Magazine article New African

Boniface Mwangi: Kenya's Rising Firebrand?

Magazine article New African

Boniface Mwangi: Kenya's Rising Firebrand?

Article excerpt

His name is becoming synonymous with the in-your-face fearless type of political and civic activism that always rubs up political elites the wrong way. David Meffe met Boniface Mwangi to find out why he has become one of the most polarising public figures in Kenya's political counter-culture.

One of the most invincible, indomitable and unassailable men in Kenya, is how one of Boniface Mwangi's 162,000 Twitter followers described him in a recent tweet, in response to yet another threat of arrest received by this young, rising political firebrand.

And what a firebrand he is. Few hold a candle to Mwangi as a critically engaged social and political activist.

With a blend of art, youthful energy and critical expression, he has created a socio-political activism that not only communicates his trenchant critique of Kenya's political class, but has also brought it global attention.

As a young activist, he has helped the country's youth not only listen to, see and read his political and social activism, but find their voices of dissent, too.

Mwangi made his start as a photographer with the Standard newspaper in Nairobi and rose to international fame during the 2007-2008 Kenyan postelection violence for his up-close and personal photos of the crisis.

His images were noteworthy for their graphic portrayals of bloodshed and politically-motivated ethnic violence.

In addition to the 2008 and 2010 CNN Africa Photojournalist of the Year awards, the walls of his office are lined with details of other honours and news articles about his accomplishments during this period.

After grappling with depression and feelings of helplessness following the political violence in Kenya, he decided to take his frustration at the stagnant political status quo and point it in the right direction.

"I'm a human being, I have a right to an opinion. They need to respect that," he says. "That's the world we want to live in. And never underestimate the government--people can be intimidated into silence."

His most recent run-in with the authorities was in January during the Occupy Playground protests at the Langata Road Primary School in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

The school's students, aged between 8 and 16, were campaigning against a property developer's land grab of their playground. Riot police were called to the school and fired tear gas at the pupils.

The scenes of armed riot police, with tear gas and police dogs, scuffling with the pupils, were splashed all over the world and social media, to the disgust of many. Mwangi would later write in the UK's Guardian online: "The use of tear gas and dogs to respond to a peaceful effort to reclaim property rightfully belonging to the school was an unfortunate blight on the triumph of the day.

"It was unnecessary, and innocent children were hurt by the security forces' reckless response. Children know an injustice when they see one and they react, as we all do, with a demand for justice. I firmly believe the children got that justice."

His political views are keenly followed both by supporters and critics alike. In a recent post on his popular Facebook page he wrote: "Kenya is 51 years old and [for] 27 of those we have had 3 Kikuyu presidents. The other 24 years we had a Kalenjin president. In 2017, vote for development not tribe. Tribalism will destroy us."

Mwangi began organising political resistance under the banner Kenya ni Kwetu (Kenya is our Home) in the face of what he saw as "irresponsible leadership and a culture of impunity". …

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