The last Wednesday of every month, the Kenya National Museum has always had a screening to enlighten both locals and foreigners about Kenya through films. Of all the films I have watched, January through May, one film stands out- Monica Wangu Wamwere: The Unbroken Spirit.
This film directed by Jane Murago Munene, is a dedication to one Kenyan woman who deserves accolades, at home and abroad. The film has won First Prize, Best Documentary at the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO). The film illustrates the indefatigable efforts of Monica Wangu Wamwere, mother of human rights activist and politician Koigi Wa Wamwere, who was detained as a political prisoner during Daniel Toroitich arap Moi’s rule.
The Unbroken Spirit explores the search for justice by Koigi Wamwere’s mother for her three sons and forty-nine other detainees locked up during the clamour for multiparty democracy in Kenya. It is a story of courage, determination and power for the powerless. Above all, it is the story of a mother’s unconditional love.
Many of us know Koigi Wamwere as a Kenyan politician who has stood strong to defend the interest of Kenyans and to ensure that by all means, Kenyans get the freedom and change that they so yearn for. The greatest part of this struggle and which led to his detention was the clamour for the repeal of section 2A of the constitution in the early 1990’s to allow for multi-party politics.
Until I watched the film I didn’t know much concerning the reality that lay beyond the struggle. Through it, I came face to face with the pain and suffering that the people in the struggle and their families went through every day. Monica and other mothers had to camp at Uhuru Park for almost a year together with other women in demand for the release of her sons and other detainees. In the film, many years later, Monica recalls this torturous ordeal with surprising laughter.
Throughout the film Mama Koigi’s strength and determination is vividly exhibited. She says it is this shear determination that made her start a lobby group after severally witnessing her sons arrest and detention. She recalls that it was a long and lonely journey especially when many wrote her off and thought she was fighting a losing battle. However, nothing would distract her from her goal, which was to eventually see her sons released.
Koigi Wamwere who was present during the screening of the film says he does not regret any of the hurdles he went through. “This was not a matter of courage, it was a necessity. Yes, I suffered at Nyayo House and I was unjustly detained without trial,” he said.
“Kenya is bigger than individual politicians,” said Koigi Wamwere after the screening as he explained his motivation to go through this painful torture, tribulation, and even depression in fighting for Kenyans’ rights.
“There has been a lot of focus on parliament and the statehouse and that many Kenyans only want to maintain the status quo. In our own little ways, we have to critique the government and keep fighting. We cannot give up. We have come a long way but if we are not careful, everything we have, we are bound to lose it overnight,” he warned.
Koigi wa Wamwere recalls that after all the torture he and his brothers finally went into exile in Norway and Sweden. (He refers to Norway as a little Heaven on Earth). His mother hoped this would give her some relief. However Kenyan government officials still followed her time and again, and tried to persuade her to convince Koigi Wa Mwere to come back to Kenya, at some point offering her land and houses for her other sons. She however questioned Koigi wa Wamwere’s part in all this and her strong will egged her on. She never relented.
Looking at the strength of Monica Wangu Wamwere in the film, I also see that of other African mothers who are vital pillars in their families and who relentlessly stand up to be counted in times of controversy and adversity. While the government of Kenya continues to honour heroes and heroines, Monica Wangu Wamwere is one woman who deserves respect, admiration and official tribute.
For many Kenyans who have no clue concerning the struggle and torture that some of these political prisoners went through, Monica Wangu Wamwere: The Unbroken Spirit, is a must see.