Boniface Mwangi

Focusing on democracy

As a fearless news photographer, Boniface Mwangi captured the brutal reality of Kenyan society and politics. As an aspiring politician, he aimed to transcend corruption and tribal differences.

‘2007 was a life-changing year for me,’ says Boniface Mwangi. That year, large-scale tribal violence erupted in the aftermath of the Kenyan presidential elections. Mwangi captured it with his camera in sometimes gruesome detail, earning him a reputation as one of Africa’s top photographers. In order to encourage national healing, he put together a selection of his 2007 photographs in Picha Mtaani, a travelling street exhibition which was shown around the country. ‘This journey started me on the activist path,’ he says, ‘where I decided to become silent no more, to talk about things.’

Angered by the fact that the same politicians who were responsible for the 2007 violence were simply keeping their positions of power, Mwangi more and more began speaking out as a political activist. In the documentary Softie – after his childhood nickname – we see him on the campaign trail in 2017, hoping to get elected as a Member of Parliament. As he explains in the documentary, his political activism comes out of a deeply held conviction that politics should be about more than tribalism. ‘Identity in Kenyan politics is not nationalism, patriotism, core values or a bigger vision for a better Kenya. The identity of this country is tribe. Your last name defines you.’

His stance against tribalism and corruption has cost him much. As shown in Softie, he was the target of police violence, his safety and that of his wife and children were threatened, and his marriage was put under a lot of strain. However, all this does not discourage him. ‘In spite of being arrested, beaten up and threatened, since the moment I discovered my voice [...] I’m no longer afraid. I used to be called softie, but I’m no longer softie, because I discovered who I really am,’ he says. ‘There’s nothing as powerful as that.’

Softie is shown as a preview at the Movies that Matter Festival 2020, where Boniface Mwangi will be present as a special guest.