In years gone by, Mwangi has led protests against corruption
Now he's formed a new political party called Ukweli
Boniface Mwangi is Kenya’s most famous provocateur; a poverty-boy done bad – at least in the eyes of the political elite.
He’s upset the establishment in nearly every way thinkable. He was arrested for letting pigs loose in front of parliament to highlight the greed of politicians and claimed that President Uhuru Kenyatta is an alcoholic, to name a few.
Mwangi has spent the last decade ridiculing parliament and now – not content with leading protests from the sidelines – he wants to join it. On August 8 he will contest the Starehe constituency in Nairobi.
Recent elections around the world have given rise to anti-establishment candidates. Will Mwangi be next?
His newly created political party, Ukweli, which means truth, is standing on an anti-corruption platform and looking to encourage active participation in politics.
Mwangi faces an uphill battle to win the seat. It’s held by incumbent President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Alliance who this year are fielding Charles Njagua Kanyi, known as “Jaguar”, a well-known pop singer. The opposition party’s MP aspirant is businessman Steve Mbogo.
Who is Boniface Mwangi?
Mwangi grew up in Pangani, a suburb in Nairobi, with his mother who he helped sell books on the street. After getting kicked out of school and failing to graduate he eventually took up photography – and found he had an eye for it.
In 1998, Mwangi’s received his first commission for photos of the bombed-out United States Embassy in Nairobi.
But it was in 2007 that Mwangi was thrust into the world’s spotlight.
His images of Kenya’s post-election violence – in which over 1,200 people were killed – spoke to a reeling nation and revealed the crisis to the world. Afterwards, he traveled the country with a public exhibition of his photography, “Pitchamtaani,” to encourage reconciliation and healing after the violence.
At this point Mwangi was no longer an observer, but an active citizen.
Together with other artists and activists he launched PAWA254 in 2010, a youth movement railing against social injustice. Mwangi used PAWA254 as a vehicle to organise and protest. Their hub in central Nairobi was their action base.
Mwangi’s protests are theatrical and disruptive. He’s led donkeys down the streets in Nairobi to symbolize the nation’s fatigue with politics, and littered the roads with polystyrene babies to call-out the immaturity of Kenya’s politicians.
Mwangi’s electoral chances
In Kenya the two main alliances, The Jubilee Alliance which supports incumbent President Kenyatta, and the opposition coalition, the National Super Alliance, dominate the political landscape.
These two alliances are deeply-rooted in the public’s minds. This means a start-up political party, like Ukweli, has the extra challenge of introducing itself to an electorate well-versed and conscious of longstanding organizations with established party machines and financial backing.
Kenyan politics is also still largely divided along tribal lines, with groups aligned to various mainstream parties. Mwangi will have to overcome these attitudes if he’s to win.
However, Mwangi’s alternative approach to politics has caught people’s attention. Instead of relying on wealthy individual donors, he’s crowdfunding his candidacy with small donations – and even had a truck donated to the campaign.
Mwangi also has huge reach on social media. His 700,000 followers on Twitter and 250,000 Facebook page likes could be key to tapping into Kenya’s staggeringly young and social media-savvy population – who increasingly disregard tribal identities. As ever, though, it’s difficult to know if these numbers will translate into actual votes.
As is the case with changemakers, skeptics worry Mwangi’s influence will be stifled by parliament; that he can be more effective on the outside. For voters, candidates have come to them before claiming to clean up corruption, only to be consumed by it.
Mwangi insists he wants to shake up the system from the inside. Yet win or lose, he has left his mark on Kenyan politics, challenging the old order and providing some hope for those fed up with the status-quo.