Just Do It – My Story as a Filmmaker in the Slums of Nairobi

I saw reporters did not get things about Mathare right. They misrepresent it. So I decided to become a filmmaker to correct this weakness and follow my passion.
Kenya, Eastern Africa

Story by Elijah Kanye. Edited by Joost Backer
Published on December 19, 2020. Reading time: 4 minutes

This story is also available in ar cn de es fr it kr tr

When I was running against the crowds towards the Nairobi hotel where the attack happened, I was not scared.[1] We were the first reporters on the scene: me, another cameraman, and the journalist. First, we could not tell if it was a terrorist attack or a robbery. We only saw people running away from the hotel, while we were running towards it. But when we saw two people that were shot, lying on the ground, we realized it was a terrorist attack. The hotel was a big space and we needed at least to be covered by a wall behind you, to protect us from shooters. Looking back at the footage I filmed, I realized this situation had been very dangerous, and probably not such a good idea. We didn’t have any protective gear. I thanked God that we got out safely. Other people were just filming this from far. I went to the place and filmed the true story.

When I was young, I wanted to become a professional football player. Like many of my friends in Mathare[2], I wanted to play for our local clubs like Mathare United or Real Mathare. Or even better, European clubs like Manchester United or Real Madrid. There was only one real football pitch in the neighborhood, the Mathare Depot Field. My friends and I owned the pitch; for years we were the best players. For some reason, people didn’t like us for it. I loved it, and wanted to have a life like on the Coca-Cola billboards in town: “Eat football. Sleep football. Drink Coca-Cola.” However, things turned out differently and I needed to find another purpose in life.

I saw reporters did not get things about Mathare right. For example, when a fight happens somewhere down in the slum, ‘outsiders’ think it’s too dangerous to go down there and find out the reasons behind the fight. They misrepresent it. So, 13 years ago, I decided to become a filmmaker to correct this weakness. Because I’m from Mathare, I can go to those places and film exactly what happens. Since I played football when I was young, people know me and trust me. Some know me as ‘Elijah the football player’ and others as ‘Elijah the filmmaker’.

Being a filmmaker is my passion: I am personally motivated to share stories from my society, which is Mathare society. I want to get the true story out. Usually, I present positive stories, because too much negativity can get to your head. However, I always aim to be factual and honest to my audience, because they depend on me as a reporter, as a filmmaker. One example is that I recently covered serious topics such as the police violence related COVID-19 here in the slums. With my documentary, I shared the situation in Mathare on the Dutch NOS news, the BBC, and other channels.[3]

My dream is to one day make a documentary of my own story/life. I hope to motivate young people from the slums and make them believe that they can do whatever they want to do. To live a free life, true to themselves. They just need to do it.


[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-africa-47202313 

[2] Mathare is a collection of slums in Nairobi, Kenya. Approximately 500,000 people live there.

[3] Check out the Dutch NOS item here: https://nos.nl/video/2346202-elijah-filmt-het-politiegeweld-in-zijn-sloppenwijk.html, and the BBC item here: https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-africa-53025934 

[4] Elijah already supports people from the slums with his youth initiative Sauti. Young people are mentored to get hands-on experience with filming, arts, and other skills. To become what they want to become. Check out Sauti: https://www.facebook.com/watch/TVSauti/ or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFlrToASX3c&t=5s&ab_channel=SautiTv

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Elijah Kanye

Elijah Kanye

My name is Elijah Kanyi, a Filmmaker/Producer and Director based in Nairobi, Kenya. Born and bred in Mathare slum, one of the oldest slums in East Africa. I have witnessed so much injustice over the years, which is what motivated me to become a Filmmaker. The career path I chose has given me an opportunity to tell the stories of my people, ranging from corruption, and inequality in health and education, resource distribution, police brutality & extrajudicial killings. Early in my life, I was determined to protect and project a voice for the people without a voice, and that's wat I do as a filmmaker. 

Topic: Liberation

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