Horror and hope in a Nairobi slum

The film project that shows Kenya’s Mathare slum through the eyes of its residents.

africa uncovered

The volunteer project is run from a room in Nairobi’s Mathare slum and the films are shown to the slum’s residents in public screenings

Amid the post-election violence that shook Kenya at the beginning of this year, a group of aspiring young journalists from Nairobi’s Mathare slum picked up their cameras instead of machetes and recorded the events around them.

The ethnically-mixed team of volunteers behind Slum TV wanted to record not only the horror they witnessed but also the hope that emerged.

Al Jazeera’s Africa Uncovered series met with the young journalists as they prepared for a public screening of one of their films.

When Mwai Kibaki, Kenya’s incumbent president, declared victory in the December 27 presidential poll, the opposition Orange Democratic Movement led by Raila Odinga, which had won the most seats in the parliamentary election, alleged that the poll had been rigged.

The dispute between Kibaki, who is from Kenya’s Kikuyu tribe, and Odinga, who is a member of the Luo tribe, soon split Kenyan society along tribal lines and riots broke out across the country.

About 1,200 people were killed and more than 300,000 made homeless.

‘Through my eyes’

The Mathare slum in Nairobi, which is home to almost 500,000 people from different tribes, bore some of the worst of the violence as residents took up arms against each other.

Almost 500,000 people are crammed into Nairobi’s Mathare slum

In the midst of this, Slum TV set about recording the violence as it unfolded, aiming to show life in Kenya’s slums through the eyes of those who live there.

Cameraman Julius says: “I started photography to show the people who are not living in the slum what it is through my eyes so they can see what is going on here.”

Julius was Slum TV’s first cameraman and he is now training the next generation of aspiring young journalists from Mathare.

Many of the volunteers witnessed or experienced the violence first-hand.

“I saw peoples head cut down, I saw people killed, I saw women crying when their children were thrown into sewage to die there and I fail to understand what crime a child has committed towards the democracy of this country,” says Benson, a Slum TV journalist.

Benson is determined to use his films to bring his community closer together.

It is a community where 60 per cent of the population is under the age of 30 and where the pressure on young men to join the fighting had been intense. Residents estimate that one in every three men took up arms.


“I was walking around the slum [at] 6 in the morning. I was going to do my work and taking photographs as usual. Suddenly, I saw something in black in a shovel. When checking I found it is a hand,” Julius said.

“A lady came from the top of the mountain screaming and came collecting the hand. That hand had a watch on and I was asking myself the watch is still [ticking] but the hand is dead.

Eric says the government causes the chaos but it is people like him that suffer because of it

“I came to realise that is my friend’s hand from the watch.”

His friend Eric had been unarmed when he was confronted.

“There were 17 of them raping a woman. I threw stones at them to make them stop but I didn’t see three of them hiding in a corner.

“They went for my head with a machete. I put my arm out to protect my head and they chopped it off,” Eric said.

He used to make a little money as a DJ but is now unable to help support his mother.

“I’ve become a beggar and my friends chip in with rent, so life has changed a lot. I’ve become like a child,” he says.

Eric’s experience has left him disillusioned with both politics and tribalism and like the team at Slum TV he wants to spread a message of reconciliation.

“The Kibaki-Raila war was senseless,” he says.

“I can’t let my friends see fighting as [something] fun, because I have experienced the pain. I have left everything to God. Even when I was in the hospital, I was able to forgive them.”

Competing for resources

To the outside world, Kenya’s post-election violence appeared to explode without warning. But many believe the signs of impending violence were always there.

As a result of rapid urbanisation, over half of the Kenyan population attempts to live on just five per cent of the land in unplanned settlements like Mathare.

This pits 42 tribes grouped into factions into daily competition for the same basic resources.

Tribal leaders saw the elections as an opportunity to gain the political upper hand and control of resources.

Mathare was split down the middle as people retreated into tribal enclaves.

Building a future

In addition to providing a message of hope to those who view their films, either on the internet or in public viewings in the slum, Slum TV has helped its team of volunteers to remain positive and focus on building a future for themselves and for Mathare.

Esther is fulfilling her father’s dream for her by becoming a journalist

Being part of Slum TV means everything to Cosmas who grew up in a children’s home and was once part of a gang.

“Maybe if I could not have joined Slum TV I could be robbing people and [getting] killed,” he said.

For Esther, Slum TV is a chance to fulfill her dreams.

“I have seen many people from the slums not end up fulfilling their dreams, their dreams being shattered because they do not have the money or means to attain [them].

“I keep telling myself I do not want to be like my neighbours; [I] do not want to be like my friends, I have to make it in life.”

Praying for a Samaritan

Bishop Margaret Wanjiru is Mathare’s new MP and the woman many residents hope will improve their plight.

Slum TV aims to give hope to the residents of some of Kenya’s worst slums

The televangelist says she is out to write a success story in Mathare and attributes the violence there to frustration rather than tribalism.

“Our young men and women are saying it has been too long, we are being suppressed … we have grown up in poverty and we were told once we mature we will find our way to jobs, will have a better life. Hope that was so high was crushed.”

Slum TV is trying to rebuild that hope and the trust between Mathare’s tribes by showing the stories of those who lost most in the violence.

During the riots Babu’s mother disappeared. At just 14 he now has to fend for himself and his younger sister.

“I feel bad as I lost my mother. We used to depend on her. I dropped out of school. If she was around I would be back in school but I can’t. I am praying that a good Samaritan will help me,” Babu says.

“I have no hatred towards any tribe. I leave everything to God.”

Click here for more on Africa Uncovered: Kenya’s Slum TV and to watch the show.

Source: Al Jazeera