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The Courage of The Bobi Wine Mural At PAWA 254, Nairobi, Kenya

#ArtRising is the slogan of the Nairobi based creative advocacy outfit, PAWA254. This .org is associated with globally acclaimed activist photojournalist, author and Ukweli party leader Boniface Mwangi. True to type – utilizing art, media and ICT as weapons towards a better Kenya, this stunning giant Bobi Wine mural in Nairobi was recently unveiled to the world through a @bonifacemwangi tweet.

poster of Bobi Wine mural at PAWA254 rooftop in Nairobi, Kenya

Important Conversations Set To Light By The Bobi Wine Mural at Pawa254 Rooftop

Is there a simmering sub-Saharan spring? Are conditions right for an Arab Spring-esque popular revolt?

The colors, attire and boldness of the Bobi Wine #PeoplePower_Our Power movement are so Joseph Malema’s EFF. If history is to repeat itself by yet again making South Africa the sinoatrial node of a sub-Saharan wide struggle for emancipation, the ruling class of today’s Africa have every reason to quake in their boots – for dry hot winds swirl through the lands that they lord over. Lands consumed by drought, literally, and droughts of other kinds: unemployment, inequality and stifling denial of unalienable human rights.

“Hayawi, Hayawi, Huwa. ” Say The Swahili

It’s not happening, it’s not happening… then it happens. Like this one time I had started a fire to consume trimmings after shaping the hedge at mum’s. It was smack in the middle of the day, with the African sun at its highest. My actions were oblivious to the reason as to why my father always (then annoyingly, now in retrospect wisely) insisted on the garbage being set to light only after the sun had set. That Thursday in rural Africa, two decades after his death, and true to the Swahili saying asiyefunzwa na mamaye hufunzwa na ulimwengu, the world handed me an unsolicited, unforgettable life lesson.

Only a quarter an hour it had been since I had left the pile of unwanted greenery unattended. Earlier, the smoke was still thick as the pile was barely smouldering when I headed in to cool with a swig of water. Now, the characteristic crackling sound of nature on fire confirmed what was before my eyes. The live hedge by the garbage pit at the corner of the farm had caught fire. The weak flames that I had just struggled to tend had been fanned into a furious consuming fire by the sneaky winds that roam when air rises as it gets hot by the sun.

Thankfully, timely discovery meant that my burning bush didn’t exactly turn into a wildfire despite the coming together of needed ingredients to. African leadership ruling over the great lakes region can only hope for similar luck in the face of socioeconomic upheaval.

Unease in Black Africa

The sparks are there: unease in Rwanda following continuous crackdown on dissent voices; simmering tensions in Uganda as manifest by the Bobi Wine phenomenon; the fragile ceasefire in Kenya evident in the skepticism that clouds ‘the handshake‘; Burundi’s ‘political crisis‘ that ensures the country continuously flirts with the abyss; the uncharacteristic breakneck speed of ease of decades long tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea; South Sudan’s blinking lights that alternate between peace and resumption of the norm- war. The DRC continues to act like a country while we all know that Africa’s richest land remains the poster child of the perfect storm that threatens this region.

Yonder, there are concerns over what some have termed as the Zambia debt crisis. This furor itself pathognomic of an elephant issue – 21st century African leaderships skewed interpretations of the “Africa Rising” narrative manifest in their agency as co-conspirators in the recolonization of Africa through foreign debt. Then the usual: Somalia and Boko Haram to the West. The unpredictable too: symptomatic in the steam gathered by the leftist group EFF in South Africa. All this counterbalanced by the stable crisis that dogs the forgotten – Libya, and the under-reported: Central Africa.

Social media fans creative advocacy in sub-Saharan Africa, sterile or will it bear fruit ?

That social media was at play in the series of 2010-2011 popular uprisings that toppled long ruling regimes in Arab Africa during the what was termed as the Arab Spring is not in doubt. In its analysis, Pew Research Center cites a study that “…suggests that the importance of social media was in communicating to the rest of the world what was happening on the ground during the uprisings.”

WIRED’s take on the role of social media in activism is more damning. Whilst acknowledging the catalyzing effect of social media on the Arab Spring, WIRED’s Jessi Hempel paints it as transient. Back then, regimes knew little about how social media worked. Today, Hempel offers, totalitarian forces have turned the sword on the bearer. Both despots and terrorists are using the reach of social media to spread misinformation. Moreover, targeted crackdowns aimed at curtailing social media’s ubiquity have become the norm.

Now that governments not only have skin in the game, but also the tools and will to stifle independent voices on social media, what chance do social activists stand? The answer to the future of online social activism lies in this Bobi Wine mural at PAWA 254.

Three Reasons: Convergence of ideologies, The Power of Art & Social Media’s Pollinating Effect

First, the symbolism on the politics of the comrade, Boniface Mwangi is not lost. It speaks to a certain convergence in ideologies that the Kenyan activist elected to be an agent of the Bobi Wine led People Power_Our Power struggle. If you are a stranger to his politics, following Boniface Mwangi on Twitter is all that you’ll need. Hemel’s WIRED report identified a certain paucity, moderateness, as an Achilles heel to the impact of activists online. Mwangi is not afraid to ruffle feathers. And if you find his twitting graphic, going by past showings, his protests will slap the shilly-shally out of you. Similar things can be said of Julius Malema, Bobi Wine and others yet to be known or born. 

Secondly, the use of art as a tool for social change is undeniable and unapologetic. With this Bobi Wine mural, the choice of Graffiti here, screams ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT. It being a portrait, it harvests the enduring power of this art form. A portrait is expressionism that connects deeply and openly with those who dare indulge.

Soren Petersen (who spent time with renown portrait artist Ray Turner) in a Huffpost article offers what it takes to do a portrait. “The photographer or painter must have empathy for their subject.” He writes. In our case here, we  argue that the Bobi Wine mural at PAWA 254 seeks to impart empathy on its audience. The mural nudges us not only to feel for Bobi Wine, injustice suffered and all. It also asks us to act on the cause of the Malemas, Bobi Wine and Boniface Mwangis of 21st century Africa. To that, add the pollinating effect of social media and we have all the ingredients.

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