PASCH | Article
African Visionaries Workshop
students working on their art pieces during the workshop © Isaac Gichia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf?
What do all these names and people have in common? Granted, three out of four of them are African political leaders, but Buchi Emecheta was a prolific and well-respected writer. If you look at the list, all of these people have some sort of esteem attached to their names on the African continent: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was the first elected female president of an African country. We know the Nelson Mandela story: South Africa’s answer to Martin Luther King, in the form of non-violent protest, who unified the Rainbow Nation into what it is today. Then, of course, Thomas Sankara and Buchi Emecheta have writing in common: Sankara was the articulate and integrous president of Burkina Faso, and Buchi Emecheta wrote honestly about the trials and tribulations of being a woman in Africa, to the criticism and acclaim of many. But perhaps the most obvious connection is that all of these people saw Africa in a different light: a light that shed understanding on the true story of Africa, and what they wanted their countries and continent to be. They were all visionaries, dreaming of a better future.
a caricature of the former president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, by one of the students © Isaac Gichia Who is a visionary? The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary describes the adjective as “original and showing the ability to think about or plan the future with great imagination and intelligence”. And so a visionary is someone who has the ability to think about or plan the future in a way that is intelligent and shows imagination. How does one identify a visionary, or who do we think is a visionary today? The best people to ask are the future visionaries of tomorrow. This very question, and questions like it, are what resulted in the African Visionaries Project, under the PASCH programme at the Goethe Institut.The PASCH programme connects two thousand schools worldwide to schools in Germany, and conducts numerous inspiring projects to the benefit of students studying German and the society.
students from Alliace Girls' High School and Nakuru Girls © Isaac Gichia The African Visionaries project started in October 2021, to try and help the young people involved know and understand their history, and the important historical figures who shaped it. The students taking part are learning German in their schools or in their own capacity. The project is ongoing, and is a competition to bring to the fore people who have either “impacted the continent in the past, or people with visions for a better society”. These are people who then continue to inspire generations that follow them to build on and emulate their visionary spirit as well.
an illustration of Wanuri Kahiu directing a scene from Afro Bubblegum © Isaac Gichia It was decided that the best ways to share the stories of the chosen African visionaries would be to produce a comic book. Students from all over East Africa are invited to submit their entries, which are then looked over by a select jury—comprised of Subira Neema, from the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development; Charles Mugendi, from the Ministry of Education; Dr Babere Chacha, a history professor at Laikipia University; Grace Wangari, a professional storyteller; and Elijah Kaburia, a cartoonist and illustrator.
guidance on art principles facilitated by Elijah Kaburia © Isaac Gichia There was a second call-out in October to make sure that students applying would nominate visionaries from their own countries, as opposed to from all over Africa, to ensure a more diverse representation of people. These judges are looking over the submissions, and will then make a selection to move to the next stage.
After the first jury selection, the students participated in a two-day workshop in November 2021 under the guidance of Mr Kaburia, who helped the students revise and refine their sketches in terms of details, descriptions, ideas, angles, colours, poses, speech bubbles, cropping, layering, and customisation—all the things that go into making a cohesive and comprehensive storyline for a comic book.
students from Wareng High School and Nakuru Girls' High School © Isaac Gichia Thereafter, three winners will be nominated. “The organisers of the competition feel that having the works of the students published into a book would be a prestigious achievement, and would mean a lot to these young people,” says Mr Kaburia. After the workshop, two comics on the selected African visionaries will be awarded to each participating country, and these results will be presented in a further publication in Germany, in several languages (German, English, French, and Portuguese). That is really not bad for first time authors!
Mr Kaburia has been drawing cartoons and comics since 2018, and is currently training to be a German language teacher at the Goethe-Institut. He also teaches art to children in his neighbourhood at the weekends, but has never taught a workshop quite like this before; it will hopefully be an entertaining and knowledge-filled first for everyone involved, students and teacher alike. I asked him who he thinks is an African visionary. “Kofi Annan,” he posits, because of his work as the UN Secretary-General, but also because of what he did for Kenya in the 2007/8 upheaval of post-election violence.
Elijah offering his expertise in art to students from Starehe Boys © Isaac Gichia “I was inspired by what he did. It was a very hard time for us as Kenyans, and I appreciated that he tried so hard to reconcile the two leaders to bring peace after the elections.”
Of course I have to ask him who he would nominate if he was a Kenyan student in a Kenyan school participating in this competition, considering the fact that we are also looking for homegrown visionaries. His answer is aligned with many a Kenyan’s answer: Wangari Muta Maathai, formally known as Wangari Maathai, renowned environmentalist, Kenya’s only Nobel Peace Prize winner and the founder of the Green Belt Movement. She formed this movement in 1977, and since its inception, the Green Belt Movement has planted 51 million trees in Kenya alone. She famously said, “The generation that destroys the environment is not the generation that pays the price. That is the problem.”
Mr Kaburia explains his reasons: “One, I have read about Wangari Maathai’s work in making sure that the government of her day did not build their headquarters in the middle of Uhuru Park. She protested vehemently against that. And protesting against government is no mean feat. In that regime, it was quite hard to be an activist.” And the second reason? “Wangari Maathai’s campaign for us to plant trees and take care of the environment.” A vision that we are indeed still fighting for today.
Who do you think is a visionary?
students and teachers from Wareng High School receiving packages from Goethe-Institut after the workshop © Isaac Gichia