Kenyan activist vying for Nairobi constituency wants to scrap MP benefits

Boniface Mwangi, a former journalist and activist offering a scathing critique of ‘establishment’ politicians, has launched a bid for the Starehe MP constituency within the Nairobi city limits.

If elected to the national parliament, Mwangi says he would scrap “unreasonable medical coverage” for lawmakers and compel them to use public health services.

Mwangi writes in his platform, “MPs and Senators have a 10-million-shillings medical cover. The medical scheme covers their spouses and up to four children under the age of 25… This should be scrapped. Any person occupying public office should use the same facilities as the people who elect him/her. How else would they improve the health sector if they never interact with it?”

A big part of his platform is a critique of parliament itself. Mwangi says he wants to remove state police protection for MPs, improve compliance with public wealth declaration requirements, and strip them of other benefits like vehicle grants, loans and mortgages, as well as what he calls “illegal sitting allowances” for every parliament or committee session.

“I have relentlessly challenged the establishment for their failed governance. Now I want to continue with the fight from the inside,” Mwangi explains.

Hailing originally from Taveta, Kenya, on the Kenya-Tanzania border, Mwangi moved to Nyeri, Central Kenya, when he was six years old and later moved with his mother to live in Nairobi’s low-income suburb of Ngara. Mwangi dropped in and out of school during this period and helped his mother vend books.

Eventually he joined a Bible school with the intention of becoming a pastor, and secured a diploma in Bible Studies. Whilst at school he became interested in photography and became a journalist.

After documenting post-election violence in Kenya in 2007 as a newspaper photographer, he quit journalism saying he was frustrated covering the same politicians that had incited the violence but remained unpunished.

In 2012 Boniface founded PAWA254, a hub for creatives in Kenya including journalists, artists and activists. Now he has formed his own political party – Ukweli Party – and has been campaigning for the Starehe constituency parliament seat.

Speaking to journalists on Monday in Nairobi, Mwangi said that the new outfit is a grassroots political movement that heralds a new dawn in Kenya politics. The party’s slogan is “Power to the People.”

But Mwangi faces incumbent Maina Kamanda from the deep-pocketed ruling Jubilee coalition. Kamanda has been under scrutiny not only in the press but from police and election authorities for allegedly forging nomination papers.

After winning his seat in a 2012 by-election, Kamanda was accused of forging his O-level certificate. Kenya has minimum education requirements for politicians but Kamanda allegedly never went past primary school.

A police investigation opened in 2013 went nowhere but opponents now are seeking to reopen the issue ahead of the August vote. Kamanda could face an uphill battle if challenged in a court of law on the authenticity of his papers.

Mwangi’s other opponent in the election are flamboyant businessman Steve Mbogo of ODM. Former Nacada board member and musician, Charles Njagua Kanyi, popularly known as ‘Jaguar’ in music circles, has also shown keen interest in the seat.

At the press conference on Monday, Mwangi said that his new party will not go into coalition with any other party in the country and will also not field a presidential candidate but will front candidates for parliamentary and county assembly seats.

“We want to bring change from the bottom up and cultivate participatory democracy beyond mere participation in elections but in the day-to-day governance,” said Mwangi.