Even in death, cartoonist Frank Odoi inspires art lovers

Cartoonist Frank Odoi. His commemoration will be held tomorrow in Nairobi. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]


Cartoonist Frank Odoi’s works will truly immortalise him when colleagues, friends, family and art lovers converge to commemorate his undying works during an exhibition of the works and fundraise to educate his grandchildren tomorrow at the Alliance Française in Nairobi.

During the Tuesday event, his former colleagues at 4th Dimension Innovative will also launch the Life and Times of Frank Odoi video in his honour.

Feted as among the most gallant pioneer cartoonists in Africa, Odoi is best remembered for his strip Akokhan Lives, which was inspired by folk fables from his native Ghana.

This in turn inspired other forms as, for instance, theatre director and actor Bantu Mwaura adapted the series into a stage act.

In what is seen as a premonition, in one of his thousands of cartoons, Odoi illustrated the state of matatu lawless and reckless driving in Kenya and, sadly, he lost his life last year through a road accident while travelling from Nairobi city centre to his Donholm home.

On that fateful Saturday (the night of April 21), Odoi was aboard a Double M commuter bus on Jogoo Road, where he and another female passenger, died after they were ejected out of the vehicle through the windscreen on impact and run over by the same bus.

Top award

The Thursday before, Odoi had taken his last picture with his colleagues at a meeting convened by the Land Governance and Development Institute where he helped mobilise cartoonists who together agreed to focus on the thorny issue of land grabbing perpetuated by those in public office.

At the age of 64, Odoi had just received his Kenyan citizenship a fortnight earlier after living here for 33 years, producing countless cartoons for virtually all leading dailies, weeklies and magazines in Nairobi — including the weekly Joe magazine, the monthly Men Only, Nairobi Times, Kenya Times, The Standard, Daily Nation and The Star newspapers.

In his endeavour and passion for social change, Odoi won the best cartoonist of the year Kenya Union of Journalists award and received the accolades from then President Moi.

It is his spirit to serve and work for the less privileged that Odoi travelled to meet those in need and connect with their situations.

During a programme with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), Odoi alongside colleague James Kamawira who signs as Kham, visited women and children living with HIV in western Kenya.

“He drew my face and those of my children smiling, and I was very happy. This made me feel better and hopeful,” said Evelyne Nafula, a host of the programme.

He loved to meet people and one day, in the company of Paul Kelemba who signs as Maddo and colleagues at the 4th Dimension Innovative Godfrey Mwampembwa and Kham, they travelled to the Kakuma Refugee Camp. Here they met artists from Congo, Sudan and Somalia who shared their experiences and art.

“I thought I was the best artist until I saw some of the artwork exhibited by the refugees,” said Odoi in humility as he learnt of the dire straits faced by the refugees in the camp through the artworks on display.

Love for State critics

Explaining why he so much loved cartoon as a channel of communication, Odoi said, “In Africa, no many are connected to electricity or have video players and since images communicate better, cartoons are ideal.”

Mr Odoi believed that cartoons inflict pain without shedding blood and was a good platform to correct bad leadership.

No wonder his list of heroes include harsh government critics such as Nigerian music icon Fella Kuti and the late Kenyan humourist Wahome Mutahi (Whispers).

He is missed by his other daughters Maureen, Francesca, wife Monica — who she renamed Caroline — and grandchildren in whose education the sale of his illustrations will be conducted tomorrow.