Friday, May 24, 2013

State of Nairobi Statues

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.

Tom Mboya

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 “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”.  

Kimathi Statue.

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.

Jomo Kenyatta

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

Friday, May 10, 2013

Kenya's Most Contraversial Bloggers

They are tech savvy, controversial, outspoken, fearless and mince no words in their quest to speak their mind.

Welcome to the world of young digital rebels whose principal weapon of war is cyberspace. While the authorities easily contained protests by hurling teargas in the 1990s, they now have a hard time controlling the new generation of digital activists. Be they blogs or microblogging sites like Twitter, their virtual platforms have attracted audiences even bigger than the number of votes some presidential candidates got in the last elections.
The Nairobian talked to some of the most controversial bloggers.
Denis Itumbi
Dennis Itumbi
The journalist and ardent blogger has had several run-ins with the law. Prominent for breaking big news through social media, Itumbi is a big name online. His links to the political class, particularly the Jubilee Coalition, has attracted both criticism and admiration. However, he insists he is a creation of hard work, not political connection.
“Despite what many think, Itumbi is a simple Kenyan who was born and bred in Kirinyaga where he herded his grandfather’s cattle in his early years,” he says, adding that he first came to Nairobi in 2003.
It is in Kirinyaga, he says, where he adopted his “philosophy of a river” as his a principle.
“In its quest to reach its destination, the river does not negotiate with obstacles on its way,” the blogger explains.  “It sweeps away shrubs, cuts through rocks, and meanders across tough terrain as it delivers waters into a lake or ocean”.
This perhaps explains why “River Itumbi” has had so many run-ins with the authorities in the quest to deliver his “information waters” from sources to the masses.
For example, last year he was arrested on accusations of hacking into the International Criminal Court (ICC) servers with intentions of exposing witnesses. It is something he denies.
“Whatever the ICC said was not true and that’s why they later pointed a finger at the Kenyan government,” says the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication graduate. He now plans to sue the State for unlawful detention and bringing his name to disrepute.
He was also summoned by the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Foreign Affairs for allegedly authoring an infamous ‘ICC Dossier’— documents tabled in Parliament alleging a plot by the UK government to indict President Kibaki at The Hague upon retirement.
And in an ongoing case Itumbi has been charged with intercepting and publicising on his website private emails of JetLink airlines that questioned the safety of the company’s planes. JetLink no longer operates. But Itumbi remains reluctant when asked if he is a hacker.

“Hacking is a legal subject taught in some colleges and I am not trained in it,” Itumbi says.  “But if hacking means access to the operations of a computer, then that one I know”.
And how does this flashy ‘social media journalist’, who lives in a leafy suburb and has a high-end Mercedes Benz make money?

“I am social media and media consultant, owner of a group of county newspapers and a correspondent for, a South African online publication,” Itumbi says, pointing out that his engagements earn him more than Sh300,000 a month after-tax.
And that’s not all, he says: “I was the lead consultant for the youthful Jubilee team that engineered President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory. The team was behind the Jubilee manifesto and spearheaded the online campaign”.

Asked if he is Jubilee’s propagandist, the blogger says his interactions with politicians are purely on business terms and he works with people from different parties.

But despite being considered tech-savvy now, Itumbi says he opened his first email account in 2003 through the help of his friend Dennis Onsarigo, who is currently a top investigative reporter at KTN.
“I remember this evening. We had searched for a job all day with my friend Dennis Onsarigo and we only had 18 bob bus fare to South B,” he recalls. “Since we were to walk anyway, we got into a cyber and Onsarigo helped me to open a Yahoo! account”.

The bachelor, who calls retired Anglican Church Archbishop David Gitari grandfather, says his philosophy about marriage is radical.

“I have shown interest in someone and they have shown interest in me too,” he says. “But I am one of those people who believes marriage is not a must”.

He, however, says the biggest threat online is hate content. “The biggest challenge to institutions like National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) is their inability to investigate online content,” says Itumbi.

“Institutions like NCIC should buy tools like Radian6, which costs about Sh600,000. It is designed to track online content,” he says.

Bogonko Bosire

Bogonko Bosire

He is known for unleashing racy and piercing articles, especially touching on the mainstream media, on his infamous And the self-declared “portrait of the ordinary person” is not sorry for being explosive.
“I strongly believe that I have insatiable curiosity, creativity and brilliance,” he says.

So who is Bosire?
“There are several rumours about me: Some say I was born in Guinea Bissau; that I am an evil, soulless, Machiavellian puppeteer, and an anti-social psychopath. It has also been said that I am planning to move away from the world and settle in Mars. At worst, some claim I am a toothless homosexual… But I laugh all the way to the bar. One day somebody called me and asked if I am fully human and I said I am more advanced than the ordinary humans.”

Bogonko denies he was unceremoniously fired from AFP, an international news agency, for misconduct, dismissing the accusations as lies “peddled by some haters” jealous of his fight for social justice through campaigning for unimpeded access to information.

“This is part of a long thread of rumours, innuendo and... (expletive deleted) that my enemies have been spreading in order to portray me as a rogue journalist,” says Bosire, who also describes himself as a competent Guinness drinker.

“My pride in life is to stand for those who are weak and, remind the government that it has an obligation to its people and journalists to remain faithful in their trade”.
Bogonko mocks prominent media personalities in both print and electronic media and accuses them of all manner of things.

“Unlike many mainstream journalists, I have all the respect for bloggers like Dennis Itumbi and somehow Robert Alai,” he says. “They are very good in making friendship with powerful people, but also in making powerful people run away,” says Bosire.

He, however, denies being part of the Jubilee Coalition’s  propaganda machine. He accuses “dimwits” in The Nairobian of writing that a blogger (unnamed in the article but who Bosire claims to be him) was promised millions of shillings to do the dirty work of the UhuRuto team during the campaigns, but was never paid.

Bosire says he set up Jackal news to particularly publish stories that the mainstream media do not want told, including those about editors and reporters.

“We target anybody who is a public figure and to us, a public figure is anybody with a Facebook and Twitter account. Nobody is too strong or too hot for us to handle,” says Bosire.

Robert Alai

Robert Alai
Love him or hate him, one thing you can never do is to ignore him. Alai, an avid Twitter user, is also associated with, which has put him at loggerheads with some corporates, politicians and political parties. The latest tussle involves Safaricom which has sued him for allegedly publishing defamatory articles against the company.

The feisty Alai is also involved in legal battles with Itumbi, former government spokesman (now Machakos Governor) Alfred Mutua and Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Kimemia. Most of these are related to his tweets that reach more than 55,000 followers.

By the time of going to press Alai had not responded to our questions, which he asked us to e-mail.

Boniface Mwangi

Boniface Mwangi
On Labour Day he shouted at Cotu secretary general Francis Atwoli, who was making his speech at Uhuru Park and paid dearly for it under the rough hands of the police and the trade unionist’s supposed ‘army’.

But to Boniface Mwangi, this is no new territory. In 2009, he shouted down retired President Kibaki during Madaraka Day celebrations. The case is currently in court. And early this year he led a group of youth in burning 221 coffins outside Parliament to protest against the legislator’s failed attempt to enhance their retirement packages, including receiving State funerals.

His latest move, the Mavulture Campaign, where artists spray walls with creative graffiti depicting politicians as vultures scavenging on citizens, has landed him in police cells twice. The campaign also has an online version. Indeed Bonnie, as many refer to him, uses cyberspace to mobilise, but never fears to appear in person when expressing his displeasure.

“Sleeping in a police cell is not new to me since I have been arrested and detained many times,” Bonnie says, a former Standard Group photojournalist.

His activism was this year recognised by the Society of Emerging African Leaders (SEAL) that gave him an award for his exceptional work in Africa.

He is currently leading an online campaign dubbed ‘Occupy Parliament’, through which he intends to lead a procession to Parliament buildings in two weeks to protest against MPs’ salary increase demands.

“As a photo-activist, who is using visual art as a tool for social change, I am determined to awaken the people’s consciousness,” Bonnie says.