Future Nairobi and the media menace

Kichwateli

Post-apocalyptic fiction gets more and more fashionable as climate change alarms are plaguing major African cities, especially the coastal ones. In a time when the United Nations predicts climate hell in 2050 with floods, storms and heat waves, the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit has also taken very seriously the issue of climate change in the sub-Saharan region, particularly in terms of threats to agriculture, deforestation, sea level rise and food security.

Authors from across the continent, such as the Nigerian Nnedi Okorafor in her book Who Fears Death, project possible scenarios for devastated African societies looking for strategies for economic survival and ways to re-imagine themselves. Also close to science fiction, though not in terms of post-apocalyptic scenarios, the Nigerian designers behind Ikire Jones imagine a prosperous future for Nigeria’s urban spaces in Lagos 2018 A.D., where “the building of a new Center of the World has begun, much to the bewilderment of Western nations.”

In terms of sci-fi, Kenya and South Africa have produced noted creative outputs. As is the case with South African film District 9, which places the slums at the focus of the human fight against hostile aliens, in the Kenyan short film Kichwateli the slums become the perfect stage to explain the future as the director intended. But what if the greatest threat is not the depletion of the planet but misuse of the TV?

 

Kichwateli, which means ‘TV-head’ in kiswahili, is a short film directed by the self-taught animator and graphic designer Muchiri Njenga. It is at once an Afro-futuristic and an almost-apocalyptic film but it’s also completely rooted in contemporary times. The danger embodied by the director is not flooding or lack of food, even the drought caused by deforestation, but the loss of reality. The TV a poor Nairobian boy has for a head portrays the strong influence of the media in a generation of young people who seem to wander in a mediated experience of life.

The film features a moonscape with opaque colors and scenes evoking Melancholia from Lars Von Trier. With music from the Afro-futuristic Kenyans ‘Just A Band,’ its lighting is dim despite an incredibly large moon, as if the earth’s axis of rotation has changed and the universe is near to collapse.

The child is inserted into an after-dark and very contemporary Nairobi illuminated by cars, stoplights and the city center’s shops. The roaming boy looks up to the skyscrapers (a symbol of modernity in African cities), to the armed police, to people on the street, to street musicians, and ends up lying in the rubble and electronic scrap near a slum where he falls asleep and then merges with a TV.

The reverie acquires new shades and the TV-headed child becomes a stranger who perceives a mediated reality through a screen. Walking through the slum, the TV gives him commands. It can become a magnet to connect with other children or an anti-social weapon. He ends up being chased away by kids on rollerblades.

The film shows the (already existing) duality between two cities within an African city. The depressed and poorest slum of Kibera, and the developed and pompous center of Nairobi. A clean city versus a dirty city. A self-directed and a mediated image. A diurnal Nairobi and a nocturnal Nairobi. A screen that is a mirror and reflects the self and its otherness. A duality that doesn’t travel beyond the present but expresses the dangers and anti-heroism of today. And above all dualities, a duality between images generated by the very processes of perception and the imposed intentional external perception.

The question remains: will people take seriously the misuse and abuse of the TV and the accompanying “loss of reality” along with the threat of climate change?

Gemma Solés i Coll holds an M.A. in Social Science of Development South of the Sahara (URV) and graduated in Philosophy (UB). She specializes in artistic and cultural trends and urban dynamics in Africa. She serves as chief editor for the music and performing arts section of Spanish online magazine WIRIKO, of which she is the founder.

 

 

 

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