Africa

Kenya's hit web series where viewers vote for vigilante justice

A scene from the popular Kenyan web series Tuko Macho Image copyright The Nest Collective
Image caption Tuko Macho, a web series where justice is determined by viewers, is a huge hit in Kenya

The alleged carjacker is strapped to a chair as the video stream goes live and a distorted voice is heard describing his crimes.

Footage is then shown of an attack before the words "Guilty or Not Guilty? You Decide…" flash up on screen alongside a website address.

The verdict is overwhelmingly guilty and the man is killed by lethal injection while the camera is running.

This vigilante justice is handed out by a gang called Tuko Macho, which is Swahili for "we are watching".

It is also the name of a hugely successful fictional web series in Kenya which, with the help of social media, has attracted tens of thousands of viewers and been nominated for an award at the Toronto Film Festival.

"I really wondered what a Kenyan superhero would look like, especially a purposeful one like Batman," says Jim Chuchu, the director of Tuko Macho.

"I feel like Nairobi is such a Gotham City sometimes ‒ we have our own version of all these super-villains. They don't wear costumes but they are equally crazy and get away with much worse."

Real-life parallels

The show became an instant hit.

As the story unfolds and more criminals are kidnapped by the gang, more fictional votes are cast ‒ the creators even involve the audience by asking them to cast votes in real life.

Image copyright The Nest Collective
Image caption Cases are investigated in the series, evidence is presented and the audience casts its vote

The second case featured a hit-and-run involving a preacher ‒ a woman accused of killing someone in her car and leaving the scene.

Again it was put to the vote in the TV show, and again the verdict was guilty.

Mr Chuchu is aware of the parallels between his series and life in Kenya.

"There are so many people who are known to be in the drugs business and have been for years, but nothing ever happens," he says.

"There are people who have murdered, there are people who have stolen billions of shillings and they are just walking around the streets or running for office.

"You get the idea that court, and police and jail is some kind of performance and it only plays out on people of a certain social status ‒ if you're rich enough, if you're powerful enough all these rules don't apply to you."

Lawyer's death

For decades in Kenya there have been extra-judicial killings by police, but these appear to have increased under the umbrella of counter-terrorism.

"Many times the response of the public to these kinds of extra-judicial killings has been congratulatory," says John-Allan Namu, an investigative journalist with Africa Uncensored.

His investigation into attacks on street traders was used as one of the cases in Tuko Macho.

"It's something that has appealed to the Kenyan populace for sometime even though it is completely abhorrent and completely wrong, so that's why I think there's something to draw from in Tuko Macho."

But the problem of impunity, which emerges with a large amount of extra-judicial killings, has come to the fore recently with the death of human rights lawyer Willie Kimani.

He was killed along with a taxi driver and his client, who was in the process of making a complaint to the courts over police brutality.

Image copyright The Nest Collective
Image caption Jim Chuchu, director of Tuko Macho, recognises the parallels between his series and Kenyan life

Four officers have been charged with murder.

"When Willie Kimani died it hit home, for once, with a segment of the population that never really was affected by extra-judicial killings: middle class, professionals, people who really wouldn't have a reason to be a target of the police," says John-Allan Namu.

"I've seen a bit more reflection about why the police are using these means, and therefore whenever something like this happens there's more attention on it and we start to discuss it more openly."

The web-series Tuko Macho explores some of the reasons why the main protagonist decides to take vigilante action ‒ a sense of failure within the judicial system.

"People need to ask themselves would they trust the courts to deliver justice for them and if not why?" asks assistant director George Gachara.

"In the programme we are very clear about the failures of vigilantism ‒ it's a conversation."

He is also a member of The Nest, an arts collective in Nairobi, which produced the show.

"Among the questions in our heads was how does art and creative work start speaking to society, citizenship and our own identity within Nairobi, Kenya and Africa?"

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