Elijah Kanyi

Interviewed by Kat Archer and Sarah Baker, BA Journalism Falmouth University


Elijah Kanyi
Photo: Brian Inganga

When COVID-19 hit Kenya earlier this year, the government announced a nationwide curfew. In Mathare, a slum district of the capital Nairobi, police used force to make residents observe the curfew and journalist Elijah Kanyi was there to record the crackdown as it happened.

Kanyi’s film The Bullet and the Virus documents the brutality of Kenyan police enforcing the overnight lockdown in Mathare. Made for BBC’s African Eye strand, the documentary was seen widely in Kenya and sparked criticism of the police operation. 

“I have always used films to press the government and the general public to change their way of doing things – to the right way,” said Kanyi. “When I tell these stories, I sometimes impact change and get people thinking about ways of correcting and fixing the system around them.” 

The Bullet and the Virus has won Kanyi a place as finalist in this year’s Rory Peck Trust News Features Award category. His film tracks the ravages of COVID-19 in Mathare – it’s the story of how this tight-knit community tackled the pandemic, told by someone they trusted because he too grew up there. The voices he recorded are authentic because people in Mathare have been telling Kanyi their stories for years.

He once dreamed of becoming a professional football player, but turned to reporting as a way of correcting the general view of Mathare he saw being fuelled by mainstream news stories. Now a freelance journalist, Kanyi has spent the last 13 years telling the stories of this Kenyan community through his own online media outlet Sauti TV.   

Since the curfew has been lifted, police brutality has reduced but still remains an issue – and one Kanyi is on-hand to document should Mathare again become the focus of the story in Kenya.