Advice from a Kenyan activist

“I think Trump’s win is good,” Boniface Mwangi told the crowd gathered to hear him talk about his experience as a journalist and activist in Kenya.

I ended up sitting in this audience on a whim. A friend organizing the event sent me a last-minute invitation and, though I didn’t know anything about Mwangi, I love hearing from other journalists and thought it might be interesting.

Wow. Little did I know!

Mwangi became one of the most acclaimed journalists in Kenya for photographing the violence following the 2007 Kenyan presidential election. Accusations of vote rigging propelled the country into a tribal war. The resulting violence left thousands of people dead and more than half a million others displaced.

The violence ended when the two presidential candidates literally got together for a cup of tea and agreed to share power.

Mwangi was so incensed at how the country seemed to move on, he quit his job as a journalist and became an activist, hoping to bring attention to the lives that were lost in the brutal violence. “I felt like I was just pushing stories and nothing changed,” Mwangi said, explaining why he left journalism.

For one of his first acts of activism he tried to organize a protest at one of the presidential events. But when he got to the event, he found himself alone. All the people he had tried to rally did not show up. You can hear in his TED talk what happened next:

Since then, Mwangi has become a well-known activist against corruption in Kenya. So why does he think Trump’s win is good for America?

He has several reasons. First, after eight years in power, he believes Democrats lost touch with the people. This, he said, is a reminder to start listening to people who are struggling. Second, he thinks this will encourage Americans not to take democracy for granted… that you need to pay attention and stay involved. He believes Trump is good for America because he believes it will inspire new activism and new interest in government. (And, he said, he hopes it reminds Americans that it isn’t fun to have people interfere in your election.)

Someone asked him if he really believed fighting corruption was possible. How could people counter corruption?

Mwangi gave a couple answers. First, he said, reclaim little spaces because eventually those little spaces will add up. Second, he said, you have to take it day by day. Ask yourself, “What can I do today to carve out that space?” He said if he concentrated on all the problems Kenya has he’d be overwhelmed and never get anything done. Instead, he takes one day at a time and decides what he can do on that day to take back a small space and not normalize bad behavior.

Mwangi told the story of a preacher who stood on a street corner every day saying “You need to repent before the day of judgment comes!” One year, two years, five years. Every day this preacher was out on this street corner saying the same thing.

Finally, one day, an exasperated man said to him, “Ok! We’ve got it! Why do you keep telling us this?”

The preacher said to him “It’s not just for you! I do this to remind myself!”

Mwangi encouraged speaking out against inappropriate behavior and policy, even if only to remind yourself every day of your values.

(By the way, Mwangi has a coffee table book with his photographs and the biography of his life for sale on Amazon.)

Wrap-up of Washington:

Today: President Obama gives his farewell speech. Senator Jeff Session’s nomination hearing begins. The hearing for Betsy DeVos was supposed to start today, but yesterday evening word broke that it would be delayed until January 17th due to her ethics review not being complete.

Politico’s congressional reporter Burgess Everett also tweeted that Department of Homeland Security nominee John Kelly’s hearing would also be moved to Tuesday.(Update: Tuesday morning, CBS was reporting this was still on for 3:30 today. I may have misunderstood the “move to Tuesday” to meaning today.)

Schumer returns McConnell’s letter: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer trolled Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell by taking the letter McConnell sent Harry Reid in 2009 about making sure nominees had background checks before the Senate held hearings, crossing out Reid’s name, and writing in “Mitch.” (Reportedly, only four of the nine nominees set for hearings this week have turned in their ethics reviews.)

“You don’t have the votes”: Word also started swirling last night that McConnell was losing votes for the repeal because the plan isn’t “repeal and replace” like Republicans had promised, but rather “repeal with a fuse.” That’s not sitting well with some Senators. There is an interesting article explaining it by New York Magazine.

I know I haven’t written about Obamacare yet. I know I need to. (You know when you put something off because it is so overwhelming?) I have so many thoughts running around in my head that I still need to figure out how to organize what I am thinking. I’ve already heard from some folks telling me their stories and asking me to explore how the lack of Medicaid expansion doomed it to become expensive. I definitely want to explore that.

But I also want to hear from more of you. What are you thinking right now? Have you had an experience with Obamacare? Are you worried about repeal and replace? Relieved? Send me an email at politecompanypolitics (at) gmail (dot) com or just head to the “Contact me” section of this website.

New podcast: Former Obama staffers Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett and Tommy Vietor have launched a new media company called “Crooked Media” and launched their new podcast “Pod Save America” yesterday. (The three previously had the podcast “Keepin’ it 1600”—which was really popular here in DC.)

One thought on “Advice from a Kenyan activist

  1. Gail Ellis says:

    The model of policies and actions being set forth by the in coming cabinet and elected officials is the same as what was, and is in place in Kansas. Horrible. Applications and renewal for assistance warehoused for months. Falsehoods, no waiting list, yes, still a waiting list of thousands. School budgets gutted. Any form of accounts with money raided. Show how it has failed in the heartland, in Kansas

    Like

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