Challenging Perceived Insignificance of Slums-The Mukuru Festival

By Shadrack Mbaka and Peris Saleh



Kenya, just like any other sub-Saharan African country takes time out to celebrate a number of national, city and regional festivals annually, most of which are either connected to; religion, historical events or African arts, Music, food and dance. Such celebrations often revolve around family, community and to foster unity.

On a recent visit to Reuben Youth foundation (RYF), a community-based organization founded by the youth of Mukuru informal settlement. The group is composed of youths from the wider Mukuru slums who came together to empower one another to be able to reduce the rate of crime, drug abuse, early girl child pregnancy and to promote peaceful coexistence amongst community members.

In the course of the visit, my co-writer Peris Saleh, she hails from Mukuru Slums and is also a member of RYF suddenly pops up the most significant but rarely answered question…Can anything good come out of the slum, for instance Mukuru?

Peris Saleh, Mukuru

Peris Saleh, Mukuru

Mukuru Festival Poster

Mukuru Festival Poster

So many festivals are held annually throughout the country – on average 200 of them – with some of the most prestigious being the East African Arts Festival, Koroga festival, Laugh Kids Festival, Mombasa carnival and International Camel derby among others. These annual and bi-annual events often garner local media attention. They are like the ‘Mashemeji derby’, a revered football match pitting local premier league winners Gor Mahia and their arch rivals, AFC Leopards popularly known as Ingwe.

Typical Kenyan showbiz events for instance the Groove Awards, Kalasha Film Awards and Kisima Music Awards just to mention a few often have the flare and glam and are  star studded, always catching media attention. But the Mukuru festival slated for 5th December 2015 at the synonymous Reuben Centre grounds in Mukuru, Nairobi, will be a far from the glam and prestige of the mentioned hot shot festivities.

Founded in Mukuru Slums, Nairobi three years ago, the Mukuru Festival formerly known as the Mukuru Awards, aims to challenge the perceptions of informal settlements in the city. It is a community-based annual event that showcases local talents of different categories of artistes who live in the slums and promotes a diverse range of arts and culture within communities. The festival will include live performances from local musicians, actors, and stand-up comedians, acrobatic groups, dance groups and Fine Artists who will exhibit their different arts at the venue.

This will also be a platform for previously awarded individuals and organization through Mukuru Awards, to interact and share what they have been up to since they won different awards in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

This year’s theme – ‘A DRUG FREE SOCIETY’ which is meant to make aware the dangers of drug abuse and ensure a drug free society. This message resonates well with the young people living in and beyond Mukuru with everyday challenges faced by slum dwellers.

The talents, arts and culture are showcased to restore hope and to positively inspire the youth build their confidence to be the cornerstones of society. According to the festival’s director and a decorated musician in Mukuru, Nelson Munyiri, “Slums have two versions of the story. There is the not so good side of the informal settlements and there is the positive side, the hot bed of oozing talent that needs to be shared with the world.”

Having successfully hosted three annual subsequent events in 2012, 2013 and 2014 dubbed Mukuru Awards which pulled approximately 1,200, 2,000 and 2,200 participants and spectators respectively and five individual sponsors, groups and organizations on each of the 24 categories awarded and saw the crowning of Mr. and Miss Mukuru. Reuben Youth Foundation is organizing Mukuru Festival is meant to bring together all Mukuru artists on one stage and pull the whole community to enjoy the arts and sounds found in Mukuru.

The Mukuru Festival is expected to be exceptional in its mission to be celebrated within slum-dweller communities, and its dedication to sharing slum talents and stories. More than just a festival, it is aiming to become a city platform before growing to become a national platform for young, talented and dedicated voices for the urban poor.

Jared Omae, the Mukuru Festival event organizer reminds all of us that, “The fact that some of us were born and bred in the slums does not necessarily imply that our fates are sealed. You can change your script,” said Jared.

The Mukuru Festival, however, does not aim to legitimize the existence of these informal human settlements. Its mission is to “discover, nurture, inspire and equip young artists from Mukuru and all around Nairobi with practical skills to develop and sell their concepts, as well as, use art as a key tool for promoting social change within their communities.”

For more information about the Mukuru Awards check out or follow the Mukuru Awards on twitter @mukuruawards #mukurufestival