Activist shifts to film to tell story of Kenya’s ‘evils’

Through the 96-minute film, the human rights activist portrays a society riddled with political manipulations, stalked with perennial election-related chaos and haunted by injustices.

Sometimes in the past, someone warned Kenyans that choices have consequences.

Now activist Boniface Mwangi (pictured) describes the nature and effects of the consequences in his new documentary film, Softie.

The film directed by Soko Sam premiered last Saturday during the Sundance Film Festival in New York City.

For the “softie” photojournalist who started off with still images as an avenue of presenting the evils in the Kenyan society, the shift to the motion pictures further stretches Mwangi’s success in driving his experiences and observations home.

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Repressive state

Through the 96-minute film, the human rights activist portrays a society riddled with political manipulations, stalked with perennial election-related chaos and haunted by injustices dispensed through the repressive State machineries.

“Our behavior every election cycle has been consistent for a very long time. This film will be one of the rare times that we will see ourselves as we truly are - apathetic to our conditions and at the mercy of politicians,” Sam, the film’s director, said.

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The activist, who in 2016 authored his autobiography, Unbounded, brings in his family consisting of three children and wife Njeri.

The film summarises what Mwangi experiences as an activist and how his family inevitably becomes the victim in the process.

The documentary seems to hinge on the claims he made two years ago that there was a plot to eliminate him and his entire family over his criticism of the government.

The film opens with images of blood that paints the picture of a nation bleeding due to wounds inflicted by corruption. It is a saddening experience of the political class and dynasties sitting pretty enjoying themselves at the expense of famished citizens struggling with increasing taxes and the ever rising cost of living.

The documentary shows the almost futile struggle by Mwangi to awaken the consciousness of the people through protests that lands him and his like-minded peers in the hands of rogue security officers who mete their brutality on him. His ultimate test comes when he is tempted to run for a political seat in a bid to change the disappointing experiences of Kenyans through the legislature. It is at this point that he exposes his family to the ruthlessness of politics in Kenya.

Post-election violence

He gets into dilemma as he balances between pursuing the interests of his country and those of his family while being threatened by forces seeking to lock him out.

But a determined Mwangi saw it all and could not be threatened out of his bid for the Starehe constituency seat. He covered the aftermath of the 2007/08 post-election violence where he witnessed gruesome killings and apathy by the State.

His wife Njeri says in the film: “I’ve given my children my life, but you’ve given your country your life.”

Thus, he plunged into politics, using artistic portraits of his smiling self on several walls in the city. Although he lost the race, Mwangi fought to the end sticking to his principle never to bribe voters.

Ahead of the premier and even after, Mwangi took to social media to thank his fans for their support and the film team for their dedicated effort of editing lengthy raw footage into a masterpiece.

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Post-election violenceBoniface MwangiSundance Film Festival