East Africa

Art and Activism: Documenting Kenya’s Youth-Led Protests Through Digital Creativity

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Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” or as George Santayana aptly put it, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Art serves as a potent means to chronicle diverse events across various contexts. In our era, technology and social media provide accessible creative tools and immediate feedback on our narratives. I am grateful that this age, ‘the internet doesn’t forget,’ enables artists, filmmakers, and photographers to capture crucial historical moments continuously.

On June 25th, 2024, Kenyan youth took to the streets to protest the proposed finance bill. The bill sparked widespread outrage among Kenyan citizens with its scandalous allocations, such as house renovations and the office of the president’s wife’s hefty budget. Consequently, Kenyan creatives have adeptly utilized these creative tools to craft inspirational artworks amidst these turbulent times.

Michael Soi -REJECT, Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100cm, 2024

The visual representation of African figures in artworks provides a relatable context for both youth and children, enabling them to identify with and understand the depicted scenes creatively and imaginatively. For instance, in the image above, a lady in a crop top holding a teargas canister symbolizes unity and fearlessness among young people.

This portrayal mirrors contemporary Africa, where there’s a noticeable evolution in women’s attire and increasing acceptance from their male allies. The message is unmistakable with the hashtag #REJECT, signifying the protest’s clear stance. These artworks not only document ongoing struggles but also inspire resilience and collective action among the populace.

Do not kill us –Michelle Shaquei Cheruto.
Image courtesy of Instagram

Through the use of placards bearing messages such as ‘How do you teargas a baddie?’ and banners, youth protestors leveraged various TikTok trends to amplify their message and keep people worldwide informed. Michelle Shaquie’s illustration captures a poignant moment of surrender as protestors raised their hands above their heads during these youth-led demonstrations, which tragically met with severe violence.

This artwork serves as a plea to the Kenyan government to address their grievances. The representation of figures is crucial for conveying these events to future generations. It highlights the diversity and bravery of the youth, evident in their hairstyles, Kenyan wristbands, and distinct clothing choices, placing the audience squarely in the context of 2024.

Comic illustration of Kenyan Protests, 2024.
Image courtesy of Instagram

From AI-generated pieces to surrealist works and comic illustrations, the Kenyan youth-led protests have profoundly influenced creativity, with each artwork striving to articulate a stance on their rights. This educational aspect is particularly vital in shaping the future generation’s understanding of leadership and the consequences of political decisions. In high school, I had the privilege of learning about the nature of politics by reading various books that provided tales, illustrations, and visual representations of Kenya’s political situation. I hope this will be the same for the next generation.


Rose Mwikali Musyoki is a creative writer from Nairobi, Kenya. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Business and Finance from the University of Embu, Kenya, and is the founder of Bloom Inc, an art startup in Kenya. Currently, she works as a writer for Art Network Africa.

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