Boniface Mwangi is a Change Maker and Leader who has spent his life fighting for justice for the ordinary mwananchi(citizen). His drive for change started in his early years where he decided to fight head-on what life had thrown at him. Born in TaitaTaveta and raised in Starehe, Boniface has had struggles in life like most Kenyans. The struggle for survival took him away from school and pushed him toengage in odd jobs including hawking books and waiting tables to get food for the day.
His Humble Beginnings
Boniface was born in TaitaTaveta before moving severally between locations before finally settling to live with his mother in Pangani. His mother struggled to raise all her children and she relied on selling books on the streets to feed her children.
Nairobi’s symbol, the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) was a must visit when coming to the city. This picture is among Boniface’s memories of his late mother and siblings when they moved to the City of Lights.
Making Ends Meet
Boniface helped his mother sell books on the street to make a living after he dropped out of school. He continued this trade even after his mother’s passing.
Omieri*, the snake spotted in Nyakach in early ** was a news that captured Boniface’s attention and his ingenuity in trade gave him the idea of showcasing “omieri” at the annual Agricultural Society of Kenya (ASK) to the public to earn some money.
*Omieri was a snake looked after andfed by villagers in Nyakach who believed the snake was a rain bringer.
Boniface always dressed in an overcoat written Deborah Booksellers, the name his mother had given the business.
FINDING HIS VOICE
On seeing the devastation that had rocked the city, Boniface rushed home, dressed up in his Scout’s uniform and went back to help in the rescue mission. He realized those with camera’s had unhindered access to the site and went back later with his camera after the rescue operation had ended and took photos of the bombed building. Boniface was able to sell some of those photos and this kick started his side job taking photographs of people and selling them.
Boniface calls this his best photo. It was his first photo posted on the News pages in The Standard and not Entertainment where he had started working from.
The City Council of Nairobi decided to evict hawkers (desperate to make a living) from the City Centre. The long-day battle between the Police and hawkers got three hawkers shot dead and one policeman stoned to death. Boniface captured these eviction street battles, reminded of the battles he had with City Council as he tried to make a living and the friends he lost to the bullet.
According to the 2014 Report by the Independent Medico-Legal Unit, Kenyans are five times likely to be shot by a police officer than a criminal. Police shot approximately 70% of 1868 people who died of gun wounds in Kenya between 2009-2013. These executions have continued to ensue with the most recent event in June 2016 of the death of Willy Kimani, a lawyer along with his client and taxi driver. They were found dead after being taken to custody by police. Three policemen have been linked to the murders. The case is still on-going.
Mungiki, a vigilante group of young Kikuyus who modelled themselves on Mau Mau fighters of the 1950s, had spread terror in Nairobi and other parts of Kenya. They had set up extensive and lucrative extortion rackets in the matatu industry, construction sector and in garbage collection. Their influence grew their sense of invincibility and they committed crimes including kidnappings, murders and beheadings of those who dared to challenge them. On 4th of June 2007, Boniface was on his way for an interview when he heard a crackdown of the Mungiki sect was happening in Mathare. He sneaked in the operation zone, where media was blocked out of and captured the morning raid. The police were said to be looking for guns that had been stolen from a previous crackdown where two policemen died. The crackdown left 14 people dead and 250 people were rounded up for further investigations.
Boniface was not required by his newspaper to cover the violence that was happening across the country. He felt it was his sense of duty to do so and he covered the violence that took place in Nairobi, Naivasha and Eldoret, the major hotspots of the violence that was brewed by tribalism. His photos were considered too raw for Kenya and he only had less than 20 photos published in Kenya. Most of his photos were published internationally to bring attention of the crimes and injustice that were happening in Kenya.
His Fight for Justice
Together with his friends and fellow journalists, Boniface led a project dubbed “PichaMtaani” an exhibition to foster dialogue of reconciliation and healing after the Post-Election Violence. Over 50 exhibitions were conducted around the country attracting over 2 million people. The tour offered a platform for interpersonal healing and community reconciliation. The exhibition was also showcased in other countries including Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, the US, Germany and Belgium.
After the 2013 elections, the elected Members of Parliament (MPs) decided to raise their salaries making them the highest paid MPs in the world. This action infuriated many Kenyans including Boniface who took part in a demonstration to show the greed of the MPs. The message of the day, “Greedy M-pigs are occupying the bloody Parliament.” The police dispersed demonstrators with teargas and water cannons. Boniface was arrested amongother sixteen people and later arraigned in court.
The Diaper Mentality Campaign had a single message; Kenya was experiencing a stunted growth and yet to conquer poverty, ignorance and disease that affected millions. 46% of Kenyans were living below the poverty line, the public policies on health and education were wanting; the protest was calling on citizens to hold the government accountable. The use of toddlers was a symbol of how young Kenya is and just like children, they indulge in irresponsible habits. Boniface and his friends took quality videos and photos to raise awareness about the need for responsible and accountable citizenship; discard childish behavior and grow up.
His Community Contribution
Boniface wanted to contribute to his community and in 2010; he established a creative hub, PAWA254, which he started after selling his photography studio, cars and closing his modelling agency. PAWA 254 has grown to support and foster young creatives and promotes arts and culture geared towards social impact in Kenya.