Brian Emmanuel

Brian Emmanuel

He had his life figured out. He was going to be a star. A football star! He used to play football right from school, and later as a way to pass time in between schools. He fell and hurt his leg and that was the end of what would have been life in the big leagues.

He is an Arsenal fan. Can we please have a moment of silence? I tried not to laugh because Arsenal fans take it personally when you laugh at them. So I did not push it.

I mumbled something like they would have been doing much better if you didn’t get hurt.

He ignored me. I assumed I had touched the raw nerve marked Arsenal. I asked him about his mum, there’s a look mama’s boy have. He wore it like a badge of honor. Like clockwork I opened Pandora’s box.

His mum used to work at state house. Have you met anybody who works at statehouse? Forget the high profile folks we all want to pretend we know…just a casual laborer. It was a first for me and I was fascinated. I had so many questions.

What does it really look like?

Is it all that?

Is it really that big?

Did you ever go in and meet the then president?

Okay, maybe I had better questions, but you know trying to keep it civil here.

The Statehouse then, was that house on the hill. Unattainable – not as accessible as today, these days I feel like I can tell you how that place looks yet I have never been in there.

His mum was the resident painter. Yes, State house has a resident painter. Or had. I am not sure what happens there anymore. The walls there must need a lot of work, you know. She used to work there during the Moi days – the Nyayo Era.  She would leave her home in Kibera and walk to State house to paint. I found that pretty cool…  The fierce feminist in me has her fists up in the air.

She left 15 years age. Has it been that long? I was born during the Moi days. See how I put that in there. And no, I am not that young. I’ll have you know that people born then are in their thirties’. I am a proud partaker of the Maziwa ya Nyayo  and yes I queued on the side of the road waiting for him to pass and wave from his sun roof. Do presidential cars still have sunroofs? Good times those were.I loved the green old school Mercedes, it was my favorite. And I still think he had personified style and class. His shoes…. Oh his shoes….

But, they didn’t pay her dues they still owe her money I have no idea what the deal is with gova – our slung for government – and not paying people.  If anybody from that time and age still works at the house on the hill. Heck, dear Mr. President sir, if you or your people ever read this, Please pay Mama Brian. She tried to push for payment to no avail.  Her husband was also a civil servant an office messenger.  She quit to be a housewife and do casual jobs.

He is the last born, his parents especially his mum spoilt him, He got to go to the coolest school then, interact with kids from what he calls “ a better background” than he did. I ask him if he felt pressure. He says they had pressure to keep up with him, because he made them feel like coming from Kibera was way cooler than where they came from.

Brian Emmanuel Inganga, he is those guys who introduces himself as “My names are”. He is loud, a cover up for how shy he actually is. His hair has that rough ‘msanii’ vibe going on. You may be tempted to want to run a comb through it though. He is a photographer – a good one – he covers political beats. It has been a journey to get there; one he says would have ended differently if he did not wish more for himself.

He was brought up in Kibera. His description of their house is a 10*10, really small by any standards. “It was a happy home, because my parents were friends. My sister moved out when she got pregnant, she was in high school and had to drop out, my brother was a tout so, he moved out earlier on. We stayed home, my eldest brother and I, but I had to move out at 16 when my sister came back home.

He moved in with his friend in Kibera, and lived with him for a few years then got out on his own.  600 bob at hand he was ready to do this. He started doing casual jobs. He would walk to industrial area, pack goods onto trucks for an oil refinery company and walk back home in the evening. Those were tough days, days when he would sleep hungry, or his only meal would be maize cobs and boiled sugar for dinner.

In the midst of all these, he lost his two siblings in a span of two years. He talks about them while trying to put on a brave face, but the fact that the circumstances surrounding both deaths remain a mystery still bothers him. His brother was his best friend and the hustle that he put to everything he did made Brian want to work harder.

He became a father for the first time at 20; by then he had moved back to his parents’ house.


The chaos surrounding him was overwhelming. Drugs, sex, diseases! Every corner he turned, his friends, people he had looked up to growing up, were knee deep in crime, causing havoc and getting arrested. It was bad, but he says the voice in his head, his mums voice, and his desire to be and do better kept him sane.

The 2007/2008 post-election violence happened and in the midst of that darkness, Brian’s light at the end of the tunnel was finally shinning. It was through the post election violence that he discovered his passion for photography.

He was lurking in the streets as his peers engaged the police in running battles. Chaos had hit the streets of Kibera. It is one of the biggest slums in East Africa. It’s diversity in population makes it a hot bed for politics.

The results had just been announced all hell broke loose, we all know the story. Journalists from all over the world had camped there but as fate who’d have it, Brian met Boniface Mwangi (Bonnie) who was then a local journalist and was looking for a local to be his fixer.  He says the moment he met Boniface, his life changed.

They were able to work together through that trying period. He says Bonnie’s passion made him desire to be as good as he was.  He saw some of his friends get shot at and die. They were also stopped and mugged by young men some of whom he knew, but at that point, it didn’t matter. They knew Brian, but mugged him and the journalist with him.

They had some terrifying experiences. The one that stood out is this young girl, who had been sent to the shop and in the recklessness, she ended up dead. Shot right at her parents’ doorstep.  This and other experiences got him more determined to make a difference and the only way he knew how, at the moment, was through photography.

He is a self-taught photographer. He shadowed Boniface long after the post election violence. He learnt and perfected the craft, now he is a successful photographer. He has managed to beat the odds and become great. Good on him.

He tells me he recently met one of his friends. One of those “friends “from  ‘better backgrounds’, one who had fallen through the cracks.  A shell of himself, he had gotten into hardcore drugs and robbery with violence.  He was shocked because that was the last person he expected to be at that point.

“His parents were filthy rich. He would have gotten anything he wanted but, here he was not able to look at me in the eye. High as a kite, wishing me away because he couldn’t believe we had met under those circumstances.”

Brian has never moved from Kibera, he just lives in a better neighborhood. His heart, his passion for the youth in Kibera is still there. He opened a community-based organization  – CHANGE MTAANI where young people come together and undertake various projects to improve their livelihood. He has been doing it since 2011.

I ask him who his role model is and I would have sworn he would go with Boniface because he speaks very highly of him. Rightfully so. But, he goes with his Mum. Why I ask? Because she beat the odds, her background was nothing short of horrible she used to brew changaa of all her siblings she made a better life for herself and he hopes he could be as bold and determined as she was and make sure his children he has 3 now, have the best life they can have.

I told you, These mama’s boys have a look.

Wanjiru Kimuya

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.