Friday, June 24, 2011

Wanjiku emerges from obscurity to take pride of place in CJ office

By JOHN NGIRACHU, [email protected]

Former President Daniel arap Moi loved to make spontaneous statements, and he unwittingly provided a reference point in the search for a new Constitution when he dismissed civil society activists on one such occasion in the 1990s.
Exasperated by the efforts of civil society groups and the opposition in their restless clamour for a new Constitution, the president asked: “Do you think Wanjiku understands what a constitution is?” 

Wanjiku was his preferred reference for the common mwananchi in the village, often portrayed as a poor woman more concerned about putting ugali on her plate than a new set of laws.

Soon after, Nation editorial cartoonist Godfrey Mwampembwa, better known as Gado, started depicting Wanjiku as a woman bearing a basket while dressed in a patched skirt with a scarf tied around her head and her hand stretched out.

She was often making a poignant statement, or asking a question laced with sarcasm, and she has with time become one of the most recognisable figures in the search for a new Constitution.

Last November, the Kenya Human Rights Commission, one of the organisations that led the push for a new Constitution, published “Wanjiku’s Journey”, which traces Kenya’s quest for the new set of laws.

New Chief Justice

The commission’s founder, Dr Willy Mutunga, was sworn in last Monday as the country’s new Chief Justice.

Dr Mutunga ascended to the position in line with the new Constitution, which demanded public participation in his appointment.
The interviews by the Judicial Service Commission and his vetting by the Constitutional Oversight Implementation Committee were televised live.

This week, as he started getting used to his new job and the large sparsely furnished office, the man now referred to as “My Lord”, got a new companion.

It is a one-metre tall statue of Wanjiku, with the original woman depicted in print by Gado created in real-life by Kevin Oduor, whose nickname is Kevvo.

Wanjiku will take pride of place in the office next to a copy of the Constitution President Kibaki signed at the promulgation ceremony on August 27, last year, and one of the pens he used.

The Constitution and the shiny pen are in locked glass cases, but Wanjiku is free, and carries a copy of the new Constitution in her basket.

“In my opinion, Wanjiku is the heroine of our struggles for a new Constitution and now the heroine of our struggle to implement it,” said Dr Mutunga.

“She is a philosopher, an ideologue for progressive change, a human rights activist, a feminist and a mother of all Kenyans. She is not intimidated by the powers that be.”

Dr Mutunga, who told the Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee that the Constitution would be his constant North, said the statue would remind him of this commitment.

“I will derive a lot of inspiration, courage and focus from both Wanjiku and the Constitution. She is here to make sure I stay on the straight and narrow in the project of implementing the Constitution,” he said.

The CJ described Gado and Kevvo — who were at his office to officially hand over the statue — as “two men known for their creativity, innovation, talent, expertise and genius.”

Gado has won several awards for his cartoons published by the Nation Media Group while Kevvo is the brains behind the statue of freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi, although this has never been acknowledged.

“That one of them is Tanzanian and the other Luo has never been an issue. Biases compromise unity. When we operate from personal biases of country, ethnicity, religion, status, gender, generation, clan and region we separate and divide people in groups and that is not the Kenya we want to bequeath to our future generations,” said Dr Mutunga.

The statue is made of fibreglass and bronze, and Kevvo told the Saturday Nation it took two weeks to complete. Kevvo, who lost his right hand in an accident at the age of 14, was right-handed and had begun to nurture his interest in art by drawing. Over time though, he has learnt to use his left hand and now creates sculptures.

advertisement