SDG16+ Champions of Change

The Kenyan activist using art as vehicle for change


Champions of Change is an initiative started by the Pathfinders to highlight advocates who have made an impact in their communities and have helped to create peaceful, just and inclusive societies (SDG16+). It provides an opportunity to feature individuals, businesses, and organizations doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities. As part of the Movement to Halve Violence by 2030, hear from Champions who have made building peaceful societies their cause and mission in life, and learn what you can do to join them!

Boniface Mwangi is an award-winning Kenyan photographer, artist and activist. In 2007, while working as a photographer for The Standard — the second largest newspaper in Kenya — amidst an explosion of post-election violence, Mwangi captured thousands of images of what was happening in his country.

In the wake of the election crisis, Mwangi began to see himself as a visual artist, using photography as the vehicle for social change and tackling ongoing political violence in Kenya. He founded Pawa254, a collaborative hub where journalists, artists, and activists could meet to find innovative ways to enact social change. Among its activities, two of Pawa254’s campaigns stand out. “Heal the Nation” is a successful initiative screening a half-hour documentary exploring post-election violence to as many Kenyans as possible and facilitating discussions around the film. The campaign is accompanied by a creative graffiti campaign aimed at Kenyan youth.

In 2009 United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote a letter commending Boniface for his work during the post-election violence. She stated, “Your photography is absolutely stunning and tells an important and powerful story for the world to hear.”

We spoke with Boniface Mwangi to learn more about his work and what drives him:

What ignited your pursuit for safe and peaceful societies?

I am a photographer and I could not resist the call to activism after witnessing first-hand the brutality that disadvantaged Kenyans experienced in the wake of the Post- Election Violence in 2008. I established Picha Mtaani a traveling photography exhibition showcasing the violence that toured the nation and drew more than 2 million people. The tour offered a platform for individual reflection, honest dialogue, interpersonal healing, and community reconciliation.

To achieve a peaceful, just, and inclusive world, what does success look like to you? And what are the key factors in achieving this vision?

The world is safe for all when all displaced persons and refugee camps are shut down. A peaceful world is one where companies and people who profit from the business of war change their business model and stop selling arms to dictators, mercenaries, and terrorists. Conflict is a profit-making business, and we cannot have a peaceful world when they are companies with the sole objective to perpetrate violence. We need new business leaders to change the state of play, leaders with the courage to show pursuing and sustaining peace becomes our best investment for humanity.

How does your work significantly reduce and prevent violence?

I use art as a tool for social change. I am the founder of PAWA254. PAWA is a corruption of the English word ‘Power’ and 254 is Kenya’s international dialing code. Combined together, the word PAWA254, signifies the latent power inherent in Kenya’s youth that can be harnessed towards ensuring good governance and respect for human rights in the country. Since its founding, PAWA254 has metamorphosed to become a collaborative arts and culture hub with a vision of ‘Active Citizens Driving Change”.

What advice do you have for those seeking to make a difference for a more peaceful world?

We need to give the people we are fighting for a chance to speak for themselves. We must stop being their voice and become the platform or the channel the people use to be heard. Let the people we work for take the lead in this struggle for a more peaceful and humane world. We must also preach self-love, without loving self, you can’t love the world, and those who love themselves abhor violence. Love is the answer. Human beings are so resilient and as long there is a chance things can get better, they never lose hope. The pandemic has taught me to be optimistic and hopeful that a better, more peaceful world is possible. Because giving up isn’t an option.