By Lorna Abuga.
When Egerton University student Jonathan Masongo won the Deutche Welle ‘Local Heroes’ media competition about two weeks ago, James Wakibia, was made a hero.
While awarding Masongo the main prize in the competition that had sought to recognize persons who do mundane but extra ordinary things in their communities, judges pointed out the skill in which Masongo’s story (see video here) was told as the one of the reasons why he won.
But deep beneath their decision, was a winning subject – Wakibia – an activist who uses photography and social media to push for social justice.
“I use photographs because they aid in telling out the untold stories of the people including social and environmental matters which affect them in their day to day life,” he told Kenya Monitor.
James Wakibia says that he began developing interest in photography at a tender age. When he was in Class Six, his father came home with a camera and with it he did his first photography project, only it ended up as a faux.
“I looked at the camera and I fell in love with it. Secretly, I took it and moved around the village taking the photographs of people only later to realize it did not have any film roll.”
With the determination to become a photographer, he started saving money so as to buy his own camera. And he did so by the time he was in Form Two. At Jomo Kenyatta High School, Nakuru, where he went for his O level, he soon became the school photographer taking photos of his school mates whenever an opportunity arose.
Having sat for exams in 2004 he went to Nairobi to look for a job. He worked in several places as a casual laborer and many a times he would leave his workplace at odd hours and consequently he would be harassed by the police in patrol on his way home. This he says is what motivated him to become an activist
“so as to highlight the plight of the common mwananchi.”
“Whenever I had free time I would take photographs of people protesting, in slums and around dump sites.”
In early 2011 he says he met Boniface Mwangi, a Nairobi based Photographer who is best known for his photography work during the post election violence of 2007/08. Soon they developed a friendship and Mwangi would mentor him and shape his career.
“He took time to nurture my passion for photography and as a result whenever there was event we would cover it together. This boosted my skills and passion for photography.”
Wakibia who just graduated from Egerton University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Media runs a twitter account @Streetnakuru on which he posts the issues of public interest.
“Most of the time I do documentary photography and post on the account and as a result some of the issues I raise have been addressed by the county government.”
One of those issues was the plight of Baby Jeremy, who had been detained at a Nakuru hospital as his parents could not clear his bill. Through his twitter account Wakibia started the discussion and soon the Baby was ‘rescued’.
Other projects in which he has been involved include road safety, environmental rights and highlighting the shortage of chairs at the Nakuru National library.
All these formed the content of the story that brought him the recognition by DW.
“I really appreciate the event organizers because they brought to limelight many unsung heroes who are serving Kenyans in different ways,”
says the young man who is an orphan and the fourth born in a family of eight.
Wakibia is looking forward to strategic partnerships to scale up his work so as to impact more in society and keep campaigning for social justice issues.