'Softie' Encourages Four of Kenya’s Most Deprived Communities to Get Involved

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Under Our Skin International Film Festival On Human Rights
Frederikke Kreutzberg & Beatrice Waruinge
November 2, 2023

Most wealthy Kenyans live in Nairobi, but the majority of Nairobians are of average or low income, thus live in the outskirts. Approximately half of the population have been estimated to live in the surrounding slums, which cover just 5% of the city area. The growth of these areas is a result of urbanisation, poor town planning, lack of good governance and proper leadership, and lack of empowerment.

Under Our Skin International Film Festival on Human Rights (UOS) aims to entertain, inform, and inspire through film. In October, the organisation brought our film Softie to a total of 272 attendees, ranging from 14 to 51-years old, in Mathare and Kajiado counties to educate and motivate participants to question, debate, and reflect on the state of human rights in Kenya and globally.

Three out of four of the screenings took place in Mathare, the second largest urban slum in Kenya. Mathare is an over-populated agglomeration of 13 slum villages. The unplanned nature of the structures and lack of overall planning have created significant challenges for the community. The area’s physical infrastructure causes a lack of basic sanitation facilities, clean water, decent housing, and security, with the government not providing even the most basic services.

Mathare also has a turbulent socio-political climate, with gangs destroying and burning more than 100 homes following the controversial presidential elections in 2007, and continuing to do so during following elections. Without an education, children in Mathare face a future of crime, prostitution, drug abuse, and disease.

Softie follows political activist Boniface ‘Softie’ Mwangi and his family on his seven-year journey of running for a political seat in his childhood neighbourhood, where he quickly learns that conducting a clean campaign against corrupt opponents is becoming increasingly difficult.

After the film, moderator Stoneface Bombaa said, “the best way to change the narrative of bad governance is through the use of soft power, with one tool being an understanding of the constitution." Another moderator, Barrack Oginga, emphasised:

“This is my call to us, young people, let’s engage in politics with reason. We have the power to change our situation. Let’s not allow ourselves to be corrupted by our leaders through the handouts presented to us.”

The Impact

The screening of Softie had a valuable impact on the attendees by providing awareness amongst the youth regarding the principles of good governance and the importance of electing leaders with integrity and respect for their people. The film also created conversations surrounding self-liberation, empowerment, positivity, and hope, encouraging the youth to take initiative and control over their own lives.

The narrative of hope and possibilities serves as a powerful antidote to despair and resignation. It instilled the belief that change is attainable, even in the face of adversity.

The interactive experience allowed participants to provide feedback on what the film taught them, the challenges they face in their areas as portrayed in the film, and the solutions they have at their disposal to bring about necessary changes.

One attendee, Victor, said

“In Mathare... Firstly, poverty, we are born in poverty, we’ve been brought up in poor areas, and that poor environment has affected us. We’ve got another challenge known as crime. Most of our youth, most of our people are engaged in criminal activities and into drugs."

Bunge Mtaani

The screenings were a part of a larger Bunge Mtaani campaign conducted by UOS across multiple locations in Nairobi County. “Bunge Mtaani”, loosely translating to the “People’s Parliament,” plays a vital role in the broader campaign as UOS prepare for their annual event in November 2023. With governance being a central theme, the team is actively immersing itself and hosting a series of screenings in local video dens to capture the candid voices of the population.

The objectives of Bunge Mtaani are manifold: seeking to facilitate conversation surrounding governance by simplifying concepts, making them more accessible and digestible; attempts to promote fair and democratic processes; as well as nurturing youth and female leadership, and empowering the next generation. Bunge Mtaani encourages participants to acknowledge problems faced by their communities, motivating them to hold government officials accountable.

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