This man Boniface Mwangi: Celebrating a Real Kenyan Shujaa.

Boniface Mwangi heckles COTU Secretary General Francis Atwoli during 2013 Labor Day Celebrations

Boniface Mwangi heckles COTU Secretary General Francis Atwoli during 2013 Labor Day Celebrations

By Ooko Victor

When Boniface Mwangi first made the decision at civil disobedience, his friends, with whom he had planned to heckle the then President Mwai Kibaki failed him. They simply did not show up at Nyayo Stadium, the venue for the 1st June 2009 Labour Day Celebrations. Boniface stayed on course nevertheless. He sat among the crowds and waited for his moment. I can only imagine what it felt like, waiting under the scorching sun, performance after performance, speech after speech. The fear that creeps in, the moment of doubt, the second thoughts, and the big moment drawing ever so close. When the President finally began reading his speech to the thousands who had turned up, Boniface lived up to his promise, rising up to speak. He called on the President to remember the post-election violence victims; to stamp his authority on the runaway corruption. He could barely say more; his actions were taboo. He was grabbed by security agents, his mouth covered, huddled out of the stadium, thoroughly beat up, and thrown behind bars. Swift and efficient ‘justice’ against activism in Kenya.

Who is Boniface Mwangi?

Boniface Mwangi’s background resonates with that of millions of ordinary Kenyans. He grew up in poverty in Eastlands, Nairobi in a family of seven children, typical of many Kenyan families back then. Boniface did not go to the best schools, maybe never even scored the best grades. He even had a stint as a street urchin. Yet he rose above all this to put his country first. He documented the images of the victims of the 2007/2008 post-election violence. These very images sparked him into action, called on him to act, to speak up, to advocate for change in his country, our country Kenya.

Boniface Mwangi

Boniface Mwangi

It is so easy, in all our immediate comforts, to forget that a few years ago, Kenya was on the brink of destruction. Many innocent civilians were killed because of their ethnic identity or political leanings. Much more were raped, shot at, maimed, left homeless, even displaced from their homes. Roads were impassable, with tires burning all over. Yet Kenya and resilient Kenyans survived all this, it would be a big mistake for us to get too comfortable. The symptoms still abound, and Kenyans like Boniface Mwangi can see them. It is up to us to rise up and treat the disease. It begins by standing up to speak.

Picha Mtaani public exhibition

Picha Mtaani public exhibition

Evolving Strategies

Boniface Mwangi’s strategies towards civil disobedience as an act of activism have changed over time. Following his June 2009 arrest, he began Picha Mtaani, a street exhibition of the post-election images he had captured while working for the Standard Media. These images were meant to foster national healing, especially among the youth who were the key perpetrators of the post-election atrocities. These images, the work of Boniface Mwangi and others in the media, played a great role in ensuring peace in the 2013 general elections. We learned from our mistakes, and these images, a painful reminder of why we cannot afford to backtrack on the promise.

Other acts of activism included supplying mock caskets to parliament to symbolize the politicians’ endless plunder of Kenya’s funds since independence at the detriment of ordinary citizens. Boniface Mwangi also led the supply of pigs to parliament symbolizing the greed by Kenyan Parliamentarians by their move to increase their salaries. On Friday 7th October 2016, Boniface was sued over allegations that he defamed the Deputy President, William Ruto through a Twitter message in which he claimed that the Deputy President was intent on killing him for his public pronouncements that Mr. Ruto is a corrupt leader and a land grabber. The court, however, dismissed the case against Boniface Mwangi.

The controversial Boniface Mwangi tweet

The controversial Boniface Mwangi tweet

The latest wave of controversy against the activist came as a result of his walk out from a live program #JeffKoinangeLive (#JKL) for which he was invited to discuss the state of corruption in the country in addition to him taking on the Deputy President in the social media over allegations of corruption and murder. Barely through the interview with renown journalist Jeff Koinange however, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, once a party to Boniface Mwangi’s criticism appeared in an attempt to join the show forcing the walkout by the activist, a gesture that was interpreted as cowardly and courageous in equal measure across the social media spectrum. The interview came a day before Boniface led a demonstration aimed at calling the President to either commit to the fight against graft or resign from office. The demonstrations were however thwarted by the police.

The Shujaa Within?

The big question, however, is whether Boniface Mwangi is really a Kenyan shujaa. Admired and loathed for his antics in equal measure, many have questioned his loyalty to foreign powers. In fact, in 2014, Boniface ‘retired’ from activism amid allegations of government intimidation and threats over his life. He would however not stay long in the shadows. This time round, it appears he is here to stay. His message, thought-provoking and projecting the ideal dream for the millions of youth in Kenya to rise up and act. I am not advancing a narrative that Boniface is perfect, far from it. Moses Kuria has claimed on his social media platform that the activist was actually peddling pornography at his time as a journalist in Standard Media, allegations that have not been corroborated by anyone else. More disturbing, however, is the fact that these allegations follow a consistent script whenever someone stands up against corrupt government officials or corrupt dealings in government. What no one is addressing is the corruption that has got Boniface Mwangi so worked up in the first place.

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Boniface Mwangi in a previous protest

Boniface Mwangi comes from a background that believes in a better Kenya, much better than yesterday, the same Kenya that I am excited about, that I want to fight for. This fight, however, is not for Boniface alone. It belongs to each and every other Kenyan who is fed up with the kind of leadership that fancies corruption and shields ethnic bigots. That Kenyan should be you and me. It is time we stood up with Boniface Mwangi, for Kenya.

The writer is a Research Consultant for Savic Consultants in Nairobi.

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Muslims Should Openly Denounce and Fight Terrorism.

Kenya is a secular state. No religion can therefore claim monopoly over the nation and it’s systems. Christians are more than Muslims, yet they are not any more Kenyan than the Muslims are. We are all children of Kenya.

There may have been historical injustices, unequal distribution of resources and outright disregard to the plight of particular regions of the country. Yet we are far much better off than we were ten years ago. We have a new constitution. We have increased representation. We gave devolved governments. The common man’s plight can finally be listened to.

Today, Kenya finds itself where it was close to 17 years ago. The year was 1998 and the scar though healed, is hardly forgotten. Then there was the Kikambala bombings, and much more recently, the Westgate, Mpeketoni, and Garissa massacres. All having the hallmarks of religious chauvinism and faith based intolerance.

What is disturbing is the great silence from our Muslim brothers and sisters. Why when your friends, neighbors, colleagues and even fellow Kenyans are being butchered? Is Allah really a reflection of the fundamentalist foot soldiers that kill, butcher and maim in his name?

Never have I seen Muslim activists take to the streets to protest these killings! Yet when Sharia laws were being reconsidered, there was disquiet. Or does Sharia law allow this heinous murder of innocent civilians just minding their business?

Where is your anger, my Muslim brother, on seeing all those gory images splashed on social media in the name of Allah and Islam? Where is your loud reaction of pain and disgust? Or do you enjoy it when others die while you walk scot-free for being able to recite the ‘Shahada’? Where is your humanity?

If it were the other way round, I would not have sat down to see anyone persecuted for their faith. This is not just terrorism. This is persecution. This is the crudest form of advancing religious ideology!

It is good that Hon. Duale finally saw the need to crack the whip on Alshabaab financiers and sympathizers. It is even more sad if he knew that these people existed all along. All through Westgate, all through Mpeketoni and now Garissa.

I want to be able to trust my Muslim colleagues. Just as I want to see them vent their anger via social media. I want to see them pray for the victims of Alshabaab in their Mosques. I want them to organize forums with other religions to reiterate their stand on freedom of religion.

If none of these happens, and after every attack you are continually spared, then you lack a conscience. How else can I explain the fact that in 5 daily prayer sessions one cannot find time for a Christian friend under persecution?

And worse still, how can someone who prays 5 times a day still find time in between to help in the senseless killing of Students just out to study?

My questions are numerous. Yet desperation drives me to ask them. Type your response. Or write an article to respond to this. I just need to get your opinion on this.

@Ookoscope on Twitter
Email – victorooko@gmail.com