Nairobby and Country Queen are two notable Kenyan films running on Netflix.
Nairobby follows the lives of six students on the run after stealing money from the dean.
To start us off, the origin of the name Nairobby. Initially, the film was meant to be called Nairoberry, but copyright issues emerged, and the title was changed to Nairobby. In contrast, the music title used is Nairobbery, coined from Nairobi and robbery. The intention is to highlight the fact that robbing, both petty and cold-blooded, is rampant in Nairobi. While Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, is generally considered a safe place to reside and work, it is also not immune to the everyday ills experienced in other cities worldwide.
In Country Queen, Mrs. Sibala runs a mining company called Eco Rock. One of its mines is in Tsilanga, a local village. Kids as young as eight are put to work in the mines, digging without proper gear, no helmets, masks, or other P.P.E while still being underpaid. Time and time again, stories of kids working in mines and tea farms have rocked the news. Although, with time, these stories have been swept under the rug because money, power, and influence can silence even a judiciary known to be independent.
Here are some themes that these two movies explore.
Mrs Sibala, a widow, married her dead husband’s driver. Unknown to her, the driver is dating Akisa on the side, while Akisa has feelings for her ex-boyfriend.
In Nairobby, infidelity is also addressed in the character of Mswahili. Rumour says Mswahili is having an affair with the dean. When her boyfriend finds out and breaks it off with her, minutes later, she has a steamy affair with one of the gang members. Later in the film, she reveals someone was blackmailing her with a leaked sex tape of her and someone else. What better way to describe this than in the famous words of Bensoul in his song Nairobi, featuring Sautisol and Nvirii, where they say, “Nairobi, yule anakupea, pia ananipea, akikuletea, ananiletea, wanakula fare, sote tunashare, ogopa sana…” It roughly translates to, “Nairobi is one big bedroom, and people share partners.”
Akisa’s family has deep-seated issues threatening to shake the very foundation of the family unit. And in a bid to bury her father, so much is uncovered -secrecy, divided family ties and plots evil enough- to label Akisa a witch.
“Kikulacho ki nguoni mwako.” is a Swahili adage meaning, “More often than not, your afflictions are caused by a person or something close to you.” Akisa has returned to the village and left her business in the hands of her assistant and close confidant. In her absence, Akisa’s friend sabotages her business and stabs her back while smiling at her during their routine calls. She returns, and her business is on the verge of collapsing—the revelation of whoever is responsible shakes her to the core.
Akisa’s mother, a widow, is left as the only custodian of her husband’s land. Mwalimu’s brothers, like hawks, pounce even before his burial. They want to sell the land, and Eco rock wants the land. Later, after seeing the land’s potential, someone close to Akisa also declares his interest in the land. Naive Akisa and her mother, faced with all the pressure, finally budge and agree, against all judgement, to sell the land notwithstanding the price.
This topic might be dear to the heart of so many of us because we have had to watch close family members waste away from drug and substance abuse. They moved from vibrant, happy individuals to only a shell of their former selves within a short period. Personalized care and rehabilitation, often expensive, is not an option and what remains is to watch them self-destruct.
Choices and Betrayal
Life often puts us between a rock and a hard place when faced with choices that are not always about choosing between the good and the bad. The line is blurred when we have to choose between two bad options. This is portrayed when a young journalist in Country Queen faces the challenge of choosing between betraying a good man for an appointment to a fertility clinic or saving the good man and losing his one and probably only chance to an expensive check-up.
In Nairobby, the students are on a self-imposed lockdown at a dilapidated house faced with a case of stolen thirty-seven million Kenya shillings which turned out fake. The police are looking for them, and they grow misunderstandings and trust issues. Choices are inevitable, and some get betrayed in a bid to self-preserve.
Gayism in Kenya is unconstitutional and against the law, and so is same-sex marriage. This is why, with a gun to her head, Mswahili said, “No amount of bullets will make me reveal who I was within the leaked sex tape.” She is aware of the consequences, and choosing death by bullets shows the underlying fear of being discovered to be gay. “Kenya is a Christian country.” is a phrase used to condemn gays. Still, the violence against openly gay and lesbian people is enough to change the phrase to “Kenya is a homophobic country.” Kenya has recorded cases of brutal murder against gay people. Kawira was murdered in 2020. Ayuma in 2021. Sheila Lumumba in 2022.