Kenya: Peace Film Hits Screens As Tensions Rise Ahead of Election
In Nairobi Mercy Wanjiru pauses to collect her thoughts. The 29-year-old Kenyan actress, who stars in a new film to promote peace ahead of the 4 March presidential vote, has been asked what her hopes are for election day.
"I want people to vote wisely, and then to maintain peace," she says. "I don't want people to be incited by politicians. I don't want people to talk bad about other people because they are from other tribes … At the end of it all, we are Kenyans. Elections come once in five years. Life has to go on and … there is no way to go on if we are fighting each other." MDG
Wanjiru, who was born in Nairobi's Korogocho slum, stars in Ni Sisi (It Is Us), a film produced by the Kenyan NGO Safe (Sponsored Arts For Education), which uses street theatre and film to promote social change.
She plays Nene, a religious woman who is very protective of her son, Jabali, the main character. But Nene is used by a politician to spread rumours and hate, and together they almost destroy the village community.
The film is based on a street theatre production that Safe actors, including Wanjiru, have been performing across the country for around two years, hoping to prevent a repeat of the violence that tore through Kenya after the 2007 election.
The film opens with tableaux from across Kenya – a caravan of camels, an ice-cream vendor in a slum, zebras in a safari park, the country's star distance runners – set to the sound of the national anthem. Then come images of descent into near-anarchy – men with machetes, houses burning, police shooting, flip-flops abandoned on a chaotic street.
The film expertly blends scenes from the street theatre productions into the story of Jabali, his cousin Roxana and the scheming politician Mzito.
"After 2008, we really wanted to do something because so many of our actors and staff were caught up in the violence," says Nick Reding, Safe's executive director and a British actor whose credits include The Constant Gardener and Blood Diamond.
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