As a social media activist, she has rubbed some people the wrong way and rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty. Wanjeri Nderu tells our Eve Woman correspondent what it's like being her.
Wanjeri Nderu does not look much like a warrior activist who should be given the ‘Burning Spear’ laureate on a day such as the recent Madaraka Day at Nyayo Stadium.
No unkempt dreadlocks and T-shirts with slogans like, ‘Humanity comes first’ and ‘No! to land grabbers’. Her red-dyed hair is short and neat, she looks corporate in her spectacles and business shirts; and wears cherry-red lipstick.
But that is because Wanjeri is a new-age activist who fights her battles on social media — and so a very urban type of modern day media guerilla.
The kind of conscientious commentator, whistle-blower and activist who has led fellows like Cabinet Secretary for National Security, Joseph Nkaissery, to say, “We shall pursue ‘unpatriotic’ people, even those on social media,” this after saying “also, social media users must ask the Government for its authoritative position on issues of national security” presumably before even updating one’s Facebook post.
This anti-social media rave by the CS, of course, followed the bungled reportage of the Yumbis attack on police by bandits/terrorists, in which social media activists (SMAs) like Wanjeri were on the front-line of community even as elements of the State House communications’ system mixed up and blundered their lines, sending out pre-mature ‘statements of sympathy’ to the pre-maturely dead — with CS Nkaissery later wagging his finger at the media.
It is this kind of the ‘tail wagging the dog’ tale that Wanjeri finds weird. “When the Mpeketoni attack was going on, I was uploading info from a victim source during the wee morning hours. That’s even as official channels — those that we, social media activists are being asked to clear from — stayed mum till way after dawn.”
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Wanjeri, the Internet warrior, then shows Eve Woman a confidential parastatal file, sent to her by a whistle-blower. Once done with her investigation, Wanjeri says she will upload the file online for all and sundry to see, in the patriotic interests of Kenyan citizens.
“My detractors say I am being funded,” Wanjeri says, with a wry smile. “Really! By whom? I am self-sponsored, and I spare odd hours to be on-line, doing my smash!” She breaks into a laugh. “I am an insomniac, so I may as well spend the time doing this patriotic duty for Kenyans, instead of staring at the ceiling.”
A mother of three, Wanjeri is very happy that her hubby is supportive of her SMA cause.
“We are 52 years a slave of the State,” she says, “and it is time we started asking questions of transparency as to how our taxes are being (mis)used, the accountability of our collective security and the state of our union as individuals. Social media is one avenue to do that.”
Wanjeri’s awareness began almost 25 years ago during the ‘Saba Saba’ demos and riots. “I was a small girl living in Ngara. There were all these policemen smashing into people’s homes in our estate, hunting down demonstrators and the so-called dissidents,” she says.
Wanjeri was hooked on what democracy meant for ‘Wanjiku’. With her dad explaining multi-partyism, she keenly followed the 1992 general elections, through which Daniel Arap Moi maintained his presidential seat and Ford Asili’s beacon Kenneth Matiba lost, alongside Jaramogi Odinga. But it was the 2007 elections 15 years later, and the post-election violence that followed, that were Wanjeri’s real eye-openers.
“We all watched these things happen. I realised someone needs to say something. Suddenly, all the tools were there and available for the savvy communications person to do so, without relying on mainstream media, which was scrambling, anyway. Zuckurberg had unleashed ‘Facebook’ on the world; we already had Google, and nowadays, Twitter among others,” she says.
“Civil society was busy diluting itself, with accusations of witness coaching, and many NGOs today, aren’t just pale shadows of their 1990s selves, but have become dark shadows themselves, casting false aspersions on folks for foreign cash,” she says. She adds that the time is ripe for a certain mind of careful and calibrated social media activism. Not that Wanjeri is just a laptop warrior, letting her fingers do the fighting on-line.
Wanjeri says she has her feet on the ground too, occasionally getting into the line of fire - like when she joined street activist Boniface Mwangi at Lang’ata Primary School land grabbing saga recently - and a fired tear-gas canister bounced off on her ankle and she had to use a crutch for three weeks.
This soft-spoken but virtually fiery lady has also not just been to godforsaken places like Kapedo to bear witness to marginalised Kenyans, first hand, but has begun a political alternative medium called ‘Third Way Kenya’.
Wanjeri attended Racecourse Primary School in Kariakor for lower primary and then went to Thika’s Mountain View Academy. She attended Kahuhia Girls High School and Kenya Institute of Mass Communications where she studied broadcast journalism before joining the insurance industry in 2005.
After ten years in the industry, she started her own insurance firm earlier this year.