Globally, the first two decades of the 21st Century will probably be best remembered for concerted efforts to fight terrorism, with terrorist groups taking advantage of technological advances to intensify their deadly activities. Closer home, Kenya has spent the better part of the last decade fighting the increasing radicalization of our youth by the Al Shabaab terror group, which is said to have active terror cells here and in neighboring Somalia. This is the background of the newly released short film Coachez, produced as part of an anti-radicalization campaign by Jiongoze Project, a local non-profit.
The 13-minute film was premiered on Saturday, 7th August on Facebook Live, and is available for viewing on Jiongeze Project’s Facebook page. Digital premieres are fast becoming the norm while cinemas remain closed as the Covid-19 sting continues to itch film makers locally and across our borders. The film follows Coach Adam, who runs a community gym where he offers boxing lessons to youth in his home area. This is meant to keep them engaged and off the streets where all manner of vices await them, from drugs, crime, violence, and lately, radicalization. A former boxer turned extremist recruit shows up and offers the young boxers money in exchange for ‘opportunities’ abroad, which is how they are lured to join terrorist groups.
One of the boys, Rama, is a focused and disciplined boxer who trains consistently and faithfully heeds Coach Adam’s counsel, although his family background offers strong temptation to accept money offers from the recruiter. His mother is desperately looking for rent as the landlord is constantly on her case, with their humble abode showing their limited economic resources. Coachez has to stand helplessly and see his young boxers being lured by money, since the best he can offer them is training and qualification for boxing tournaments, yet what they all desperately need is money. He decides to focus on the promising Rama and save at least one boy since the others are more interested in the money being offered by the recruiter.
The film exposes the desperate situation most young people in low income areas find themselves in, where they have little hopes of escaping the poverty cycle as they helplessly watch their parents trying to fend for them. Any opportunity for a better life is highly sought after, with their zeal and drive to overcome their challenges making them easy bait for recruiters from extremist groups. The war on terror keeps claiming young peoples’ lives and this prompts these terror groups to go recruiting new blood promising them financial freedom and a chance at a new beginning. For those who fall prey to this call, life is as good as over, as they become outlaws shunned by family and friends as terrorists. Coach Adam represents efforts by parents and the society in trying to protect this vulnerable demographic by providing them with alternative activities to keep them occupied.
The short film employs clever lighting techniques to create the different emotional paths the film takes us through, with well thought out camera work that contributes effectively to the delivery of the story. The language used is relatable to the film’s target audience with young viewers resonating with the Sheng used which is critical for the communicative value of the film, seeing as it’s meant to raise awareness on this thorny issue. The production design is also credible with the gym looking like your regular mtaani gym, complete with the relic radio used to receive news updates. The sound is well done, with credible sound mixing and editing. Coachez is a film that all youth need to watch to comprehend how easy it is to be lured to the dark side, and parents would also do well to explore how recruitment happens to put in place measures to safeguard their vulnerable sons and daughters.