is always scribbled at the base of major works of art as a sign of recognition.
“For these reasons, many people have tried to claim credit for this piece of work but fortunately I have numerous documents and videos of the entire process to prove I am the creator”.
Oduor says although he knows the total costing of erecting the statue he is not ready to reveal the figure since he claims there are controversies around it, one of them being the fact that he was not paid what he expected.
The statue was defiled in 2009 when unknown people placed posters on its pedestal “Dear God, please remove such defilement” that were meant to denigrate Kimathi’s legacy.
“The statue was supposed to be life size but I realized that was quiet small given it was to be mounted high so I added one extra foot which the commissioners didn’t know,” Oduor reveals for the first time.
Unveiled in 1973 to mark the country’s tenth independence anniversary and the opening of the iconic Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC), the imposing statue of Kenya’s first president was designed by renowned British sculptor James Butler.
The artistic acumen of the Briton is in no doubt since the 12-foot bronze image astonishingly resembles Mzee Jomo Kenyatta up to a facial birthmark. Seated on a high pedestal at the middle of the KICC court, the towering figure depicts the grandeur of an aging godfather watching over those going and coming from the landmark building.
Designed in England, the monument lifted the stature of James Butler from a simple art teacher to a world renowned sculptor. It was shipped from England to the port of Mombasa before being towed by a truck to location.
There is also another statue of Jomo Kenyatta inside the Parliament compound that was erected in 1964. Unlike the one at KICC where he is comfortably seated, in parliament Kenyatta is standing.
The fact that both statues were designed in England shows how dependent the new nation was to its former colonial master.
World War Memorial: The Forgotten Soldiers
The three bronze men stands tall, their heads held high and their unseeing eyes focused on the perpetual flow of traffic along Kenyatta Avenue. Their attire and pose, though static, reminds those keen enough to look of the era of war heroes and heroine. Beyond the obvious fact that the monument was erected to honour the fallen heroes of World War One, very little is known about “The Three Musketeers”.
A sign at the pedestal indicates that the monument “is to the memory of the native troops who fought: To careers who were the feet and hands of the army: And to all other men who served and died for their King and Country in Eastern Africa in the Great War, 1914-1918”.
These statutes were a subjected of a heated debate in parliament in 1984 when the then local government assistant minister Dr. Njenga Mungai revealed that the government wanted to remove and their place be taken by the statue of Dedan Kimathi. Most MPs were of the opinion that the statues should be uprooted and stored in the National Museum, a suggestion that led to a national outcry.
“The Kenyatta Avenue Second World War monuments clearly depict the social, political and economic history of this country and it should be preserved as a living testimony to our people’s forcible participation in that ugly war,” editorialized the Daily Nation.
Retired President Moi laid the matter to rest by ordering the monument be left in place and those wishing to erect one for Dedan Kimathi look for another site.
A few weeks later a Mzee Kitiku wa Mukuu from Makueni, a veteran of both world wars, came out claiming that he was the barefooted gun bearer with a walking stick.
“Before we left to fight the Germans in Tanzania, we posed for a picture. I cannot remember the names of the others but the one in the middle is a Mtende (Kuria) and the third one is a Mnubi (Nubian),” he claimed.
The veteran soldier, known by his Kamba nom de guerre Mukua Ivuti (Gun Bearer) claimed that the trio were honoured after eliminating a German sniper who had claimed many lives in Mbuyuni in Taita. An insignia in the right hand corner reads “Myrander SC 1924”, probably the designer and year the monument was made.
Hamilton Fountain: The “Naked Justice” Boy
This statue of a boy holding a fish and sprinkling water from its genitalia once caused a fuss when Maendeleo Ya Wanaume Organisation, a lobby group that claims to advocate for the rights the male citizen, said that the sculpture was demeaning and abusive to the boy child, and men.
“It does not portray naked justice but instead it portrays naked injustice,” complained Mr. Nderitu Njoka, Chairman of Maendeleo Ya Wanaume Organization. “This amounts to child abuse; it is pornography, it is sexual abuse, immoral and an outright violation of men’s fundamental rights and freedoms”.
The naked boy holding a fish is supposed to underline the fact that although justice should be bare and as fearless as a child in the nude that fact is sometimes elusive or as slippery as a wet fish in the hands.
Although it’s popularly known as The Naked Boy, its official name is the Hamilton Fountain and it was commissioned in honour of lawyer Alexander George Hamilton who died in 1937. It’s one of the best maintained monuments across the city given the fact its fountains have been spewing for the last seven decades.
Other statues across Nairobi include The Nyayo Monument in Central Park that was erected to commemorate ten years of Moi administration and the Galton-Fenzi Memorial or the Nairobi Military Stone. Located at the junction of Kenyatta Avenue and Koinage Street, the Nairobi Military Stone was erected in 1939 in memory of Lionel Douglas Galton-Fenzi who founded the AA Kenya in 1919 and pioneered road transport in the country. The monument is also said to be the focal point from where distances to various parts of the country are measured.
There are other less known monuments like the Mahatama Gandhi statue in the University of Nairobi that was unveiled in 1956 and the Syokimau Monument in honour of Prophetess Syokimau who is said to have foretold the coming of the railway long ago. Uhuru Gardens 20th Anniversary Monument was erected in 1983 to commemorate the country’s twentieth year of self-rule.
After Kenya attained independence in 1963 the new government removed some monuments depicting colonial figureheads, seen as a sign of reinstating the fact that the country was now free and in charge of its own destiny.
They include the Lord Delamere along Kenyatta Avenue and King George V’s that was in Parliament Buildings.
“Ideally, statues that have been removed are supposed to end up at that National Museum as artifacts after a process of documentation but unfortunately for those like King George’s that were removed before the mechanisms were set up, it’s not the case,” Mr. Julius Kiriga, Director of Development and Corporate Affairs at the National Museums told The Nairobian.
However the Queen Victoria monument in Jivanjee Garden survived the post-colonial scourge, probably owing to its size and the fact that it added to the aesthetics of a public park. So elaborate was the unveiling of this statue in 1906 that the guest of honour was Duke of Connaught, the first royal visitor to the British East Africa Protectorate.
The East African Standard immortalized the colourful event by noting that the “profusely decorated” streets of Nairobi were “thronged with enthusiastic crowds, and lined on either side by Masai warriors who gave a most picturesque scene”.
But who decides what monuments to build and where?
“It’s usually a committee comprising of members of the ministry of culture and social services and the office of the president since such matters usually come up through a presidential recommendation,” explains Mr. Julius Kiriga, Director of Development and Corporate Affairs at the National Museums of Kenya. “In the future it will also comprise of National Heroes Commission which is still in the bill stage subject to approval by parliament”.
According to the Antiquities and Monuments Acts (Cap.215) the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Social Services is the one in charge of all monuments in Kenya but have the authority to delegate the protection and maintenance to other entities like municipal councils and individuals.
Some of the most popular statues across the world include The Statue of Liberty in New York City, Nelson Mandela statue in Johannesburg and Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.
Twitter handle: @MwauraSamora