“You told us we are the leaders of tomorrow, so why are you killing us?”
I recently went to the cinema to watch Softie the film, a political thriller that tells the story of Kenya’s political landscape since 2007 as seen through the eyes of Boniface Mwangi, and his extraordinary, awe-inspiring wife, Njeri (if you’ve seen the film, then you’ll agree with me that Njeri was the real star of the film. Her courage and endurance as a woman, mother, and wife, navigating through the uncertainty that comes with the path of activism that is her husband’s life, can not go unsung. Njeri, if you ever get to read this, I and many women like myself, applaud you).
As relates to the state of Africa today: continent-wide youth-led protests against police brutality, human rights violations, gender-based violence, and economic turmoil, Softie the film came at a time when a lot of us as young Kenyans need to see exactly what it means to be a foot soldier for the revolution, which is what Boniface Mwangi has been for the better part of the decade.
Softie the film follows Boniface Mwangi’s journey from being a photojournalist, to quitting his job and taking to the streets calling for an end to extrajudicial killings.
If there’s one part of the film that struck me, it was a conversation between Boniface and Njeri where Boniface said that he was ready and willing to die for his country.
“If my death changes a few things, good. If not, then that will have been a waste.”Boniface Mwangi in Softie the film
Similarly a few months ago, I attended a talk by Stella Nyanzi, an outspoken Ugandan activist, and possibly the most fearless critic of Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni. Stella Nyanzi is known for using her poetry as a medium to express her disgust for the government that shows no regard for the well being of its people.
“They took everything away from me. I am unemployed, unemployable, and poor. All I have left is my voice. They can not take away my voice.”Stella Nyanzi
Across the continent, at this most pivotal time in history, the youth are standing up to demand reform and justice, from systems that were never designed to protect the most vulnerable members of society.
We have known all along that we need reform and justice, but still, not everyone may be moved to take part and be an active member of the struggle, why?
Well, that might be due to our complacency and fear. I’ve put these two together because I think they go hand in hand. We’ve gotten so used to the way things are, that we’re more afraid of the unknown, than we are of the current state of affairs. Personally, I think the middle class is responsible for this, because they have the most to lose. The problem with capitalism is that it gives the middle class the aspiration to believe that they too will one day form part of the upper class. For that reason, the middle class will not and can not participate in any activity, such as protesting for change, that would jeopardize their chances of getting to the upper class.
Karl Marx said that eventually, a capitalist society built on the backs of the working class, will collapse on itself. Capitalism as an exploitative economic model is not sustainable, and will inevitably fail. The greatest achievement it has had, apart from of course benefiting the bourgeoise, is the façade – that is the false sense of importance that it has impacted on the middle class, to make them numb to the plight of the working class.
Why else haven’t a lot of us enrolled as foot soldiers of the revolution? Because we assume someone else will do it (enter people like Boniface Mwangi and Stella Nyanzi). We want to fight and be active citizens in demanding for change and a better tomorrow, however, our complacency and fear tell us that there are other people to do the job. This is flawed, because the revolution requires all the foot soldiers it can get. I have seen activists fight for change, and I have seen activists inspire others to fight for change. That is the gift that keeps on giving.
What’s happening in Africa now is a collective realization that ignorance will be our downfall. As the youth we owe it to ourselves to demand to live under systems that are designed with our best interests being paramount.
Online movements you should follow
#EndSARS – SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad), is a Nigerian police unit that was created to control the population by curbing armed robbery. SARS however has a reputation of using excessive force on the people. Protests seeking police reform across the continent all have the same bottom line, why is it that the people who are supposed to protect and serve us are the ones who are killing us? Youth in Nigeria have suffered at the hands of SARS due to being profiled on the streets, detained, and even tortured, based on the assumption that they appear to look like criminals. The youth in Nigeria demand for political and economic reform, the right to be treated with dignity and respect, and freedom from extortion.
#CongoIsBleeding – Congo is famed for its rich resources in minerals, but also sadly juxtaposed by the poverty and exploitation of its people. The online movement # CongoIsBleeding brings to light the state of the country, ravaged by war, child slavery, and corruption, for the benefit of international companies that depend on the mineral resources in Congo. It has long been the plight of Congo and the rest of Africa that the well-being of the people be put at the fore-front.
#ShutItAllDownNamibia – Namibian youth have taken to the streets and to the internet under # ShutItAllDown / # ShutItAllDownNamibia to demand justice as regards sexual and gender based violence in the country. The youth demand for safer spaces for women and children, and action from the government to combat the rate of femicide. Women and children deserve to live in an environment where they are not fearful of being raped or killed, either by their partners or otherwise. Women deserve access to sanitary products, health care, education, and freedom from being treated like second class citizens. Similar protests have taken place in South Africa, under #AmINext.
#ZimbabweanLivesMatter – In 2017, Zimbabwe’s longtime president Robert Mugabe left office. The country was a buzz with celebration as the people, especially the youth, had hoped that this would be the dawn of a new era. This year however, the youth took to the streets and on the internet under # ZimbabweanLivesMatter in antigovernmental protests, citing that the new government has not done any better than the old regime. The protests led to the arrest and detainment of activists in Harare. Zimbabwe’s youth are calling for electoral and economic reform.
#EndPoliceBrutalityKE – At the height of the Coronavirus spread in the country earlier in the year, the government imposed a night curfew that was enforced by the police, that led to horrific scenes of police beating citizens who were trying to get home. This sparked online protests under # EndPoliceBrutalityKE. The protests brought to light other instances of misconduct by the police, which include kidnappings, rape, and bribery and extortion of the youth. Excessive use of force and extrajudicial killings by the police are also common every 5 years during election season. Kenyan youth are demanding for political and economic reform.
We’re no longer slaves, but we sure ain’t free. #AfricaisBleeding