“When you are around Bonny (Boniface Mwangi), you want to do the right stuff,” Juliani.
Such is the view of many Kenyan creatives who speak very fondly of the amiable award winning photographer and activist Boniface Mwangi whose name is popular in Kenya and on the lips of many politicians, both loud and in hashed tones, or somewhere in a court room, a legal dispute involving Mwangi and some politician. Most recently a legal spat with the Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto.
Mwangi, who was born in 1983 and a huge supporter of Kenyan art has always been vigilant and opposed to draconian rule that has punctuated African leadership since independence. On Saturday 19, the passionate activist, launched his memoir titled “Unbounded” at Nairobi’s Alliance Francaise, a book detailing his life, struggles, photography and dedication as an activist.
Mwangi’s life, as he puts it, has been that of abject poverty and fighting for people’s rights. The restless individual was once thrown out of an approved school for starting a riot! He ended up picking up his pieces at the ‘University of Hard Knocks’. Mwangi thrived as a book seller and ultimately perfected his skill in photography later landing a job as a photographer iat the Kenyan Standard Group media house, the country’s second biggest newspaper. It is while working with The Standard that he won the CNN photographer of the year award.
As a photographer, Mwangi has recorded the events of the Post-Election Violence that rocked Kenya in 2007/2008 among other social political and economic injustices. Some of the photos are among those currently being exhibited at the Alliance Française in Nairobi, a compelling exhibition that covers a contemporary history of Kenya, moral degradation, corruption, poverty and everyday struggles. The exhibition begun on November 7 and runs through to the 28.
During the ‘Unbounded’ launch, Mwangi who dramatically arrived in cuffs escorted by two ‘policemen’, pointed out some significant issues that not only affect Kenya but also Africa. While expressing his desire to change the status quo, the photographer was concerned that the Kenyan government, which basically controls every narrative, was being given more credit than it deserves.
To Mwangi’s own admission, it was hard to find a book seller who is willing to sell his book, apparently, his memoir is being shunned like Michela Wrong’s “It’s Our Turn to Eat’ – a book about Kenya’s ever surging corruption driven culture and greedy leadership. The PAWA 254 founder pledged to use his resources to make sure that a majority of Kenyans learned about his personality and drive in spearheading his activism frontier Team Courage.
As the founder of the art-inspired PAWA 254 organization, Boniface has supported and provided an avenue for many artists to express their conscious feelings through Graffitti and music. The organization has brought forth a yearly street art festival that is held during the months of December. Besides the PAWA254, he heads Team Courage which is instrumental in the fight against social vices like corruption, read ‘Occupy Parliament’ protests which was against Members of Parliament awarding themselves fat perks. The persistent land grabbing especially of schools grounds saw the activist and his team of like-minded individuals join many Kenyans in recovering land that belongs to one of the popular schools in Nairobi.
Mwangi’s story is a befitting tale of courage that needs to be recognized and appreciated, he acknowledges the influence that bad politics has on his country, and that Kenyans would rather celebrate corrupt individuals and leaders than the steadfast fighters of injustice. Mwangi, who plans to join politics, laments that heroes like the late Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, the corruption whistle-blowers like the Late David Munyakei and John Githongo are shunned for their relentless fight against vices. He fears that it is this kind of stigma that makes it hard for people to come out against social evils.
Mwangi remains hopeful that, with his book out there, people will appreciate the value of being active citizens and stand out against vices and injustices. Kenyan artists Juliani and Poets Mufasa and Teardrops performed at the well-attended launch.