"I've seen things that most people have never seen, and I have a responsibility not to be silent"
Boniface Mwangi has been thought of as Kenya's most popular leader in the fight against injustice and corruption. Mwangi attended journalism school and began his career in 2005 as a photographer for a Kenyan newspaper, he’s won several awards, most notably the CNN multichoice African Photojournalist of the year award in 2008 and again in 2010.
The 2007 election in Kenya changed Mwangi’s life. The results prompted unprecedented violence that resulted in over 1,000 deaths and the displacement of 600,000 people. Myangi witnesses women who were raped by police and children who were murdered. He struggled with nightmares and suicidal thoughts after what he had witnessed. In 2015, he said that at this point in the time his response was. “how do you bring down the government?”
Mwangi and his friends planned to call out President Mwai Kibaki during a live speech, but his friends didn’t show up. On June 1, 2009, Mwangi proceeded without his friends, standing up and shouting that the president should remember the post-election victims. He was beaten by police and put in jail overnight, he battled in court for a year. Mwangi began to use his photography for social change. In the same year he founded a project called, Picha Mtaani where he traveled the country and posted his photographs of the election. Mwangi says that politicians paid people to demolish his exhibitions and seize his photographs.
In 2011, Mwangi founded PAWA254, which is a space in Nairobi for journalists, artists, and activists to collaborate on social change projects. They provide free training for artists and kids to build the skills to use their voices. The space is decorated with portraits of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X.
Mwangi calls out political corruption and in justice in Kenya. He knows how to attract the media to his activism. He believes that there is a shock value that is essential, especially since he doesn't have the money to pay for ads or billboards. He includes a shock value in each piece of his work, for example, in 2012 he left fake coffins at Parliament to symbolize impurity. In 2013, when politicians wanted more money, he organized a demonstration where he brought pigs that were covered in blood to Parliament to represent to represent politicians bleeding taxpayers dry.
In November 2016 Mwangi began to work in politics, he wanted to change the political system from within. He formed the Ukweli (truth) party, and campaigned for a seat in Parliament in 2017. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful, but he was praised for running an ethical campaign. He also published his memoir, titled Unbounded in 2016. In his memoir he used photography to convey stories that inspired him.
Mwangi is criticized for being anti-Kenyan and there are rumors that he is backed by those who want to destabilize the government. Due to his activism, he has received death threats, he says, “I can’t be out alone late at night. I am constantly looking over my shoulder. When working late or hanging out with friends, l must ensure I am with a trusted company. I cannot speak freely on my phone. Routinely, supportive friends with access to info will send me information shared by people who have been paid to spy on me. In spite of these chilling reports, I refuse to be intimidated into silence. I refuse to be paralysed by fear.” In 2017, he received death threats for the first time, while his three children and wife were working alongside him. Mwangi criticized the Kenyan police for not investigating the threats even though he provided proof of the threats that he and his family received.
In the last few years, Mwangi has focused on his activism alone. He has spoken out against reckless driving by government officials and VIPs. In January 2020, he blocked a motorcade on the side of the road, he parked his car across the road and refused to move, he wanted to force the member of Parliament who was driving to follow the rest of traffic.
“As much as I’d like to be normal, I am not normal. There are two most powerful days in your life. The day you are born, and the day you discover why. That day standing up in that stadium shouting at the president, I stood up in the stadium, I discovered why I was truly born. That I would no longer be silent in the face of injustice.” Mwangi speaks out against the injustices in Kenya and continues to use photography and symbolism in his activism to catch people's attention. Mwangi won’t ever be silent.
If you want to check out more examples of photography being used to fight injustice in in Kibera and Kenya, check out the pictures posted in this gallery (link)