In Nairobi’s Mathare slum, young people are using graffiti to spread the message against the new coronavirus, the virus that is causing death, fear, and uncertainty through its rampaging Covid-19 disease.
“A six-foot image of a sad-eyed man, baseball cap askew and mask covering his nose and mouth is spray painted on a building ... Next to it are the words ‘Corona is real,’” Reuters reported on Thursday, April 23.
“There are six other pieces of graffiti like it around Mathare, the Kenyan capital’s second-largest slum. One urges people to wash their hands, another to use mobile money rather than germ-ridden cash.”
There is medical science, and then there is art. If well deployed, visual art, comedy, music (hello Bobi Wine; Obol Simpleman) can hold their own in spreading the right public health messages to save lives and economies.
As of Thursday evening, Kenya had 320 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 14 deaths. Graffiti artist Brian Musasia Wanyande told the news agency that there was plenty of misinformation flying about, yet some of the “real information has been given out in difficult English words”.
So, some of the graffiti is in Sheng, a local slang, Reuters reported.
I suspect it helps to speak in simple English words.
A couple of weeks ago, on two separate streets in Kampala’s Makindye Division, I saw graffiti at work against coronavirus. All presented in plain English. Thanks to A.H., the person who signed off.
The one on Soweto Road, scribbled on a rickety wall, read:
WASH YOUR HANDS
DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE
The other graffiti message appeared on a disused concrete slab at the corner of Hanlon and Kabega roads. I suppose because of limited space, the message was shorter. And louder.
COVID 19 KILLS
If this is an individual’s effort, it’s a highly commendable act of civic mindedness. If it is a message spread by the division or the Ministry of Health, good as well.
But as it is, the times demand more from us for fellow human beings, and also for fellow, well, creatures.
My former Daily Monitor colleague Elias Biryabarema filed a piece on Thursday for Reuters, his present employer. The story, datelined Entebbe, said that the 68-year-old zoo on the beautiful peninsula is cash-strapped following the “global travel freeze and lockdowns caused by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus”.
Mr James Musinguzi, the boss of Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, as the zoo is formally known, was quoted thus: “We are closed to the public ... No more money is coming in.”
The zoo, a nice place I should say, “runs entirely on cash from visitors”. That, obviously, is a precarious way to live. According to Reuters, Mr Musinguzi “estimates the centre can only keep going for another two months”.
Across the sometimes-choppy waters of the now-expanding Lake Victoria lies the zoo’s little cousin — Ngamba Island, a sanctuary presently holding 50 chimpanzees. Its straits are also dire.
Its operations are dependent on tourists and donors. Tourists are not welcome because of Covid-19. That means cash is low to feed and generally care for our cousins. According to news reports, Ngamba will be hard-pressed to maintain operations for the rest of 2020 without a serious infusion of cash.
This plainly means that as we reach a hand toward relatives, family, and friends amid this pandemic, we need to stretch the same generous hand toward the blissfully oblivious characters in Entebbe and on the island of Ngamba.
Put a majestic roar back into a lion’s throat. Put a wide smile on a chimp’s face.
Stay safe. Donate.