The birth of a Kenyan activist in his own words

Warning: Both videos contain some graphic images depicting violence.

The images of extreme violence captured by Boniface Mwangi following Kenya’s disputed 2007 elections haunted the young man. He struggled with the fact that the country so easily moved on and forgot the fighting that left more than 1,000 people dead. Fed up, Mwangi quit his job and decided to do something about it.

He and his friends decided they would air their grievances during the speech delivered by then-President Mwai Kibaki to mark Madaraka Day, a national holiday celebrating the start of self-rule in Kenya. When the moment came on June 1, 2009 to stand up against the President, Mwangi found he was by himself in protest.

There are two most powerful days in your life: the day you’re born, and the day you discover why,” said Mwangi in telling the story at TED Global last year. “That day standing up in that stadium shouting at the President, I discovered why I was truly born, that I would no longer be silent in the face of injustice.”

Police soon grabbed him, carried him out by force and “thoroughly beat [him]up.” When released from jail, Mwangi decided that he would be an activist for a better Kenya. He published his photos from the post-election violence and put them on display for Kenyans to see, in Nairobi. He found fellow activists and staged other forms of protest. The boy who was once called soft, became a strong activist.

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In spite of being arrested, beaten up, threatened, the moment I discovered my voice, that I could actually stand up for what I really believed in, I’m no longer afraid,” he tells Tom Rielly in an interview following the talk.

Give the short video a watch. His talk is only about 5 minutes. It is well worth your time. Want to know more, here is a longer version of his story:

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.