Roll over Snoop Dogg, Ocampo is new king of the matatu

Images on Kenyan minivan taxis are a good indicator of public trends. Now, along with Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur, people are adorning their vehicles with the spray-painted face of Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court.

By , Staff writer

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    A minibus taxi, known in Kenya as a matatu, displays Obama's image in Nairobi. Matatus of Kenya often display exalted figures on their windows and doors.
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It may not be scientific, but a quick way to see what's trendy in Kenya is to look at the back of a matatu, which is what Kenyans call their minivan taxis.

Some are highly adorned with the spray-painted faces of American hip-hop stars such as Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, and the late Tupac Shakur, and play those artists' music at deafening decibels. Some are covered with pious statements such as "In God We Trust" or "Mashallah" (Arabic for "by the grace of God").

One matatu I saw in Nairobi even had a portrait of Osama bin Laden, chosen presumably more for shock value than for ideological reasons, as the side of the van was emblazoned with the words "Thug Life."

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But the new king of the matatu is neither a rap star nor a terrorist. He is Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

Mr. Ocampo has recently taken up the criminal investigation of top Kenyan politicians who allegedly organized ethnic violence in the wake of the December 2007 elections, violence that killed some 1,500 people and displaced nearly 300,000 from their homes. During the elections, matatu drivers endorsed political candidates, but, in the violent aftermath, many drivers became as disillusioned as the voting public.

Now they are showing their disillusionment with giant posters of the Argentine-born lawyer holding a sheaf of documents. Others simply display the word "OCAMPO" in capital letters.

Be careful, Kenyan politicians: Your people are watching you.

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