The walls have eyes: Kabul’s anti-cor­rup­tion graf­fiti


Un­der a soldier’s watch­ful gaze, a group of artists paint a blast wall out­side Kabul’s pres­i­den­tial palace with a huge pair of eyes in bright, al­most psy­che­delic col­ors.

Along­side the eyes, a slo­gan reads: “Cor­rup­tion can­not be hid­den from God or from the peo­ple.”

The pro­ject is not some guerilla graf­fiti cam­paign but comes with the bless­ing of Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani — bring­ing color to the some­times drab Kabul streets while push­ing an anti-cor­rup­tion mes­sage in a coun­try where graft is rife.

One of the artists, 35-year-old Maryam, said the eyes were those of “all the Afghans who have had enough of cor­rup­tion,” gaz­ing down on of­fi­cials who might be tempted to take a back­han­der.

As the Tal­iban’s in­sur­gency has raged on, the grey ce­ment blast walls have mush­roomed in Kabul in re­cent years, usu­ally to in­su­late the rich and pow­er­ful.

That has prompted anger from Kabir Mokamel, one of the other artists who cre­ated the fresco.

“They’re sup­posed to pro­tect us? No, I think they’re sup­posed to pro­tect the peo­ple who are in­side. And me, I am out­side the wall,” he said.

The anti-cor­rup­tion mes­sage, writ­ten in the two main Afghan lan­guages of Dari and Pashto, res­onates deeply in a coun­try where the cul­ture of graft is en­trenched at ev­ery level of life and es­pe­cially among public of­fi­cials.

‘Ugly blast walls’

Four­teen years af­ter the fall of the Tal­iban, Afghanistan re­mains stuck in the depths of Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional’s an­nual cor­rup­tion per­cep­tion rank­ings, ly­ing 172nd out of 175 coun­tries.

Feed­ing the long­stand­ing cul­ture of graft is the lack of proper checks on the hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars in for­eign aid that have poured in since 2001 to sta­bi­lize and re­build the coun­try.

The U.S. In­spec­tor Gen­eral for Afghan Re­con­struc­tion, John Sopko, gave a blunt as­sess­ment of the dan­gers posed in a speech at Georgetown Univer­sity last year.

“If cor­rup­tion is al­lowed to con­tinue un­abated, it will likely jeop­ar­dize ev­ery gain we’ve made so far in Afghanistan,” he said.

Sopko’s re­marks came as Hamid Karzai — whose pres­i­dency was dogged by sus­pi­cions of in­dus­tri­alscale cor­rup­tion — handed power over to Ghani af­ter a bit­terly dis­puted elec­tion.

Ghani, a for­mer World Bank economist, has made erad­i­cat­ing cor­rup­tion one of his top pri­or­i­ties, but the chal­lenge is enor­mous, said a gov­ern­ment em­ployee work­ing on Maryam and Mokamel’s pro­ject who did not want to be iden­ti­fied.

“Petty cor­rup­tion is vis­i­ble in ev­ery small of­fice you visit,” the of­fi­cial told AFP.

“We are at­tract­ing the at­ten­tion of peo­ple, we are do­ing some­thing through arts. It’s a dif­fer­ent method to fight cor­rup­tion.”

And as Ehsan, a stu­dent from eastern Afghanistan, pointed out, cor­rup­tion feeds into se­cu­rity prob­lems.

“If the po­lice ar­rest a kid­nap­per or a ter­ror­ist he can easily bribe the court and es­cape jus­tice,” he said.

“Then it’s another crim­i­nal who’s free and can con­tinue to plan at­tacks.”

Mokamel has al­ready painted the large ac­cus­ing eyes on the wall of the Na­tional Di­rec­torate of Se­cu­rity, Afghanistan’s main spy agency, and plans to dec­o­rate the whole of the wall around the pres­i­den­tial palace com­plex and cen­tral bank, all with the pres­i­dency’s bless­ing.

“I have been try­ing to do this pro­ject for the last three years,” he said.

“But now there are many young peo­ple in­side the new gov­ern­ment and they un­der­stand the value.”

In a mil­i­ta­rized, con­crete cap­i­tal regularly hit by bloody at­tacks, street art is a rare sight. Aside from the po­lit­i­cal and artis­tic as­pects of the pro­ject, Kabir sees it hav­ing an im­me­di­ate ben­e­fit for all Kab­u­lis.

“These blast walls — they’re re­ally ugly. Our idea was to put some­thing on them so that they would dis­ap­pear,” he said.

(Left) An Afghan artist paints the de­sign of the eyes of a woman on a bar­rier wall at the pres­i­den­tial palace in Kabul, July 21. (Right) Afghan artists paint the in­scrip­tion “cor­rup­tion is not hid­den from God and peo­ple’s eyes” along­side an im­age of the eyes of a woman on a bar­rier wall at the pres­i­den­tial palace in Kabul, July 21.


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