For years, Kenyans whispered about the Nyayo House torture chambers, hidden in the basement of the 26-story building in Nairobi’s bustling city center. Now Kenyans will get to see what transpired in a short film highlighting the occurrences.
The movie 1988 premiered at an invite-only event on Saturday evening at Metta, an entrepreneurs’ club, located along Riverside Drive in Nairobi.
1988 is the story of ordinary Kenyans who dared to stand up to the autocratic regime of the 198os infamous for dealing ruthlessly with any form of dissidence.
The film is a stark reminder of what can go horribly wrong when a society forgets its humanity and turns on itself.
Starring Helena Waithera, Mike Njeru, Raymond Ofula and Qwachezz Kwach, 1988 is a simulation of the late 80’s Kenyan society, that was too often characterized by civil rights infractions against free speech that were often were associated with violent torture at the infamous Nyayo House Chambers.
Written by Charles Chanchori and directed by Robert Asimba, 1988 is the story of Khoti Babu, a 21-year-old law student at the University of Nairobi, who gets on the wrong the side of the law for bad-mouthing of the government.
Khoti is subjected to brutal treatment and blackmailed into turning in his Marxist professors at his university, in exchange for immunity and a secure government job.
Speaking to Nairobi News, Mr Asimba said the film was meant to have been released last year but the plans were held back because of the political climate in the country at the time.
“It is a political journey to some extent. We are showcasing a different shade of what happened three decades ago,” he said.
He added that with the film they hoped to set a precedent for future historical adaptations of a genre that can rightly be termed as unpopular.
“1988 is a modern-day adaptation, illustrating the blurred lines between dictatorship and democracy in modern African countries,” he said.
Mike Njeru, who plays Khoti, described his role as a unique experience which has made him appreciate the freedom he enjoys today as a Kenyan.
“While in there (the torture chambers), all you had was just you and your God. I had to switch my mind and try to feel the experience,” he said during an interview with Nairobi News.
The writer of the film, Chanchori, echoed Njeru sentiment.
“As you enjoy your freedom today, remember that 30 years ago, people were being tortured and murdered at Nyayo House, for it. Men and women of courage, who dared to speak against the evils of the (Daniel arap) Moi government.”
Asimba said the film will be released online so that as many people as possible can watch in order to shade some light on Kenya’s dark and not so memorable past.