Kenyans are very, very eager to see their new money.
Following a 2010 constitutional mandate, the Central Bank of Kenya launched a global competition in 2012 for a “unique, attractive, socially acceptable, and culturally relevant” graphic redesign of the country’s banknotes. The design guidelines stipulate that the new-look shillings should convey the optimism of Kenya’s Vision 2030 development goals and should not have any portraits of people. (The current design features the image of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, founding president of independent Kenya and father of current president Uhuru.)
Over the holidays, Nairobi-based graphic designer Dicky Hokie, Jr. played around with a few ideas, tooling around in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. He came up with a clean design and shared it on the online portfolio site Behance. Though Hokie did make clear the work was just an idea—”Disclaimer: This in NOT legal tender and is NOT sanctioned by the CBK or the Government of Kenya,” he wrote on the site—many Kenyans didn’t read so closely and mistook the rendering for the new official design.
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Since Dec. 28, Hokie’s modern takes on Kenya’s 50-, 100-, 200-, 500-, and 1,000-shilling notes have been shared widely on social media and a Kenyan treasury official who spoke to Quartz on the phone said the fake news is also sparking numerous discussion threads on WhatsApp. Of course, some loved it and some hated it—design criticism is a burgeoning internet amateur sport. Many noted Hokie’s design had a lot in common with the design of the Euro banknotes.
Hokie’s concept features a photo collage of traditional African motifs—zebras, lions, grazing elephants, Kenyan runners—treated with a contemporary sensibility. Departing from traditional banknote conventions, his proposal has a vibrant color palette, clean sans-serif typography and a neat grid of hairlines in lieu of the guilloche patterns found on most paper money.
Besides the disclosure, there were some obvious signs that Hokie’s designs were not official or final. For one thing, they didn’t show the back of the notes. Also missing were some basic elements: layers of anti-counterfeiting features (except for one simplistic watermark) and a second signature for a member of the board of treasury. “It was completely trial-and-error. I had never done this before so it was a combination of thorough research and guesswork,” he explained to the Star, Kenya.
He tells Quartz that he hadn’t put much thought into the back yet but might do a mock-up at a later time.
Hokie’s experimentation was covered widely in the local press, with Nairobi News insinuating that the publicizing of the design was a ploy to get the Central Bank of Kenya’s attention. The new shilling design was originally scheduled to be unveiled on Sept. 2015 but has been delayed several times. The latest delay involves a highly publicized lawsuit filed by activist Okiya Omtatah challenging the Central Bank’s contract with British banknote-manufacturer De La Rue to design and print the Kenyan notes. Omtatah says the bank unlawfully skewed the design contest in favor of De La Rue, which has been printing Kenya’s banknotes for 25 years, by giving them “a preferential margin of 15% to undercut the competition.” As of Dec. 13, Kenya’s High Court has temporarily suspended the contract as it sorts out the matter.
De La Rue is the world’s largest commercial banknote manufacturer. They produce and design currency for over 140 countries, including the money of world’s newest nation South Sudan. De La Rue also designed UK’s new Jane Austen £10 banknote.
Hokie, a creative manager at Radio Africa’s BamBA TV and co-founder of African Stock Photo, says he was surprised by the reaction over “The Modern Shilling.” He intended the creative exercise as a meditation about Kenyan national identity, and not an actual pitch to design the new banknotes. “How would a modern Kenyan Shilling actually look? And perhaps more fundamentally, what do Kenyans consider ‘Kenyan’? Here are designs that I think answer both,” Hokie writes on Behance.
“I trust that there are ideas out there for images that better represent modern Kenya but I think the country’s natural treasures are likely to be the least contentious,” Hokie explains in an email to Quartz. “Animals have geographic locations but no tribe, socioeconomic status or political links.”
Central Bank governor Patrick Ngugi Njoroge promised that the official design for the new shillings will be unveiled this June.
This post has been updated with comments from the designer.