MY OPEN LETTER TO BONIFACE MWANGI

Hallo Bwana Bonni,
How are you? How is your family? The kids? The wife?
Well first of I would like to say that I admire and respect your work, primarily as an artist. I have followed you even before the PEV pictures that you have become so famous for, but like many of your fans it is these sad but amazingly artistic set of photographs that really got me interested in you as an artist. I remember my eyes welling up at one of the Picha Mtaani exhibitions, and I fought to keep my tears in, and as I turned away for a second I saw you, in the middle of an interview with this steely stare not even looking at the reporter or your images. You seemed to be starring far into the distance, possibly fighting back the demons that followed you, the demons that you had seen through your lens. And I wondered what kind of person does this for a living. Why would anyone in their right mind stand in front of a machete wielding mob, many on the hunt for people of your “kind”? And the only thing between this infuriated and bloodthirsty young men and you being a one kilo assembly of plastic glass and metal: framing, focussing, zooming and clicking away. And I remember saying to my friend “This guy must either really love his job, or he has a screw loose in his head.” And the reply I got, “I think it’s both.”
Now fast track to a couple of years later, and our paths crossed again. This time it was I who was behind the lens and you who was part of a mob. However this was the only similarities between the scenarios, firstly this was a peaceful demonstration. A march from Uhuru Park to Parliament in support of the members of our police force, The Polisi ni Rafiki march. It was an experience I’ll tell you. Maybe you have become used to it all after the many protests and marches but to a green campus student trying to get a foot into the media industry, it was a completely new and exhilarating experience. I was continuously waiting for things to go south and all hell to break loose: teargas beatings and what not, that’s what a demonstration is about right? I was pleasantly surprised. Apart from my legs aching from the running I went home happy and whole and my concept of mass action was changed.
I went to another demonstration/march, this time as an individual. No cameras, no tripods no equipment: just a young man who felt strongly about a particular subject and had jumped on the idea of joining together with others who felt just as strongly about it. So with my white T-shirt and black jeans I went for a mock state burial for outgoing MPs. People who were demanding millions as a send-off package in a country where I have to struggle to pay my four digit rent every month. The coffins were a nice touch, the chanting and the songs, the slogans; they all said what I had been previously shouting on my social media profiles. I had become a part of a movement. Then we reached parliament and the kerosene and petrol came out, and the coffins were lit. And as we chanted and shouted against this atrocity that was being planned for a few metres away, by people I had never met I felt at one with the Mohammed Bouzizi’s and the Israa Fattah’s of the Arab Spring. I too was an ordinary young citizen standing up to our leaders and telling, nay demanding them that I knew my rights and I was ready to fight for them. But a thought lingered in the back of my mind, was this really the only way to actively get my message across? Was that the natural progress of events: from signing countless online petitions and changing my profile pictures to burning coffins and screaming funeral dirges, wishing another person death? Were my actions passing on my message and beliefs or were they being drowned out by our chants? Looking back at this I would love to think that it was this demo with me in all my shy bespectacled glory as a part of it, which influenced the then president not to assent to Parliament’s demands. I helped changed our country’s history albeit by playing a very small part.
Then the pigs happened, the plot was roughly the same: members of parliament wanting money, ordinary citizens angry about it. And I would have joined in it too if I didn’t have more pressing commitments. It was another chance to participate in a mini Tahrir Square in the heart of my hometown. But as I watched the events unfold via tweets, Facebook updates and livestreams on my social networks, I became more and more confused: what the hell was happening? The symbolism I understood, MPigs was a word even I threw around liberally especially online. You guys had gone one better and even brought piglets. Seeing them running around on their porky little feet added a sense of childish humour to the whole debacle. But the blood: that’s where I drew the line. I might be a member of this country’s generation share who are always looking to get noticed in one way or another, but as much as I understand the need to be seen more so on an issue of public interest that would have easily been given a two paragraph mention in the dailies, I greatly questioned the lengths the protestors had pushed this demonstration to. Pouring litres after litres (I counted three 20 litre drums, I assume they were at least half full) of animal blood on the ground and then people proceeding to roll and revel in the pools formed was even to my liberal and accommodating mind: excess. For a second the photos looked like they were from a death metal concert in some far flung hard-core European music festival. My two earlier questions came to mind: one either they must really love and believe in what they are doing or they are insane (or a mix of both) and the second one: was this really the best way to send a message?
These questions played over and over in my mind, conceiving possible defences and justifications, trying to explain why this was ok, and to some extent, even necessary. But the revelation dawned on me: if it was necessary to explain to my parents and other people what the whole pig and blood fiasco was about, then the primary objective had been lost. The protestors had been seen, to some extent they had been heard, but the most important result that would have come out of the demonstration had not been realised: the message had not been passed efficiently; there was no dialogue, no communication. And even if in the end the message was picked up and gradually the reasons for the extreme actions somewhat defined. I, and I do believe many others like me, are left with question marks.
So my questions sir, how far will this go? How extreme can you and other organisers and leaders of this new breed of civil society protesters become? What if “they” don’t hear you, what if the leaders brush you of as gnats or pests that are annoying but can be ignored? Were you serious about targeting their families? (in your NTV “the Trend” interview, you stated that you would love for an MPig’s child to go to school and feel hated because their father/mother was in parliament) do you advocate for physical attacks? Attacks on businesses? Cyber terrorism and hacktivism? Though seemingly farfetched in today’s society we have seen that people will go to great lengths when they strongly believe in something and will use any means to get their voice heard in one way or another. And you yourself have repeatedly stated that many people are at their breaking point: angry, violent and desperate.  Are you afraid that in the ranks of this new movement, or even people who aren’t allied to your organisations or partners, there are elements that are susceptible to radicalism? Could we in the future see terror groups or small urban armies whose sole mission is to “fight the system” regardless of the collateral damages that may follow this pursuit of justice? Who decides on what cause is best for the country, what should be fought for in the streets or in the courts: are these people, councils or committees behind the decisions open to outside influence? Do you see that the increasingly violent and macabre nature of your protests are serving to alienate more and more people from your cause, people who although without the same level or passion and selflessness about the issues at hand still are part of this country? Is there a new breed of the patriotic elite forming from those who think that their way is the only true activism, their methods the most effective? And last of all, what is the goal of all this, to bring us together as one country or to further divide us?
Thank you,
Yours truly,
An avid but concerned fan.

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