Visions of a Future without Vultures

Boniface Mwangi Posing in front of the first Wall Graffiti on Muindi Bingu Street, Nairobi

By Boniface Mwangi

Four years ago, I quit active journalism because l was frustrated hearing and recording politicians tell lies to Kenyans every day. My swansong in journalism was the coverage of post-election violence, itself an enduring symbol of our collective failure. I knew and wanted to do something. Privately, l struggled with the anger that comes with helplessness.

On June 1, 2009, I joined other Kenyans marking the Madaraka Day celebrations at Nyayo Stadium. When the president rose to speak, l shouted him down, before I was spirited away by security agents.

Over the past three years, I have sought expression in different forums and, in the process, suffered beatings, arrest and court arraignments over my activism.
That did not discourage me. I founded Picha Mtaani (street exhibition), a travelling exhibition that is part of my effort in fostering dialogue, reconciliation and healing in our country.

Late last year, l moved this vision further by setting up Pawa254 which serves as creative hub. This collaborative space brings together journalists, artists and activists seeking innovative ways to achieve social change.

The hub has already achieved many successes during its short run, the most memorable being “Vulture graffiti” that captured the imagination of the nation, and beyond, as we provoked Kenyans into thinking about our so-called leaders and their greedy ways.

When the “Vulture graffiti” became public, and I was required to step forward and set the record straight, my actions were misconstrued as intended to launch my political career.

Many people, some of them well-intentioned, have been nudging me on to consider running for elective office. For a moment, I even considered it. But the pursuit of power would mean my young children would be dispossessed of their father, and most of the ideals that I stand for would be vigorously contested.

I’m still convinced I’m more effective as a visual artist as I have a wider constituency across this nation and beyond. Moreover, as my mentor Mohamed Amin proved, one does not have to be in politics to bring about change in society.

In line with this vision, I intend to produce a photographic essay on alternative role models that should inspire faith and hope among young Kenyans. I will seek to create contemporary images of non-political Kenyan role models and their thoughts on leadership.

I have offered these thoughts because I’m marking another milestone today. I’m turning 29, which heralds the onset a new decade in my life, during which, hopefully, our dreams for a fair and just Kenya will come to pass, and give relief to the restlessness that has blighted my generation.

The author is a photo-activist and the founder of PAWA254 & Picha Mtaani.

Download a free-ebook of his work here

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