Yves Kayene
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Yves Kayene: Congolese cartoonist with a heart for the environment

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Congolese cartoonist  Yves Kayene.

Photo credit: Pool

Yves Kayene, 33, was not well known outside his native Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). But those involved in the campaign to clean up the environment knew his cartoons.

More than just a cartoonist, he was also a journalist, an environmentalist and a painter.

On Saturday, on his birthday, his lifeless body was found in his home in Rusizi, Rwanda. The circumstances of his death remain unclear.

According to the Congolese community living in Cyangungu, his body was already in a bad state, suggesting that he had died earlier.

His death has plunged the artist community into mourning.

Kayene’s work was well known both in the DRC and in Belgium, where his drawings and paintings were often published.

Born Yves Kulondwa, Kayene came to prominence in 2020 for his commitment to fighting pollution and deforestation.

Yves Kayene.

Congolese cartoonist Yves Kayene.

Photo credit: Pool

A native of Bukavu in South Kivu, eastern DRC, he became a vocal advocate for educating the people of South Kivu about the negative effects of man-made pollution such as mining, logging and other forms of dangerous exploitation of natural resources. His home town of Bukavu had become particularly vulnerable to natural disasters such as landslides and floods.

In November 2020, he took part in an exhibition in Bukavu dedicated to the environment and ecology. The exhibition, called “A Terre”, aimed to make people and authorities aware of the dangers of pollution and deforestation.

His initial struggle was that the community had resources – forests and minerals – but its members were poor and faced a future of bare land.

A year later, in October 2021, the artist moved to Brussels, Belgium, to continue his training at the Institut des hautes études des communications sociales (IHECS), an academy for research and higher education in French, where he had already been trained as part of an ARES course in 2019.

He honed his journalistic skills at IHECS and went on to work for the Congolese newspaper Le Souverain Libre.

His main commitment, however, remained the defence of the environment. For him, "the most important and urgent war to wage is the war against pollution and deforestation,” he said in a past interview.

So when he exhibited his paintings and drawings in Brussels in October 2021, he placed his action under the banner of the fight to save the planet and make the world aware of the short-term danger of pollution. The exhibition is still called “A Terre”.

Yves Kayene

Yves Kayene.

Photo credit: Pool

His exhibition at the end of October 2021, coinciding with the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP 26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Glasgow, resonated with the UN's commitment to climate change issues.

“Yves Kulondwa was committed and, above all, very calm. He devoted his whole life to his passion: drawing and caricature. It was his way of expressing himself and saying clearly what he thought.

“He was a rebel and an open-minded man, a progressive, a moderate but very lucid. His death is a disaster for us,” said Honneur-David Safari, his colleague at La Prunelle RDC, where he was also a journalist.

His friend Moïse Mukulu said, “My friend Yves, this formidable artist, embodied a large part of Congolese culture. The art of the Kivus has lost one of its major landmarks.”

In the DRC, particularly in Kivu, many people called for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.

At the time of going to press, the Congolese authorities had not yet reacted to his death.

However, the Institut des hautes études des communications sociales (IHECS) said that “his death leaves a great void among those who had the opportunity to work with this talented and committed artist”.