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Cartoon exhibition gives refugees the last laugh

Cartoon exhibition gives refugees the last laugh

For World Refugee Day, Kenya has launched a cartoon exhibition that tickles the funny bones while celebrating the courage that refugees need to survive in exile. It examines refugees' contribution to their host countries, featuring caricatures of prominent people who were once refugees.
21 June 2005
The cartoon exhibition in Nairobi draws attention to the achievements and contributions of refugees.

NAIROBI, Kenya, June 21 (UNHCR) - They came, they laughed and they left with a strong message - that refugees are ordinary people with the same hopes and aspirations as everyone else.

A cartoon exhibition in Nairobi is currently tickling the funny bones of Kenyans while celebrating the fortitude and courage that refugees need to survive in exile.

Titled "Mgeni siku ya Tatu", or "A visitor on the third day", the exhibition is based on a Swahili saying that regards a long-term visitor as a member of the community who is expected to make a positive contribution.

More than 140 cartoons from 36 countries are featured in the month-long exhibition organised by UNHCR and the Association of East African Cartoonists (KATUNI) to mark World Refugee Day on June 20.

In the run-up to the event, five leading Kenyan cartoonists had toured Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps to experience the lives of the refugees before they created their works.

"The tour of the refugee camps in Kenya was a real eye opener," said Paul Kelemba, a well-known Kenyan cartoonist. "We met so many excellent artists there, an indication that refugees have a lot of potential."

The exhibition opened on June 14 and was attended by more than 250 politicians, government officials, civil society representatives and refugees, including Kenyan Minister for Immigration, Registration of Persons and Refugee Affairs Linah Jebii Kilimo, and Member of Parliament and former refugee Koigi wa Wamwere. There was also a panel discussion on the contribution that refugees can make to the host society when given an opportunity.

"What this exhibition highlights is that even visitors - refugees included - can contribute to their economic well-being in their countries of asylum," said Minister Kilimo while opening the exhibition.

"The artists have created a very powerful message using these cartoons," added Johannes Woldemicheal, an Ethiopian refugee artist currently living in Kakuma camp. "The message is particularly relevant considering the perceptions some Kenyans have that refugees are desperate people with nothing to offer."

The exhibition also included a caricature competition with cartoonists invited to present their caricatures of prominent persons who were once refugees. South African President Thabo Mbeki, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Kenyan MP Koigi Wa Wamwere, former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright and South African musician Miriam Makeba were among those featured.

Brazilian artist Fabio Silva won the competition, contributing 128 caricatures of prominent people who were once refugees.

"This exhibition reminds us that many refugees go on to become not only shining examples of the fight against the adversity they face, but even leading lights of communities worldwide," said the UNHCR Representative in Kenya, George Okoth-Obbo.

The winning work by Brazilian artist Fabio Silva features 128 caricatures of prominent former refugees.

When it ends its run in Nairobi on July 14, the exhibition will tour Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, with Kenya's top cartoonists invited to accompany their works. The exhibition will then be taken to other locations in the country. The cartoons will finally be compiled into a catalogue, which will be available to the public.

Kenya currently hosts more than 240,000 refugees in Dadaab camp in the north-east and Kakuma camp in north-west. The majority of the refugees are from Somalia and Sudan.

By Emmanuel Nyabera