UK High Commission in Kenya repaints vans with 'Nairobi Matatu' graffiti ahead of royal visit

Friday October 27 2023

A driver parks a van set to be part of the royals' convoy and decorated by Kenyan artists with symbolic designs representing the UK and Kenya at a bus station in downtown Nairobi, Kenya on October 27, 2023. PHOTO | LUIS TATO | AFP


As the country anticipates the royal visit of King Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla to Kenya from October 31 to November 3, an unusual and vibrant initiative has taken shape.

The British High Commission in Kenya has gone one step further, fusing the traditional pomp of diplomatic visits with the vibrant street culture of Kenya's matatus.

The mission has embarked on a remarkable journey, working with renowned graffiti artists to transform its fleet of vans into colourful spectacles that pay homage to Nairobi's iconic matatu culture.

According to the mission, the initiative was undertaken by Graff Matwana, a renowned graffiti artist who is also the CEO and founder of 'Matwana Culture', which describes itself as "home to the famous matatu culture".

Read (from the Archives): Matatu art: All aboard for the ride of your life...

"For RoyalVisitKenya, we have branded our vans in the style of Nairobi's matatus graffiti art, collaborating with legendary matatu graffiti artists Matwana Matatu Culture," the embassy said.


British High Commissioner to Kenya Neil Wigan described the branded vehicles as "cool". "These must be the coolest cars the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office has."

The colourful designs include British flags, digital prints and vinyl stickers, and are also adorned with symbols of Kenyan and British culture, including Big Ben, London's clock tower, marathoner Eliud Kipchoge and wildlife.

Some of the matatus also feature images of the King of England and his wife, Queen Camilla.

The refurbished vehicles are expected to form part of the convoy during the Royal Family's historic visit and will be used to transport diplomatic staff and others involved in the official state tour.

In Kenya, the vibrant matatus fill the streets of the city, blaring music as they bounce and weave through traffic, each matatu louder than the last, complete with graffiti-style artwork, custom designs, flashy lights and onboard entertainment to draw the crowds.

Matatu culture holds a special place in the hearts of Kenyans.

Matatus come in a variety of designs, featuring hip-hop artists, international pop stars, athletes, political icons and even religion.

Kenyan President William Ruto invited the royal couple for the visit, which comes as the African nation celebrates 60 years of independence from Britain.

Read: UK King to visit Kenya in late October

"The King and Queen will undertake a State Visit to Kenya from Tuesday 31 October to Friday 3 November 2023 to celebrate the warm relationship between the two countries and the strong and dynamic partnership they continue to forge," the palace said.

"The King and Queen will visit Nairobi City County, Mombasa County and surrounding areas," the palace said.

It will be Charles III's first visit to a Commonwealth country since becoming monarch in September last year.

The programme will reflect how the two countries are working together on a range of issues, the statement added.

These include work "to boost prosperity, tackle climate change, promote opportunities and employment, advance sustainable development and create a more stable and secure region", it said.

The King will meet members of the Kenyan government, UN staff, faith leaders, young people and Kenyan marines training alongside British Royal Marines, as well as attending an event celebrating Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai.

Kenya holds special significance for the Royal Family as it is the country where the historic reign of Charles' mother, Queen Elizabeth II, began. She visited the country when her father, King George VI, died in 1952.

Kenya was the first stop on Elizabeth's tour of the Commonwealth with her husband, Prince Philip, in place of her ailing father.

And in 2010, Charles' eldest son Prince William proposed to his long-term girlfriend Kate Middleton while in Kenya.