Boni fights for the sake of the kids
We have seen them on the streets of Nairobi protesting corruption and poor leadership. They have paraded pigs outside Parliament, heckled the President and received blows and kicks for their trouble.
Kenyan activists have borne it all and seen it all. But who are the women they go home to?
We caught up with the wife of one of Kenya’s most vocal activists to tell her side of story.
Njeri Mwangi met Boniface ‘Boni’ Mwangi in 2006. Their meeting, Njeri recalled, was straight out of a romantic movie.
It was a Sunday afternoon and Njeri was in a meeting with friends from church at a local restaurant. Then came her turn to speak. As she put her point across, Njeri recalled, a handsome young man walked into the restaurant.
He was wearing a leather jacket and carrying a helmet in his left arm. The young man walked to their meeting and whispered something to one of the members and then walked away.
Hot guy on a bike
“For a moment there, I stumbled over my words, looking at this guy as he sped off on his bike,” said Njeri.
The two would be introduced and start dating. It was on their first date that Boni, then a photojournalist, revealed to Njeri his hopes and dreams for his life and his county.
“He told me what kind of father he wanted to be, what he hoped for the youth of this country and what he wanted for Kenya. I had never seen such a focused young man,”says Njeri.
That conversation lingered in her mind long after their date. A few months into their courtship, Njeri got pregnant and the couple welcomed their first child in 2007.
They got married in March 2008, just two weeks after the end of the post-election violence.
“The first few months of our marriage were really tough. Boni was traumatised from what he had witnessed in the post-election violence. He was irritable, always agitated and he buried himself in his work,” she recalls.
Thankfully, Njeri convinced her husband to sign up for therapy, which worked well. A few months later, Boni embarked on the Picha Mtaani street exhibition project which gave those affected an opportunity to mourn their losses and begin their journey of healing.
On November 13 last year, a rather controversial website went live: www.mavulture.com. The platform explicitly details the past wrong doings of the political leadership of Kenya.
Going through the website, it is difficult to dismiss the stories, as they touch on some of the country’s most influential leaders — in the most sensitive and hard-hitting manner.
“I was very afraid for Boni. At some point, I was afraid that my children would grow up without a father, and I would be widowed at a young age. Thank God I have a great support system,” she says.
Although nothing major has happened to Boni so far, Njeri admits that the paranoia and constant fear linger, and it is no wonder fellow activists like Okiya Omtata and Maina Kiai are on her speed dial.
“I speak often to Okiya Omtata who tells me what I should do in case something happens to my husband,” she says.
This year’s Labour Day, Boni found himself on the wrong side of the law when he was arrested for disrupting the celebrations.
Njeri was at home with their three children, watching television, when they saw Boni being roughed up on TV.
“My first born was looking at me to see my reaction and my last born was fixated on the TV and she screamed ‘They have killed Daddy!’ I had to assure them that their father was fine, even though I wasn’t very sure about that,” she says.
While Njeri supports her husband fully and prays for his safety, she still feels that Boni sometimes goes overboard, putting his life at risk.
“What shocks me is the extent to which he gives of himself. Sometimes I ask myself, ‘What is wrong with this man?’ but I have learnt to stretch my limits,” she says.
The couple has three children; six-year-old Nate Simpiwe, Naila Sifa (2), and one year-old Jabali Mboya. The children adore their father although they are too young to understand the extent of his risks.
The six-year-old is however subtly following in his father’s footsteps, as he was found in school passing DVDs to children and telling them to ‘vote wisely’ prior to the elections.
Many who have seen and heard of Boni’s work might quickly dismiss him as just another public noisemaker on some ‘foreign master’s’ payroll. But this is an assumption Njeri is quick to dismiss.
“Boni is his own man. He is not paid to do what he does, apart from having activities such as Picha Mtaani being sponsored by organisations that are clearly identified. What he does is inspired by what he wants for his children and for the good of the entire country,” she says.