Graffiti calling for Aghan voters to go to the polls has been popping up all over the city of Kandahar, a Taliban bastion in the country’s south.
In 2009, only 33% of registered voters dared to go to the polls to elect a president. To get more Afghans to vote this time around, two nonprofit organisations have started using street art to get their message across. By doing so, they risk incurring the wrath of the Taliban, who have threatened to attack polling stations on election day.
“The Taliban have tried to intimidate us, but this hasn’t stopped us”
This is a joint effort by the NGO Hindara and the Kandahar Fine Arts Association. The campaign’s Facebook page administrator describes the initiative as having two objectives: to encourage the young artists in the region to express their potential and to convince the population that voting can help change Afghanistan.
Students at a training session.
About 30 young artists, a majority of whom are art students, have been participating in this program. In February, we trained them in street art techniques, and then in March, we created 33 graffiti pieces in 11 different parts of the city that we chose so that they could be seen by the most passers-by.
We have had a very positive reaction to our initiative, and residents have shown a lot of interest in what we are doing. Many gathered in front of our graffiti and asked us questions both about this type of art and about the underlying message.
The Taliban have tried to intimidate us by telling us that what we were doing was against Islam. The artists and I have received threatening phone calls, but that hasn’t stopped us. I alerted the authorities, but I am not under protection so I am limiting my movements to try to protect myself. But I am happy that our graffiti pieces are still up and that they have been so enthusiastically received by the people of Kandahar.
At least six policemen were killed on April 2 in a suicide attack against the Interior Ministry in Kabul. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which is just one in a series of bloody attacks to cast a pall over the presidential campaign. Most notably, the Taliban attacked the headquarters of the Independent Electoral Commission on March 29 in Kabul.
Young artists painting graffiti.
“We want to choose our next president”
However, this atmosphere of violence does not seem to have dampened the enthusiasm of Safa, an Observer in Kabul. As he was not able to vote five years ago, he is committed to casting a vote in the polls on Saturday.
Among my friends and family, everyone is determined to vote because we want to choose our next president. I do not know what the situation is like in the countryside, but the security apparatus in Kabul is very strict, so I hope that many people will vote because that will force the next president to act on issues that are very important to us, namely peace and creating jobs for the country’s youth.
Outgoing President Hamid Karzai, who led the country for 13 years and is constitutionally unable to run for a third mandate, will be replaced by one of the 8 presidential candidates. Among them, three appear to be front-runners: Zalmai Rassoul, Karzai’s pick, Ashraf Gani, a well-known economist, and Abdullah Abdullah, a member of the opposition who came in second during the 2009 elections. This election is seen as a major test of the stability of Afghanistan and its institutions, as the forthcoming retreat of NATO forces at the end of the year is causing concern that the country will erupt in violence.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Man Ho Kam (@kam_manho).