By David Onjili
The man Jesus is and remains one of the greatest radicals this world has ever experienced. The son of a mere carpenter from Jerusalem, with a radical message and centuries after he last set foot on earth, more than half the world’s population still live by his teachings. He fought the establishment with his teachings and only had 12 disciples whom he used to spread his word. They were a courageous lot, ready to die for what they believed in.
In modern history, names like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, and Fidel Castro come to mind. In Kenya, there are many pretenders in this manner or radicals, with many, particularly in the civil society selling out in time. Boniface Mwangi could be considered one such “true” radical. But with the disclaimer of this tag, “sell-out”, it is with caution that I look at Boniface Mwangi and his entry into elective politics. Yet I see something in him that is worthy of closer scrutiny.
Return of the anti-establishment
A wave that started in 2011 with The Arab Spring is back, clearly manifest when Nigel Farage was able to sell his idea to and convince close to 17 million Britons (51.9% of the 72% who turned up to vote) to vote to exit the European Union. The post-Brexit morning was surreal; a feeling of disappointment from the voting public and world at large was self-evident. They had bought into the fear that Farage advanced of allowing Turkey into the EU. That the public chose to exclude themselves rather than embrace sent seismic waves across the EU and the world as a whole. The win, later on, by Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the USA presidential polls was just a manifestation of what is really happening.
There is a true rise of anti establishment sentiment. The more Hillary Clinton paraded celebrities like Jay Z, Beyoncé and Pharell Williams during her campaign rallies, the more the voting public felt just how she was out of touch with them. These celebrities are extremely rich people who are completely out of touch with the general public. They live and hobnob with Polite Society, drive flashy cars and afford exotic holiday destinations. They are a perfect representation of the establishment which the voting public is tired of.
Back home, the entry of Boniface Mwangi into elective politics is indeed something worth considering seriously. While Trump is a bigoted individual who thrives on divisive comments, Boniface is a primitive reformer whom you will find in the trenches. With pigs and red paint, he protested MPs’ greed; he marshalled parents and students of Lang’ata Primary School and despite the fact that innocent school children met the full force of the police through teargas, he passed his message to the world that there was a powerful land grabber in Government. He also publicly refused to apologise to Deputy President William Ruto after sensationally claiming that he was guilty of the post-election violence in 2007, and even challenged him in a court battle.
I do not bring up Donald Trump and Nigel Farage to compare their policies to those of Boniface Mwangi; rather, it is to show the impact individuals had in awakening the anti-establishment revolution. All things point to it that Mwangi is a gem that this nation has been waiting for. Yet I am under no illusions; politics is a game of numbers. Will Mwangi set the pace to a new dawn in Kenyan politics, or will he conform and be one of those who join elective politics with energy to serve and change things then get sucked into grand corruption and self-enrichment?
Lesson from Malema and EFF
Julius Malema has achieved much in South Africa with his Economic Freedom Fighters party. This is because through the EFF, he has a vehicle to advance his agenda, unlike Boniface Mwangi who may end up being a lone ranger in parliament, in the midst of greedy, money-swayed members.
The EFF boasts 25 out of 400 parliamentary seats in The South African Parliament; 49% of its loyal members are below the age of 24, with 99% being black males compared to 33% of total membership being women. About 28% of the party members are from Limpopo, which is Malema’s home province. Evidently, his message, which leans towards Marxist-Leninist ideals, has taken root in South Africa. Can Mwangi replicate that without a party?
By choosing to run as MP in Starehe constituency, Mwangi seems to be aping the Malema way, for, clearly, politics is a game of numbers, and everyone needs a base, whether tribal or age-based. He has said in the past he will run as an independent candidate. The area is a predominantly Kikuyu, although, even being Kikuyu himself, it is highly unlikely that he can win against both Jubilee and Cord.
Something is happening in Kenya that is also happening in Europe: while the government is hypocritically asking her citizens to embrace austerity measures, the same government is cozying itself with business moguls and ensuring that their respective businesses are growing. Most if not all current Jubilee government Cabinet Secretaries are building multi billion business empires and buildings when the average family cannot afford 2 meals a day, and doctors have been on strike for two months demanding government honours a 2015 CBA.
Meanwhile, the president and his administration are equipping the police to deal with possible chaos during elections later this year. Companies are downsizing and sending huge numbers of employees home. This aloofness to the plight of the ordinary man is what Mwangi seems to champion. Government and all the other political parties are all viewed as the establishment and it is from this perspective that he seems different.
It is said that when Adolf Hitler was making speeches to crowds, Joseph Goebbels would judge the crowds’ reaction and make notes based on what was said. What generated the most noise or applause would be noted. The conclusions of subsequent speeches would hit on those pointers and add clarity to the key message. This gave great impact to Hitler’s messages. Likewise, Mwangi’s demonstrations, civil disobedience and Twitter hash tags generate quite a lot of impact. While it remains to be seen whether as a parliamentarian he will remain a street reformer rather than a policy maker, the impact he has achieved with his anti-establishment tendencies will be put to the test if he wins.
Is he for real?
My first impression of note of Mwangi was way back in the election year of 2013 when he appeared on Jeff Koinange’s The Bench. I watched in dismay as he bluntly called Mama Ngina Kenyatta a “thief and land grabber”. While he raised valid questions, like how the Kenyatta Family had amassed untold amounts of wealth and pieces of land in the country, he was foul in his language. I thought to myself, “he must be really bold, stupid or he is protected. If anybody else used such words on the first family, the Inspector-General of Police would have personally seen to it that the person was arrested after the show. Yet, Bonny was not. Yet his consistency in championing for the rights of the downtrodden has remained impressive. That has earned him my respect and that of many Kenyans. So is he real?
The nation watches and history waits to judge Mwangi, a man who prides himself with attending political demonstrations with his entire family; who claims to have sold his car to fund the authoring of his book Boniface Mwangi Unbounded. At 33 years of age, the journey ahead will be long, winding and dangerous but if his track record is anything to go by, Mwangi has set a good foundation for himself.