5 September 2012

Kenya: Photojournalist Youngest Winner of Prestigious Prize

Photo: Princeclausfund
Boniface Mwangi

Envelope-pushing Kenyan photojournalist and activist Boniface Mwangi is one of this year's Prince Claus laureates. The news was announced on 5 September at the Prince Claus foundation's Amsterdam headquarters. Mwangi, aged 29, is the youngest ever recipient of the prestigious prize.

Each year the fund recognizes individuals or organizations around the world who have distinguished themselves in the fields of culture and development. According to the fund's director, Christa Meindersma, Mwangi was selected "because his provocative photography deals with social injustices and he seeks dialogue through cultural means".

When he was just 23 years old, the self-taught photographer captured striking images of the post-election violence that swept over Kenya in 2007. While his own country refused to publish his work, Mwangi's photos appeared in prestigious publications, such as those of The New York Times, The Guardian and the International Herald Tribune.

Tribalism is the "elephant in the room"

Asked about Kenya's general election scheduled for March 2013, the young artist expresses concern. "The perpetrators of violence will rise again," he says. "Kenya is experiencing a curse. The curse of bad leadership."

Mwangy says there is a lot of denial about tribalism in his country. "It's a very uncomfortable subject, it's the elephant in the room, we can all see it but we ignore it. By sharing my story I will start our journey into healing."

The solution is offline

Mwangi who is an active blogger is sceptical about the power of social media to bring about change. The solution, he says, is offline:

"The masses that we need to change the country are not on Twitter and Facebook. Social media is not an excuse not to go to the street because people who whine and complain about what is happening in the country do it online but they never go offline. So we need to take the online complaining and whining and solutions offline."

Mwangi's photography is currently on display as part of his 'The price of tribal politics' exhibit in The Hague. The exhibition's location is particularly apt as four Kenyans are scheduled to be tried for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in the city in April. Two of the defendants also happen to be running in the upcoming Kenyan election. The exhibition runs until 18 October at Het Nushuis.

Read RNW's recent interview with Mwangi here. He will be featured in the next edition of our background programme Africa in Progress.

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