Softie Reflection

Greetings, friends:

I hope you’ve had a good and productive fortnight, the weeks are flying by! We’ve been busy at Baraza, hosting a special screening of the film Softie, as well as two separate panels surrounding the film – one with filmmakers Sam Soko and Toni Kamau, and a second with the subjects of the film itself, Njeri Mwangi and Boniface Mwangi. I can’t explain how insightful, vital and deep these conversations were, and as you watch the film one realizes, in those 90 minutes, how deeply brutal this country is, how quickly it shuts down dreams, how thoroughly it keeps us trapped in the “soft bigotry of low expectations” (yes, I’m improbably quoting either George W. Bush, or Condoleezza Rice, I can’t quite figure out who said it first). Voters didn’t expect anything more than a transaction in Mwangi’s campaign – they expected to sell their vote and get hard cash for it. The film jarringly exposes this tragic electoral theatre, but Njeri Mwangi says she doesn’t regret that her husband ran for office, despite abundant heartbreak. In the conversation at Baraza Media Lab moderated by Sheba Hirst, Njeri said, “For me, we won before the elections. We ran a clean campaign, our race was funded by the people and we ignited a hope within the people, showing them that they can dream and hope.”

My other takeaway from the film was the amount of recognized and unrecognized labour that it takes to sustain the dream of a better Kenya, and that this labour is mostly borne by women. I’m wrestling with what this means to be a person of vision, convictions and dreams for a better country. How much of those dreams are underwritten by people doing invisible labour? How can we recognise this cost better, and what do we do once we see it? 

To quote my friend and sister Anne Moraa, women are erased, constantly: “Erasure confines the work women do into a box which has nothing more than ‘women’s work’. Women freedom fighters become unthinkable in a country where parliamentary debates to meet the constitutionally required two-thirds gender rule are presented as a periodic annoyance, rather than a necessity…Erasure reduces women to ‘political flower girls’ – the media actually uses this phrase – and we cannot fathom women as a fundamental part of revolutions.”

I’m so glad that Softie helped me see Njeri Mwangi, Khadija Mohammed and the army of Ukweli volunteers. I continue to mull on this, but in the meantime, here’s:

  • What We’re Reading: This week’s edition of weekly digital newspaper The Continent. I love the WhatsApp-friendly format, and this week’s issue is particularly special, featuring 27 formidable writers from 15 countries, writing in 10 different languages (including Kiswahili, Kinyarwanda, Lingala, Nigerian Pidgin and yes, English), with African writers interrogating the US election – as we know, it’s usually the other way around. 
  • What We’re Watching: The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. You’ll probably look this up, or watch the trailer, and say: oh no, not another chess drama. But seriously, this one is exquisite – so delicate in it’s pacing, so unexpectedly rich. Disclaimer: I’ve watched Queen of Katwe very many times.
  • What We’re Listening To: Made in Lagos, Wizkid’s fourth studio album. This one features Ella Mai, Burna Boy, H.E.R. and Damian Marley. Initially scheduled for release on 15th October, the album was delayed as a way to show solidarity with protesters calling out police brutality in Lagos, under the rallying call of #EndSARS. 

Yours in solidarity,

Christine Mungai

Curator | Baraza Media Lab

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