I’ve seen Boniface Mwangi shed tears only twice and neither was pretty, if I’m to be entirely honest. The first time was in late January this year when we buried our friend, James Quest, a great man, if ever there was one. We were all so broken and inconsolable that when we huddled around his grave, we had given up on any attempts at a dignified mourning.
The second time was on Friday when he unexpectedly broke down while talking about why Kenya needed change on #theTrend. “I am not afraid and I will never sell my voice, and I will never sell out. Kenya belongs to all of us and I love my country and that will never change no matter what,” he said with a clenched fist.
MOST AWARDED PHOTOGRAPHER
I wanted to know why talking about it made him emotional because nobody looks good while crying on national TV. “It’s upsetting that people miss the reason why we do these things,” he explained.
“If I want to make money, I will do other things. I am a brilliant chap. I was born poor but I wasn’t born stupid,” he said, pointing out that he is the most awarded photographer of his generation. The criticism he has always received for his fiery activism was that it is bankrolled by Western donors keen on “destabilizing” the government.
In this brave new world we live in, those who oppose the government are automatically with the Opposition and/or Kenya’s enemies because sycophancy is a national occupation. Kenyans have never been the type of people to let facts get in the way of a good story, so there was no chance they were going to start entertaining such inconveniences now.
PAWA254, the open space for artists and creatives Mwangi founded after he left photojournalism and shut down his studio, has programmes supported by donor funding. “PAWA wasn’t started by any donor, it was my own money,” he told me. “If I want to make money I can do a tender…I don’t work with dirty people, I don’t touch dirty money!” The accusations to discredit his work have been consistent and systematic from both Jubilee-affiliated bloggers and some higher up in the government.
If they could see beyond their short memories and thin arguments, they might remember that this is the man who famously tried to heckle President Mwai Kibaki during a national day speech. If they put aside the tender documents for a while and picked up a book, they might read the photo-activist’s just released autobiography, Unbounded, and his agitation for the rights of his colleagues in juvenile detention when he was only 14.
For full disclosure, I consider Boniface a friend so my partiality in this should be self-evident. Even though we often diverge on his means, I have never doubted his intentions. This is because I have been fortunate to have a front row seat to his activism from the very start. I saw the Picha Mtaani exhibition and the building blocks of what became PAWA254.
WRESTLING WITH HIS PUBLIC IMAGE
I have observed him struggle to raise money from friends and family to organise a protest, only to end up with a handful of concerned citizens on the streets. I have seen him prepare for speeches, interviews, lectures and all manner of speaking engagements.
I have watched him wrestle with his public image among certain people and how that perception is often far removed from the reality. There is no greater patriot than Boniface Mwangi and anyone who tells you otherwise should check himself or herself.
A high school drop-out who went on to become one of the most iconic civil rights defenders of our times deserves much more than he gets credit for. A man who will fearlessly speak the truth to power at great personal risk to him and his family shouldn’t have to deal with trolls. A well respected photographer who lives his life of privilege to fight for the dream of a better nation ought to be applauded, not condemned.
Those who disagree with everything Boniface does need a critical self-examination to purge their confirmation bias. They come from the “see no evil, hear no evil” wing of government propaganda where the state and those who lead it are infallible. Not only is that ideal impossible to achieve, believing it to be so denies you the right to keep your elected leaders accountable.
When Mwangi and his merry band of change seekers go to the streets, they do it for the millions of other Kenyans who can’t. When he demands more of the administration of the day, he is doing it so that we might all have a better life. A day after he wept for Kenya on #the Trend, he announced he was running for Starehe MP. We need even more conscious citizens like him to step up.
WI-FI AT 30,000FT THE NEW NORMAL
There is a certain excitement about writing a social media post while floating in the clouds. The first time you do it, you want everyone to know before the novelty wears off. Wi-Fi at 30,000ft has been a permanent fixture in North America, parts of Europe and some Middle Eastern carriers. Imagine my excitement when I heard that RwandAir’s new Airbus 330-200 had on-board connectivity. I was lucky to finally try it this past week on a flight from Kigali to Dubai via Mombasa. “We are the first on the continent to bring Wi-Fi on board throughout the flight,” the airline’s CEO John Mirenge told me in his office at Kigali International Airport. He couldn’t commit to a timeline for breaking even for the airline even though it says it is Africa’s fastest-growing. The Rwandan carrier is aggressively buying new aircraft, opening new routes and improving its service to compete with more established players.
“We need to grow further in order to serve the country and the continent as well as position Rwanda and Kigali as another hub on the continent,” Mirenge said.
The Wi-Fi is available in all classes and you even get 15 minutes free to whet your appetite.
FACEBOOK HAS A ‘FAKE NEWS’ PROBLEM
What happens when the world’s most influential leader doesn’t see the extent of his own nation’s influence? You show him. “Mark Zuckerberg – Dead At 32 – Denies Facebook Has Problem With Fake News,” wrote The Shovel.
“Bernie Sanders Could Replace President Trump With Little-Known Loophole,” was the title of a post on The Huffington Post.
Both are entirely made up but did the rounds vigorously on Facebook after Mark Zuckerberg denied that the proliferation of unverified information on the social network might have contributed to the election of Donald Trump as US President. After widespread ridicule, he unveiled seven proposals to combat misinformation. The problem is simple: people are always looking out for stuff that confirms their beliefs and when they do, they share it without verifying.
This is not just an American problem; it is alive and well on a typical Kenyan’s Facebook feed as well. Who thought freedom of speech would lead to fake speech?
FEEDBACK: ON KENYANS’ TENDENCY TO ACCEPT MEDIOCRITY
Well said, Larry. Mediocrity will be the end of us unless we rise up against it.
Most Kenyans do not know their worth or are suffering from inferiority complex because if you feel you don’t deserve the whole package of something, then you will have the “at least” mindset and settle for the peanuts thrown your way.
The rot in society is because we do not demand quality. When we are not used to something, it’s hard for one to demand the best version of it. That is why Kinyanjui Kombani is told to be satisfied with Daystar University buying his books and not question other readers photocopying the same. If we all purpose to give our best in any part of our lives, we’ll make the ones feeling undeserving realise they are entitled to the very best and they won’t be saying “at least”. They — who are the barrier to a quality Kenya — will realise that quality cannot be substituted, and its either you are in, or not.
After reading your article questioning why Kenyans accept such low standards in everything, I realised that I was not alone because it is something that really hurts me. Maybe because we have been indoctrinated to believe that there is nothing we can do about poor services from a government we ourselves have put in power, we accept mediocrity helplessly. We have been made to believe it is okay. We have been made to think there is not much we can do because the powerful forces will always get away with it. Mediocrity is now the standard.
Who in the media fraternity today can write as well as George Githii? We used to have reliable, orderly, scheduled public transport in Nairobi, today we have chaotic, crude, dangerous, unreliable matatus with bang-smoking hooligans for crews.
Politicians were genuinely honourable, nationalist, caring patriots driven by idealism; today we have greedy hyenas who fan tribal animosity, steal our taxes, and will easily burn the country in their blind pursuit of power.
Teachers were role models who taught the 3Rs as well as honesty, humility, respect; today we have crooks who assist students to cheat in exams.
Under such circumstances, mediocrity comes naturally.